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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #11: The Drake LaRoche Saga Tears the White Sox Apart

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

I’ve been writing about baseball for a living for over seven years and I was doing it as a side hustle for nearly three years before that. In that decade I have written well over 25,000 individual blog posts. That’s not an exaggeration. I actually went back and counted. Obviously there are a ton of ballwriters who have done this way longer than me, but given the sheer volume of writing I do and given the fact that I tend to focus on the weird and offbeat stuff more than most do, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve seen just about everything modern baseball has to offer.

A story broke last spring, however, that had no precedent. And which no one would’ve made up if you gave them 10,000 monkeys at 10,000 typewriters and a million years to come up with it. It was The Drake LaRoche Saga. And calling it anything less than a “saga” is to do it an injustice.

The saga began with the unexpected retirement of White Sox first baseman/DH Adam LaRoche. LaRoche had come off of a poor 2015 season, but he was still under contract for $13 million in 2016 and still seemed to be in the White Sox’ plans. There was no apparent reason for him quitting, but other players have retired with money left on their deals in the past so it was, as baseball players like to say, what it was.

Except it wasn’t:

That 14-year-old son was Drake LaRoche. Unlike most kids who hang around their dad’s clubhouse, Drake was not an occasional visitor. He was a constant presence, referred to as “The 26th Man” in the White Sox clubhouse the year before. Drake had been just as constant a presence with his father when he played for the Nationals. Drake dressed with the team, had his own locker, stretched and worked out with the team as well. It was an extraordinary situation, really, and in light of how extraordinary it was, it does not seem unreasonable that the White Sox asked LaRoche to rein it in a bit.

The White Sox clubhouse, however, freaked the hell out.

Following LaRoche’s retirement announcement, Kenny Williams and manager Robin Ventura met with the White Sox to explain the situation. It didn’t go well. Players attacked Williams, accusing him of telling bald-faced lies about how the Drake LaRoche edict came down and threatened to boycott a spring training game. Chris Sale hung up a Drake LaRoche jersey in an empty locker with an inspirational message written on it. Which is the treatment active players who are, like, killed in car crashes and stuff get, suggesting that perhaps Sale thought Drake had been executed by Kenny Williams rather than merely banished. The apex of ridiculousness came when Adam Eaton claimed, presumably with a straight face, that the White Sox “lost a leader in Drake.” Remember: 14-year-old boy we’re talking about here. Not the Dalai Lama.

As this was going on, it was repeatedly reported that the White Sox were unified in their sorrow over Drake’s banishing. That didn’t pass the smell test, however. There was no reason why Kenny Williams would care so much about a kid being in the clubhouse in which he himself doesn’t have to work that he’d risk losing the team over it. The smart money was that a lot of White Sox players were complaining about it behind LaRoche’s back and that Williams agreed to be the bad cop so as to prevent a clubhouse rift. Eventually, that was the story that came out. At some point, someone needs to give Williams some serious kudos for taking all the heat he did. And some heat to the press for thinking that Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were the most reliable narrators when it came to the White Sox clubhouse, but we’ll leave that go for now.

Somehow the White Sox carried on without Adam and Drake LaRoche. Heck, they won two more games in 2016 without them than they did with them the year before. Chicago nonetheless embarked on a rebuild this winter, with Sale and Eaton being the first two players traded away. They’re in a better place now. No word if anyone hung up their jerseys in empty lockers in memoriam.

Drake and Adam LaRoche, meanwhile, walked off into the sunset together. They’re off having father-son adventures, no doubt, with Adam going to southeast Asia to break up sex-slavery rings, stopping to reunite with Drake to throw out first pitches at playoff games and stuff. Who knows where they’ll find themselves next.

Did I mention that this was the weirdest story I have ever written about?

Steven Matz likely to start season on DL; Zack Wheeler to adhere to innings limit

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Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.

On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.

Rockies sign 30-year lease to stay in Coors Field

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Nick Groke of the Denver Post reports that the Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, which is the state division that owns Coors Field. As part of the deal, the Rockies will lease and develop a plot of land south of the stadium, which will cost the team $125 million for 99 years.

As Groke points out, had the Rockies not reached a deal by Thursday, March 30, the lease would have rolled over for five more years.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort issued a statement, saying, “We are proud that Coors Field will continue to be a vital part of a vibrant city, drawing fans from near and far and making our Colorado residents proud.”

The Rockies moved into Coors Field in 1995. It is the National League’s third oldest stadium. In that span of time, the Rockies have made the playoffs three times, the last coming in 2009 when they lost in the NLDS to the Phillies. The Rockies were swept in the 2007 World Series by the Red Sox.