USA TODAY Sports Weekly
Truths spoken at winter fan fests,
Listen closely, because they speak the truth
Sure, they’re supposed to be all about slapping hands, spinning yarns, selling tickets and rolling out newly acquired assets we once referred to as players. Yet the winter fan festival/caravan can occasionally reveal greater truths about the upcoming Major League Baseball season.
Some half-dozen major league teams filled up convention centers, shopping malls and stadiums last weekend, passing the time as the snow melted and the date for pitchers and catchers to report drew closer. USA TODAY Sports dug up a few of the more telling quotes from coast to coast:
ADRIAN GONZALEZ, DODGERS: ‘HE’S A KID I COULD SEE BEING A HALL OF FAMER’
The kid in question is Corey Seager, of course, the 21-year-old rookie shortstop who symbolizes the Los Angeles Dodgers’ approach: Hold on to top prospects. Wheel and deal spare parts incessantly. And accrue as many useful major leaguers to outflank your rivals.
There was much angst in L.A. when the club let Cy Young Award runner-up Zack Greinke sign with the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks. The fear — and in some cases, loathing — was hardly allayed when the club opted to replace Greinke with an amalgam of Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda. A trade for reliever Aroldis Chapman fell through and big-ticket lineup additions were non-existent, the club instead re-upping veteran infielders Howie Kendrick and Chase Utley.
So, what to sell in 2016? Seager, the consensus top prospect in baseball who got a trial by fire in batting second or third in three of the Dodgers’ five National League Division Series games against the New York Mets. That came on the heels of a 98 at-bat audition at the end of the year in which Seager batted .337 with a .986 on-baseplus-slugging percentage.
This year? Seager, Gonzalez and third baseman Justin Turner figure to be the only constants in a lineup that will juggle two AllStar second basemen and four All-Star outfielders. That doesn’t even account for a pitching staff in which you can already pencil in at least eight players who figure to make multiple starts this season.
The juggling of roles and egos will be a daunting task for new manager Dave Roberts, who made a point to chat with slimmeddown outfielder Yasiel Puig, who hopes to return to the club’s good graces after an out-of-shape, injury-marred 2015.
That’s a lot of noise going on for any club, let alone the big-market Dodgers. Enough that Seager can quietly take his first steps toward what one teammate believes is a journey toward Cooperstown.
ADAM EATON, WHITE SOX: ‘AT THE END OF THE DAY IT’S UP TO US. THE LAST TWO YEARS, IT’S OUR FAULT’
For the second consecutive offseason, Chicago made significant additions to a club coming off a disappointing year. This time, the reinforcements are infielders Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie and catcher Alex Avila, a trio that cost the club mostly prospects, rather than cash.
Still, it’s clear that after losing 86 games and finishing 19 games behind the world champion Kansas City Royals, third-year manager Robin Ventura might not survive another sluggish start.
“Robin’s had a lot of pressure throughout his life,” Eaton said via suburban Chicago’s Daily Herald. “I don’t think he’s too worried about it.
“When we put our big boy pants on and come ready to play and get the job done, you guys are all going to see what a great manager Robin is. He’s a great manager, and I stand behind that. It’s our job to make him look good.”
A rebound from 2015 acquisitions Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche would help, as would a strong final season from lefty John Danks. Shortstop Tyler Saladino is merely adept, but he could eventually make way for top prospect Tim Anderson, who could provide a midseason jolt in the manner Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor propped up the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians, respectively, last year.
It’s up to the holdovers to make sure Ventura is around to manage Anderson.
RYAN BRAUN, BREWERS: ‘IT’S NOT LIKE WE’RE BREAKING UP A TEAM THAT HAD A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF SUCCESS’
A lengthy suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and injury-filled seasons of decline took some shine off Braun’s status as Milwaukee’s franchise player. Still, his words carry some weight, and these seemed pointed at teammate Jonathan Lucroy, who indicated the club might be better off trading him if it launches a rebuilding project.
Lucroy is a free agent after 2017; Braun is signed through 2020, so he’s more inclined to toe the company line.
Still, Braun made several good points in the wake of Milwaukee’s trade of starting shortstop Jean Segura to Arizona on Saturday.
“We’re not breaking up a juggernaut team that has gone to the postseason each of the last five years or something,” he said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I think we’re building toward something that we’ll be able to have sustained success and have some impact players.
“We’re completely dependent upon our system being able to produce impact players. I think that’s something we haven’t done very well the last five or six years. If you look at our system right now, there are quite a few guys that have a chance to come up and be impact players. So I look at it as an exciting time. It will certainly be challenging at times, but I think we all have realistic expectations heading into the year, and I think that helps.”
He’s not wrong — former gen-