Don’t lose sight of the fact that the biggest story in baseball right now could have been the smallest. Adam LaRoche up and retired because the White Sox wanted to cut down on his son’s presence around the clubhouse. I’m sure you’ve already read all about this, but Drake LaRoche has a history of being around all the time, going back to when Adam was with the Nationals. The White Sox requested that Drake not be around so much, and they probably didn’t anticipate that LaRoche would walk away from thirteen million dollars. This could’ve all stayed behind closed doors, and we never would’ve known, but it’s a story because it’s been blown up to the greatest possible magnitude. The regular season is right around the corner, but this is what matters today.
The story presents with two sides, so it’s only natural to want to pick a favorite one. It’s no different from when people want to figure out the winner of any trade. On one side, there’s the organization, that says it wants to do what it can to keep the team focused and disciplined. On the other side, there’s LaRoche, who obviously cares enough about this to willingly forfeit an absurd amount of money, not to mention the rest of his career. Ultimately, this is a clubhouse matter, and barely public, so we’ll never be sufficiently informed. Yet based on what’s knowable, it’s challenging to arrive at any conclusion other than “well I’ll be damned.”
I think a big reason this is so fascinating is because it gives us a glimpse into something we’ve seldom ever thought about. So much of our time is spent watching games or thinking about players or transactions, and we don’t think much about family. We don’t think much about children who hang around the players. They’ve been doing it forever, with different rules in different clubhouses, but generally we stop thinking at “how cute!” It’s something different to talk about, but with this particular conflict, it’s just not about Drake LaRoche’s schooling. There is a conversation to be had about whether it’s good for a teenager to spend so much time in a big-league clubhouse, but that’s separate.
What’s relevant here: The precedent is for Adam LaRoche to be accompanied by his son almost literally every day. According to several reports, LaRoche and the White Sox agreed to some sort of understanding on this when LaRoche signed over a year ago. Now the White Sox, represented by Kenny Williams, have asked for a reduction. Not an elimination, but a significant reduction. The team, you figure, has its reasons. But the priorities for LaRoche and Williams simply aren’t aligned.
If you’re Adam LaRoche, you’re taken aback by the request. There’s no other way to explain his suddenly retiring. No matter how you feel about the bond between Adam and Drake, the older LaRoche grew accustomed to certain circumstances, and his joining the White Sox in the first place was allegedly in part conditional on Drake being able to hang out. And nothing went wrong, publicly, in 2015. Drake was around. It was business as usual. This would feel like the White Sox backing out of a promise, and that makes for a less comfortable workplace.
Think about what it means to give up $13 million. Of course, it wasn’t going to be LaRoche’s first $13 million. And he could’ve seen he was looking at limited playing time ahead. But there would’ve been two driving factors — love for his family, and an unwillingness to continue playing for the team. If there’s one thing that absolutely cannot be argued, it’s that Adam LaRoche is bold. He made one of those decisions that’s impossible to imagine having to make.
LaRoche sacrificed money for family. We might not need to go any deeper, and it’s plainly noble. Everyone can get behind someone who gave something up for family. You can see this in the public response, and you can also see this in the industry response — LaRoche has gotten plenty of support from teammates and peers. When one side is noble, the other side is going to look worse. It’s not hard to spin the White Sox’s position as one trying to separate a son from his father. What we can say, at least, is the White Sox are acting rationally. Rational action isn’t always warm and fuzzy, but it’s defensible. The team does have a leg to stand on.
Which isn’t to suggest they approached everything right. Indeed, for LaRoche to respond how he has, it would appear the message was delivered with little consideration for tact. Kenny Williams did the delivering, and according to a Ken Rosenthal source, Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura weren’t thrilled with how Williams was handling things. Maybe this was phrased as a demand. Maybe it was brought up out of nowhere. Williams probably could’ve attempted a softer landing, to try to get LaRoche to see things his way.
Williams says there’s been no change to the team policy. Whatever that means, it doesn’t matter, because there was clearly a change to the team Drake LaRoche policy, relative to last season. Why only bring this up now, in the middle of spring training? Why not, say, two or three months ago? I agree with Craig Calcaterra that something seems odd, and I agree that this is compelling:
Source tells @MattAbbatacola that several players went to KW complaining about LaRoche. So that explains the timing.
— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) March 16, 2016
We’ve heard about the players who supported LaRoche, but it’s unlikely they all liked having a teenager around all the time. It’s also unlikely those players would want to call attention to themselves, as opposed to acting anonymously. What I think makes the most sense is that Williams received enough complaints to act, and he took the brunt of it, because he’s just an executive who spends little time in the clubhouse or the dugout. Nothing gets pinned on any players, and nothing gets pinned on any coaches. Williams went into this knowing it would make people upset, but that’s damage he was willing to accept.
It’s not that LaRoche didn’t care about the team, but his priorities would’ve been split between the team and his family. And it’s not like the White Sox don’t care at all about the players or their families, but they need to run things team-first. If there was concern Drake LaRoche’s presence could be bad for the clubhouse dynamic, then that would be something for the White Sox to act on, because they want for the team to win as many games as possible. They presumably see this as a temporary disruption. The alternative could’ve been more long-lasting.
To what extent a 14-year-old could be disruptive, I don’t know, and this is all beyond the limits of my knowledge. And if the White Sox did have a verbal agreement upon LaRoche’s signing that Drake could hang around, this is obviously a bad look. But if there were players who complained — and I have to think there were — then Williams would’ve been put in an awful situation. He could upset one group of players, or he could upset another.
There’s no sense beating around the bush. The calculus has changed, since LaRoche had a lousy 2015. If LaRoche were more productive, he’d be more highly valued, and the White Sox would be more likely to side with him. But, let’s face it: If LaRoche were a free agent this winter, the White Sox wouldn’t have signed him for a year and $13 million. This is the cold side of the game, but aligning with LaRoche was perhaps no longer in the White Sox’s best interests. He wasn’t lined up to be a critical contributor. I doubt the team thought LaRoche would respond by just leaving, but after the dust settles, Rick Hahn is going to have new flexibility to land a more valuable player. And the clubhouse is likely to adapt and move on, with the season still two weeks away.
If players weren’t actually complaining about Drake, this looks a lot worse from the team’s side. Then the best-case scenario would be that Williams was trying to force LaRoche into retirement. That can’t be totally ruled out, not from here. But assuming Drake wasn’t universally embraced, then the worst that could be said is that Williams did a lousy job of communicating a justifiable request. He had his angle, and LaRoche obviously had his. And LaRoche, in the end, made one hell of a decision, and he can be proud of that for the rest of his life. LaRoche, I’m sure, didn’t expect for things to come to this. And I never expected this to be something I’d ever write about. It’s true what they say. You really can’t predict baseball.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.