By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Most of the funerals and memorial services you’ve attended have at some point have noted that our odd ritual of gathering around a corpse in a box or ashes in a jar should be about celebration and not sadness, laughter and not tears.READ MORE: Red Cross Day Of Giving: Here's How You Can Help!
This includes the one for my absentee great-grandmother who had donated her body to medical science and therefore wasn’t literally in the room as we reminisced about the joy she was in our lives. Particularly to my uncle who would find her naked in his closet, her dementia bringing her to say that his bedroom was the loveliest hotel she’d ever been to. The med school ended up losing her body, and to this day we don’t know where G.G. is.
But my family can laugh about all that now. (My uncle still twitches from it.)
Hopefully the Chicago White Sox tenure of first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche, which appears to have come to an unexpected end, can be looked upon with the same uncomfortable laughter as we throw shovels full of dirt over it. That would be if LaRoche’s choice to step away from baseball is due to his painful back issues and not something more serious with him or a loved one. LaRoche sort of cryptically called his choice a personal issue — I tweaked my back the other day getting up from the couch to brush Girl Scout cookie crumbs off myself, and it was a harrowing personal experience — and one he would reflect on for a day or two before making it official.
Adam LaRoche said it's a personal issue. Out of respect for team, he will consider request before talking on subject in a couple of days.
Adam LaRoche said it's a personal issue. Out of respect for team, he will consider request before talking on subject in a couple of days.— Colleen Kane (@ChiTribKane) March 15, 2016
Hopefully his back issues necessitate the gravitas mine do and this isn’t something more dire at home. Regardless, the White Sox suddenly have a blessing on their hands.
Having no regular DH in the middle of March isn’t any general manager’s ideal, and LaRoche making this choice a month ago or in December would have had Rick Hahn busting from his khakis. Still, an empty spot at the moment is overall better than needing to rely on LaRoche — who was clearly a shell of a ballplayer last season in posting career lows with a .207 batting average and .634 OPS — in a 2016 where the White Sox can actually win their division if a lot of things go right.
That was the immediate reaction among White Sox fans and commentators Tuesday when word broke. Like the passing of an old woman you’ll no longer have to stumble upon naked, it was a sudden mix of surprise and relief and hope. Like “Oh, wow, I hope everything is OK. Good guy, good guy. Respected clubhouse dude, yeah. Too bad. So anyway now who do the Sox get?”
There’s that internal conflict between the humanity of hoping one of his loved ones isn’t seriously ill or picked to be Donald Trump’s vice president and the excitement of not having to deal with a problem anymore. And in sports (and sometimes naked relatives), the latter usually wins.
“He is a man of great conviction,” Hahn said, while presumably screaming happily on the inside. “I don’t necessarily see him having a change of heart. That said, giving the outpouring he heard from his teammates, as well as those of us around the office, certainly there is a potential that the changes his mind.
“I don’t think it’s a decision by any means he took lightly. He gave it a great deal of thought and spoke with his family about it. In the end, we respect his choice.”READ MORE: Chicago's Winter Overnight Parking Ban Begins Wednesday Morning At 3 A.M.
A dozen phone calls and text messages had likely been made to agents by Hahn moments before he said that.
What now then? Who fills the hole that was maybe more of a hole with LaRoche than without? What comes of the $13 million the White Sox will be off the hook for when he retires?
There’s what Jim Margalis calls “The Bruce Levine Trio” (who opened for Dean Ween and The Brownouts at The Tonic Room, I believe) — outfielders Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, and Andre Ethier. Any of those three would require a trade, which isn’t something Hahn has been shy about. As least one White Sox fan wants me to use my powers to get Dan Vogelbach from the Chicago Cubs.
As far as free agents, former Chicago Cub Marlon Byrd is out there. As Michael Baumann writes, yes, Byrd is 38:
But he’s been — quietly — a pretty good player for a while now. Apart from 2012, when he served his suspension, Byrd has batted 450 times and put up at least a league-average OPS in every season since 2007. He hit 23 home runs last year, and 25 the year before that, and 24 the year before that.
From 2013-15, 30 players have hit a total of 70 home runs while maintaining an aggregate OPS+ of 100 or better, and now that the Orioles have tossed Pedro Alvarez onto their pile of first basemen, Byrd is the only one currently unemployed.
There’s Alex Rios, abandoned by the Kansas City Royals, should White Sox fans want bad acid flashbacks. Grady Sizemore fits the profile of annual acquisitions under the Kenny Williams reign involving All-Stars from a decade ago, but that quota was filled by Jimmy Rollins already. Then there’s Justin Morneau.
Morneau put up an .821 OPS for the Rockies last season, and while you might automatically be skeptical about a Rockie coming down from altitude, over the last two seasons the left-handed Morneau hit right-handed pitching at a .299/.361/.458 clip on the road. If there’s a quick fix out there, Morneau is it. And if LaRoche walks, that $13 million he’s owed goes back in the till and might go a long way toward getting Morneau to head to the Cell.
Suffice to say, Hahn has options, and pretty much all of them make the White Sox better on paper than LaRoche and his definitely bad-smelling beard.
Similar to what was for Cubs fans the unexpected return of Dexter Fowler, the White Sox all of a sudden lucked out and stand to be a little bit better than they were two days ago. In a division for which no pundit seems to be sure of a clear winner, any little bit of luck helps.
So here’s to hopefully soon celebrating the departure of Adam LaRoche and everything being personally fine with him, laughing about his body winding up in medical school limbo and appreciating the fortune it grants the White Sox.MORE NEWS: Jussie Smollett Trial: Testimony Expected To Begin Tuesday
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.