This is now the seventh installment of “The Mourning After” series, the first six being:
– The day after it was announced Kopech need TJ Surgery
– The day after the Padres signed Manny Machado
– The day after the Phillies signed Zach Wheeler
– The day after the Sox got beat up on Opening Day 2020
– The day after the Sox dropped the division title in 2020
– The day after the Sox hired Tony La Russa
If you’re new here, I write these articles after something disrupting happens to the White Sox that deserves something more than some quick thoughts on Twitter.
This… well, this one sucks. If you haven’t heard yet, Eloy Jimenez will miss most of the 2021 season with a ruptured left pectoral tendon. The standard recovery time is 5-6 months, which puts a return to the team, at best, in September/October. The injury occurred as he tried to rob a home run in Wednesday’s ball game.
We have a lot to talk about here – let’s all try to take a step back from the anger and frustration and really assess the situation as it is.
Let’s take a look at the play that caused the injury:
So yeah, no way around it, that’s a pretty stupid injury. It’s frustrating that it occurred at all, much less that it occurred during a Spring Training game. At the end of the day, it’s also a freak injury – and the further away from the news I get, the more I think this says less about Eloy’s ability to play the outfield. Rather, I think it speaks to some of his decision-making on the field, which is something that he will have to keep in check heading into the end of the 2021 season and beyond. We will talk about Eloy’s long-term future in the outfield, but honestly, I don’t think this says much about it. He’s going to be the left fielder for the White Sox in 2022, and he should be.
The good news, if there is any? Apparently, this is an injury that usually recovers well without any long-term effects (according to Twitter, at least). At best, Eloy is back for the playoff push and gives the White Sox some help coming into the playoffs. For now, though, let’s turn our sights onto what’s next.
Current 2021 Solutions
We could talk about the stupidity of the injury until the cows come home. Let’s turn to the backup plans for the White Sox – both internally and externally.
Currently, it’s looking like the immediate plan of action for the White Sox will be to put Andrew Vaughn in left field, leaving the Opening Day designated hitter position to Zack Collins due to his incredible Spring. Tony La Russa said Andrew Vaughn will be in left field against the Brewers today, so make sure to tune in to see how that goes.
Personally, I really don’t like this plan – and it was something Sox fans have been discussing for awhile now. Many have suggested that long-term, Eloy Jimenez and Andrew Vaughn should essentially switch places. Here’s the thing: Andrew Vaughn has never played the outfield. He runs worse than Eloy and again, has never played out there. Additionally, he’s now gone from important to nearly crucial in the lineup. Do you want to risk an injury knowing that? Eloy’s not a great outfielder – average at best – and he’s been working at it his whole life. I think many fans underestimate just how difficult playing the outfield is and how easy it could be for Vaughn to roll an ankle because he misjudged a fly ball.
Now, I could be completely wrong and have to eat my words, but I just don’t see how a combination of Andrew Vaughn, Zack Collins, Adam Engel, and Leury Garcia lasts more than a month at most. The good news is that the White Sox have a pretty easy April schedule, so they could theoretically pull this off for a month. But, I think that the length of time of Eloy’s injury increases the probability they don’t stay in-house for their solution.
Knowing that Jimenez will be out for most of 2021, the White Sox cannot and should not expect to spend the entire season running Andrew Vaughn out in left field. With so few minor league options currently available, the White Sox and Rick Hahn should turn to the trade and/or free-agent market. Here are a few names I think they should target:
- Mitch Haniger
Haniger is my leading option. He’s coming off a long list of injuries that have kept him out since early 2019. However, he currently looks great in Spring Training – he’s slashing .297/.381/.649 thus far. Haniger has the ability to play both corner outfield positions, and since he’s under contract through 2022, he could easily serve as a bridge to Oscar Colas/Yoelkis Cespedes or stick around for a while longer. When healthy, he has a career 124 wRC+. Because the Mariners are still in the midst of a rebuild, Haniger might be the best chance the White Sox have of replicating Jimenez’s production.
What would it take though? I asked a friend of mine who writes for Diamond Digest about the Mariners. His thoughts?
Unfortunately, unless the White Sox are willing to trade Dylan Cease or Michael Kopech, the White Sox don’t necessarily have anyone who fits this asking price. Could the White Sox convince them with a package involving Jonathan Stiever, Jared Kelley, Matthew Thompson, or the like? I’m not sure. I’m also not sure if the Mariners would be willing to move Haniger before he rebuilds some value this year – which would also be beneficial for the Sox as some of their minor leaguers look to build up their value again near the middle of the season.
Long story short, the fit makes the most sense, but the price may not.
