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Comeback special: Elvis Andrus arrives at White Sox camp as new starting second baseman

Vinnie Duber Avatar
February 21, 2023

PHOENIX – Camelback Ranch isn’t exactly Graceland, but Elvis is home.

The White Sox made official what was reported Sunday night, that Elvis Andrus is back with the team and back as its everyday second baseman.

That second part is of significant note, of course, because Andrus has never played the position in the bigs, strictly a shortstop during his decade and a half as a major leaguer.

For what it’s worth, no one at White Sox camp on Monday, the first day of full-squad workouts this spring, seemed to have any worry that Andrus can handle a late-career position switch in a season the team enters with championship-level expectations.

“Playing second, I don’t think it’s going to be such a big challenge for me, it’s just putting in the work,” Andrus said. “The ABCs of playing second is pretty much the same, but kind of different angles for a few plays. … I think the transition for me to play second is kind of easier because the last three, four years with all the shifts, I’ve been playing a lot of second base. Last year, I did like eight or nine double plays from second. … So I think that really helps me understand more angles.”

“Look, at some point you do have to have a little bit of faith in a guy’s athleticism and his work ethic,” Rick Hahn said. “With the change in the shift rules, having someone with range and a strong arm and good instincts is going to be of added benefit in the middle infield. We think Elvis profiles that way. (There’s) certainly going to be no doubt that he’s going to put the work in to make himself as good as possible at that position.”

It figured, after Andrus put up some very good numbers in 43 games with the White Sox last season, that someone would be interested in paying him to be their starting shortstop. The White Sox were obviously not one of those teams, with Tim Anderson entrenched at that position. But no other starting shortstop gig materialized, either, and here’s Andrus back on the South Side.

It’s a perfect fit, from a personality standpoint, and Andrus was an obvious spark after Anderson’s late-season injury necessitated a replacement last summer. It can still be a wonder exactly how Andrus will fare at his new position, but in the clubhouse, the White Sox know exactly what they’re going to get. That’s the biggest plus of the signing.

While it’s unfair to say Andrus alone can make up for the departure of clubhouse leader José Abreu, he can definitely be a part of that equation.

“There’s a lot of questions about who is the leader. ‘Do you need to bring someone in to lead?’” Hahn said. “It’s really something that develops organically over time, and some guys have the ability to step right in early on through their work ethic and the way they play the game and become that type of leader. Elvis showed that as early as last August.”

“I think it’s just being myself, man,” Andrus said. “I think all those years helped me understand that you don’t need to do too much. You don’t need to overdo stuff or try to be perfect, just be myself. One of the things I do when I’m really good is just relax and have fun. And I think when everything is going good for each player, you’re having fun. I just try to remind them, by my example, be happy. Enjoy coming every day, work hard, and the talent will take over.”

Prior to the reunion, the second-base job seemed to be up for grabs between a pair of internal candidates, with Romy Gonzalez appearing to be ahead of Lenyn Sosa heading into camp. Team brass spent the winter raving about Gonzalez, who worked with members of the new coaching staff during the offseason in his native Miami.

“There’s been nothing but raves about Romy Gonzalez,” Hahn said in his welcome-to-camp press conference last week. “We even had a player that went down and worked with him and came back and came into my office in the offseason and said, ‘Don’t you dare trade that guy.’

“That doesn’t mean I won’t.”

That last bit was an obvious joke at the time, but days later, Gonzalez probably isn’t laughing too hard about the change in his situation. He’ll likely now fight to make the team as a reserve utility player, adding corner-outfield duty to his status as an infielder, with Hahn describing him as someone who can fill a “Ben Zobrist” type role.

Asked about Gonzalez’s chances to make the team, Pedro Grifol surprised by pointing to a position that might not be as filled as previously thought.

“That position’s open, utility spot. It’s open,” Grifol said. “There’s a lot of competition in that area. He’s one of the guys that’s in competition.

“I’ve been telling Romy all along, even before we spoke about Elvis, that he needed to make sure he works at other positions. His bat really looks like it’s going to play at some point. The way he runs, he’s athletic, he’s capable of playing multiple positions. I’ve been telling him all along, even prior to Elvis, that there’s a good opportunity that he becomes a Swiss Army knife.”

That obviously brought to mind the guy the White Sox are paying a significant sum – $11 million over the next two seasons – to be their Swiss Army knife in Leury García. What does all this mean for him?

“I’ve seen Leury play for a while. Leury’s a talented player,” Grifol said. “For the most part, everybody’s competing here, other than obviously our main guys. This is spring training, I get it, but there is some competition.”

And so as one roster question is answered, another emerges.

Still, Andrus’ return to the White Sox filled perhaps the team’s largest positional need heading into this winter, and his defensive ability, his base-running ability and the offensive ability he showed in a small sample size last season should do well to help address all the other, more amorphous needs the team started the offseason with, as well.

They also got a strong presence in the clubhouse, someone who might just deliver exactly the right message to a team looking to erase the memories of last season’s disappointment.

“(The White Sox have) great talent. But I don’t think winning teams have too much to do with talent,” Andrus said. “Every team has a lot of talent. It’s about, ‘How can we play as a team, stay together, everybody pulling the same way instead of each guy trying to do their thing?’ I think that was the only thing I saw lacking towards the end of last year.

“We addressed it already. Pedro, he’s an amazing manager. He’s a really smart coach, and he’ll find a way to get us there. As soon as we all stay together, the talent will take over. And there is a lot of talent on this team.”

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