Sox never had chance for La Russa

It's clear he won't manage against best friend Leyland, but he still could join front office

Tony La Russa might be managing the 2012 White Sox if not for one reason — if he returned to Chicago, he would have had to manage against his best friend in baseball, Jim Leyland. That wasn't going to happen, according to some who know La Russa best, and it would be interesting to know if La Russa's aversion to working across the field from Leyland and the Tigers extends into the front office.

While Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf remains supportive of general manager Ken Williams, few are predicting a quick reversal for the team with a bloated payroll and limited talent in the farm system. La Russa, who has turned down a lot of job offers since retiring from the Cardinals almost four months ago, is eager to help build a team that is willing to give him some real responsibility.

The White Sox make the most sense but he and Reinsdorf haven't worked out a fit.

Meanwhile, he will spend part of this spring serving as an unofficial consultant to Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who was an assistant to with the White Sox when La Russa got his start as a manager.

The 67-year-old Leyland, who signed a one-year contract extension last August, doesn't seem like a guy who will walk away at the end of the year, not with a team that could dominate the AL Central for years. Is the AL Central big enough for both Leyland and La Russa?

Opportunity knocks: A.J. Burnett was a pariah with a losing record and a 4.79 ERA after three seasons with the Yankees. He's getting a chance to be a civic treasure, thanks to the Friday trade that sent him to the Pirates.

Along with newcomers Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas, Clint Barmes, Jo-Jo Reyes, Casey McGehee and Jake Fox, Burnett is being given a chance to be a part of the team that ends the Pirates' 19-season losing streak. That could happen this year, with a watered-down NL Central and eternally optimistic manager Clint Hurdle the two biggest reasons.

Burnett and Bedard, who signed a one-year contract after compiling a 3.62 ERA in 24 starts with the Mariners and Red Sox last season, need to be solid in the first half of the season. Elite pitching prospects Gerrit Cole, the first overall prospect in the 2011 draft, and Jameson Taillon, second overall pick in the 2010 draft, aren't expected to spend long getting to Pittsburgh.

Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington engineered a 15-victory improvement last season despite a horribly disappointing second half. The lineup is a work in progress, with center fielder Andrew McCutchen and second baseman Neil Walker the key guys until Pedro Alvarez stirs, but the pitching staff could be solid if Burnett and Bedard get lifts in moving from the AL to the NL.

Patience pays off: With the Yoenis Cespedes signing as well as a trade for Seth Smith and signing of Bartolo Colon, Billy Beane has provided hope for an A's team that had 100-loss potential after Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey were dealt for prospects.

The Athletics stepped forward in the Cespedes bidding — which included the Cubs — after receiving signals that he wasn't enamored with the prospect of playing for the Marlins in Miami, where he would have been an item of immense curiosity for the Cuban community. Beane not only opened the checkbook — committing the same $36 million that the Marlins had offered in a four-year deal instead of their six – but agreed not to offer arbitration after 2015, giving Cespedes a look at free agency at least two seasons earlier than normal.

Cespedes is the fifth outfielder Beane has added to the 40-man roster this winter, and that doesn't count his re-signing of Coco Crisp, who turned down an offer from the Rays to sign a two-year deal.

The last word: "If someone feels there's someone better than me, it's hard for me to believe. Unless he's a demigod come down from the heavens, no one is going to outshine me in center field." — Crisp, who doesn't plan just to hand his job as A's center fielder to Cespedes.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers
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