- Mike Tauchman
Tauchman is an interesting name. After slashing .277/.361/.504 in 87 games in 2019, he struggled to the tune of a .242/.342/.305 slash line in 2020. Tauchman is currently in a battle with Jay Bruce for the fourth outfielder spot on the Yankees, and given his solid Spring (.269/.345/.615), the speculation is that the Yankees are going to carry him as a fourth outfielder.
This likely means he is less available and more pricey than necessary, but it would be worth checking in. This is a clear situation of being unsure if the trade is worth it – more appealing options could very well open up by May.
- Jay Bruce
Someone’s going to lose the Bruce vs. Tauchman battle that I mentioned above, and by the looks of it, it’s going to be Bruce. Is taking the 34-year-old declining outfielder that couldn’t hit well enough to win a roster spot the most inspiring option on this list? Not even a little bit. But, it is an option – and it would be an incredibly cheap left-handed one.
- Yoenis Cespedes
All I have to say is if it comes to this, hold your nose and offer him the contract. There are many better options, though… very many. This is legitimately a last resort in my mind – there’s a reason he’s still available.
- Other Names to Keep in Mind: Kris Bryant, Joey Gallo, Charlie Blackmon, Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson
The names on the above list range from intriguing and pricey to less intriguing but not pricey. Of that list, if I had to guess who would be the most likely, it’s Dickerson. He has just one year left on his contract and is the most expendable on a Marlins roster that is focused on youth. Dickerson isn’t having an inspiring Spring, but the 32-year-old slashed .258/.311/.402 last season in a very difficult ballpark to hit. Before 2020, Dickerson had never posted a wRC+ below 100 in his career, and because of that, I’d be willing to take a chance on him for the expectedly very low price.
Gallo, Blackmon, and Marte all have their pros and cons. Gallo and Marte would be larger deals and don’t necessarily act as stopgap players – adding one of them makes them part of the future. On the other hand, Kris Bryant would only be here for a season – there’s next to no chance of re-signing him. Additionally, I’m sure the rebuilding Rockies would be happy to dump Blackmon, but the Sox would have to take on the contract too, which, well, I’ll leave that to your imagination (Blackmon is owed about $54M over the next three years).
Long story short: there’s plenty of options available among players that, theoretically, should be available. While Vaughn and Collins might work now, it’s not a long-term solution for a team that is expected to compete this season. Not only is it sub-optimal, but it borders on dangerous.
The Concept of Depth
Ah, depth. The conversation of the offseason – and the talk of Spring Training now as well. People have long been upset about the lack of depth for the Sox – relying on a roster to “basically stay healthy” (sup, BeefLoaf) is never an ideal strategy. I think it’s incredibly rational to want more depth – hell, I want more depth too on this team.
The question I continue to ask that I rarely get an answer to is: who?
Who is the depth that the White Sox should’ve signed that would make you feel better about the team in this position?
Is it Brad Miller? The player who’s played just 6.5% of his career innings in the outfield?
What about Tommy La Stella? He took a starting job – and starter money – in San Francisco. Same story with Eddie Rosario in Cleveland.
Or Joc Pederson? He turned down an offer with the Sox in order to get a guaranteed starting spot on the North Side. The Sox wouldn’t let him hit against lefties – but the Cubs will.
Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes? If they were that valuable, they wouldn’t still be out of baseball.
In my opinion, I rarely get an answer because there isn’t a good answer – but it’s really easy to say you want depth, because we all do. Think about it: would Brad Miller really move the needle that much?
If your answer is “The White Sox should have signed George Springer,” your problem isn’t with depth; it’s with the talent/spending at the top of the roster. Truthfully, George Springer is probably the only answer that makes me feel okay about the situation at hand – but having George Springer doesn’t make the Sox’ depth better. Leury Garcia would still see significant innings on this team in this exact situation, and Andrew Vaughn is probably still in LF today.
And let’s think a little bit about depth around the league too. The Padres and Dodgers have tons of it. But who else? The Yankees’ backup infielder is Tyler Wade – who has a career 57 wRC+. The Blue Jays? Joe Panik, who hasn’t had a wRC+ above 83 since 2017. It’s when you realize the Angels’ insurance policy on Mike Trout is Jo Adell that you really get to the heart of the issue.
The reality of the situation is that it’s only in rare situations where you sign really good depth – you have to develop it. When’s the last time you saw the Dodgers sign a utility bat? They develop them, trade for them years in advance with the plan to have them for the long haul. If you really start to digest the issue, the reason you don’t feel confident in the situation has nothing to do with Brad Miller, Tommy La Stella, or those types of players. It’s because Blake Rutherford, Micker Adolfo, and Luis Gonzalez have yet to reach their perceived ceilings. The middle of the farm system is less than stellar. Depth needs to be developed – and the White Sox have not done enough of that. And, who knows, maybe the last 18 months have been kind to some prospects. At the same time, we won’t know that until they can get back on the field.
