On Thursday, February 10, 2022, Rob Manfred addressed the media to discuss the status of the MLB lockout. One of the biggest stories to come from this media session was Manfred officially stating that the owners and the MLBPA have agreed to implement a universal designated hitter. While the specifics of this change are yet to be clarified, it looks like for the first time (outside of 2020), the MLB will enter a season planning to use designated hitters in both the American League and the National League.
While on the surface it is business as usual for the White Sox, as the American League has had a designated hitter since 1973, it could still affect them in one specific way: trading with National League teams. While this change doesn’t call for a complete overhaul of how NL teams construct their rosters, it does add an extra element that they now have to account for. NL teams will be looking for hitters who can help fill this extra spot in their everyday lineup, and the White Sox just happen to have several players who don’t have a guaranteed spot with them but could be regulars on a team looking to fill that role.
Naturally, the first person who will come to mind from fans is Yermin Mercedes. A ready-made designated hitter, Mercedes exploded onto the scene in 2021 with a scorching hot start to his MLB career and earned the role as everyday DH for the Sox for the first couple of months. We all know how that ended, though, and now it doesn’t appear that The Yerminator has a spot available to him on this now healthy team. Could a National League team be willing to take a chance on him? It isn’t out of the question, as teams could look at his minor league track record and the early part of his big-league stint with the Sox and think he could add some value to their lineup.
Concerns with his personality could arise, and I doubt teams will be willing to sell the farm for a player who only hit .196 in the final two months of his time with the Sox, but he is controllable and does have one MiLB option left, so a team might be willing to give up something for him. Honestly, if Rick Hahn can get anything of value for Yermin’s services, he should take it and run.
Jake Burger/Micker Adolfo
Two other players who may be blocked from the big-league club who could benefit from a change of scenery are Jake Burger and Micker Adolfo. With Burger, he had a cup of coffee in the MLB last year and proved that he can hold his own both offensively and defensively. While he is blocked by Yoan Moncada at 3B, he has been seen taking extra reps at 2B lately and it is possible that the Sox see him as a potential solution to that gap in their lineup. It is also possible that they are only experimenting with this to showcase his versatility to other clubs, though, and now with the added universal DH element, clubs from across the league could be interested in his services. While as a fan it would be tough to see him leave the Sox organization, the best thing for his career might be a trade to a team that can give him a regular role. His trade value has most likely skyrocketed as well, so the Sox could probably get something that they could use for a World Series run this year.
With Adolfo, a trade could have been in the cards regardless of this rule change. I wrote earlier how the Sox have limited options with approaching his roster status heading into the 2022 season, and the new universal DH makes it possible for a wider span of teams to potentially be interested in taking a flier on the 25-year-old slugging corner outfielder. While teams may see him as a solution to their DH spot, it is also now possible for a club with an aging outfielder to see this as a potential move to fill in and allow another player to become the designated hitter. The fact that he is out of MiLB options still complicates matters, but a strong Spring Training (whenever that will be) could have some teams with an open spot on their 26 man roster calling for his services.
Andrew Vaughn/Gavin Sheets
There are also two players who do have roles waiting for them on the big-league club waiting for them in the 2022 season but could be impacted by this: Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets. While it is less likely that the Sox move either of these players, signing an impact RF when the lockout ends could give them the flexibility to assess what kind of return either of them could bring. For Sheets, his role becomes less defined if the Sox do bring in a left-handed impact bat like Michael Conforto. While he would still be able to contribute against right-handed pitchers and rotate between DH, 1B, and either corner outfield spot with the Sox, another team could see that left-handed power and be willing to make the Sox an offer that they can’t refuse.
Vaughn has already been a hot subject within White Sox Twitter debates about whether they should investigate trading him, and now with the universal DH there are even more teams that will be looking for a player of his caliber. My stance on this has always been that they shouldn’t be afraid to pick up the phone if a team is willing to offer a legitimate rotation piece who can contribute beyond this year, and that stance holds true even more now with more teams being potentially interested in a player like Vaughn. He is young, controllable, most likely has an all-star future, and proved this year that he can fill in several positions on the field. If a team like the Cincinnati Reds comes calling willing to trade a Luis Castillo type of pitcher, Rick Hahn wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t at least pick up the phone.
When the lockout ends, this will be an interesting development to monitor for the White Sox. While it is already expected that there will be a flurry of transactions soon after a resolution is made, and it is also likely that NL teams were anticipating a Universal DH to be implemented, the change becoming official still forces half of the league to look further into bolstering their lineup. With the Sox having a surplus of players who fit that role and needs elsewhere, some sort of trade is likely.
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