That’s the root of this problem. You have to develop depth; you can’t just expect to sign players who have the opportunity to earn starting time elsewhere. And even if you could, you can’t just expect to replace one of the best hitters on your team easily. No team does all that well if their stars are hurt over a long period of time. This problem is not unique to the White Sox – granted, this doesn’t make it acceptable, but it doesn’t make it uncommon either. That’s the balance we must find as Sox fans on the issue of depth. It’s not in the dollars, but the development.
Jimenez’s Future in the Outfield
I’ll get right to this: the current structure of the White Sox’ roster – and for the foreseeable future – does not leave any room for Eloy Jimenez to be the full-time designated hitter. We really should just stop these conversations, because they will not lead anywhere productive.
Here’s why. Jose Abreu will be under contract with the White Sox until he decides to retire – not just until 2022. That means Andrew Vaughn will be the other half of that 1B/DH combination. If you try to move Eloy Jimenez to DH, that forces either Vaughn or Abreu out of the lineup. Abreu isn’t going anywhere, and at a certain point, we have to operate under the assumption that Andrew Vaughn is going to be a very good baseball player – because, if you’ve watched some Spring Training games, you know this is true.
At the heart of the issue is this reality: you’re really never going to choose between Vaughn or Eloy in the lineup – that’s an unfair comparison because there’s no lineup anyone writes that doesn’t include Eloy Jimenez. Really, by moving Eloy Jimenez to DH, you’re essentially choosing between Vaughn or Engel/Garcia. Is there any scenario in which you don’t choose Andrew Vaughn given that choice?
If you’re really determined to make Eloy the DH of the future, it’s better off to trade Vaughn in the short-term for a left fielder…. only to open up a long-term hole at first base. What DH’ing Eloy essentially does is open up a hole long-term for the White Sox that doesn’t currently exist.
Put your best lineup out there, figure out the injury situation as it presents itself. But putting Eloy at designated hitter long-term does not make sense, no matter how you draw it up. Why open holes that don’t even exist on a team that already struggles with depth?
My final thoughts are similar to my initial thoughts: this sucks, and there’s no way around it. However, I saw this last night on Twitter from Josh Nelson:
I have just three words: Hammer. The. Over.
The White Sox, no doubt, got worse by losing Eloy Jimenez. That being said, by all accounts, this will be the lineup (or resemble it) on Opening Day:
- Tim Anderson – SS
- Adam Eaton – RF
- Jose Abreu – 1B
- Yoan Moncada – 3B
- Yasmani Grandal – C
- Zack Collins – DH
- Luis Robert – CF
- Andrew Vaughn – LF
- Nick Madrigal – 2B
That’s still a REALLY good lineup, and this doesn’t even factor in the White Sox’s improvement at run prevention this season. The White Sox’s rotation is improved, as is the bullpen. The White Sox will lose productivity on offense – the hope is that their improvements on run prevention can make up some of the gap between Eloy Jimenez and Zack Collins.
Don’t sleep on Zack Collins either – he’s had an incredible Spring and has apparently reduced some of the swing-and-miss in his game. April is going to be quite the tryout for him – and I’m personally looking forward to it.
As for Andrew Vaughn – if there is any player in the White Sox organization who can come up and make an impact immediately, it’s him. I never said this about Luis Robert or Yoan Moncada, because the holes in their game were still very clear. Andrew Vaughn is the most impressive White Sox prospect – in terms of his at-bats – that I’ve seen. He takes big league at-bats every time he comes to the plate. I think White Sox fans are being unnecessarily harsh and pessimistic about Vaughn. Is this the ideal situation for him? Not at all. But given the situation, of all the prospects the Sox have come through the system, no one is more equipped to make an immediate offensive impact than Andrew Vaughn.
To wrap it up here – this is a setback for the Sox that currently doesn’t have a great solution. However, the White Sox are still a very good baseball team. It takes more than one star to win, and in baseball, it isn’t a death sentence to a team if a star goes down. Some will tell you that the sky is falling; others will tell you that there are so many new problems with the team that it’s a foregone conclusion that they’re out of the playoffs. Don’t listen to them – let the games play out, and let’s see what Rick Hahn and Company have in store for a solution. It’s only the second day since this injury occurred – solutions take time.
As for now: Next man up. Let’s ride.
Thoughts? Comments? Let me know below or on Twitter @jlazowski14
Featured Photo: Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) / Twitter