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What Should the White Sox Do When Tim Anderson Returns?

by Jordan Lazowski

With the news on Sunday that Tim Anderson will be seeing a hand specialist on Tuesday to evaluate his progress towards a return, the time is coming for the White Sox to make some important decisions heading down the stretch in this season.

The initial timeline for Anderson’s recovery was 4-6 weeks. With Anderson’s injury occurring on August 7, we are past the four-week mark, so Anderson’s return will likely be considered imminent if all goes well on Tuesday. While Elvis Andrus, Romy Gonzalez, and Josh Harrison are playing incredibly well in Anderson’s absence, adding another All-Star to the team presents the White Sox with too many deserving players with not enough positions on the field for them.

With Anderson as the face of the franchise, it seems pretty clear that he will be inserted back into the lineup once activated and healthy. However, the decisions in getting to that point are not as easy as they may initially seem.

Here are some options – both in terms of roster moves and playing time – for the White Sox to consider as they make difficult decisions to accommodate Anderson’s return to the lineup.


Roster Moves

The first place to start is the transaction that will need to take place in order to bring Anderson back onto the 26-man roster. Who is the odd man out here?

Option 1: Option Romy Gonzalez

Since Romy Gonzalez came up due to Tim Anderson’s injury, it would make sense to send Gonzalez back down once Anderson makes his return. In 67 plate appearances this season, Gonzalez has hit .313/.328/.453, good for a 120 wRC+. He’s also played a pretty solid defensive second base, already posting +1 Outs Above Average (OAA) in such limited playing time. He’s recently been seeing more playing time than both Josh Harrison and Leury Garcia because of how well he’s performing, and it is fair to assume Gonzalez is also making a play for votes of confidence to be next year’s starting second baseman.

Why it would happen: The White Sox – evidenced by Jose Ruiz‘s continued tenure on the roster – have a tendency to avoid designating players for assignment unless it absolutely cannot be avoided. Because of this, the White Sox are more likely to see the ease in optioning Romy Gonzalez and give him the opportunity to get a few more plate appearances before the minor league season comes to a close.

Why it wouldn’t happen: Should Miguel Cairo remain as the acting manager, he has shown a propensity towards playing Gonzalez over the veterans (Harrison, Garcia) currently on the team. Perhaps this is only until he cools down – however, Gonzalez may not cool down enough for the White Sox to comfortably justify sending Gonzalez back to AAA. He might end up solving this problem for the White Sox by cooling off/struggling as a rookie may do, but until he does, this move isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.

Option 2: Option Adam Engel

With Luis Robert battling a hand injury, this may seem like a less-than-ideal option. However, Adam Engel hasn’t been playing great baseball all season. Heading into Tuesday’s series opener against the Rockies, Engel is hitting just .225/.271/.315 on the season – a far cry from his combined slash line of .270/.355/.488 in 233 plate appearances from 2020-2021. He’s also made some defensive miscues – the most glaring of which was the dropped pop-up that cost the White Sox a game in Baltimore.

Why it would happen: This is the last season that Adam Engel has an option available – it’s a use-it-or-lose-it policy with options, and while the White Sox have one for Engel, they might be smart to use it. Romy Gonzalez also has experience in corner outfield positions in his career, meaning his flexibility could be valuable to the roster. With AJ Pollock able to play center field in Robert’s absence, Engel may be more expendable than previously believed for the White Sox.

Why it wouldn’t happen: Despite his lackluster offense, Engel has continued his run of being one of the premier defensive center fielders in baseball. With Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets routinely playing corner outfield positions, keeping Engel on the team ensures the club has a stronger defensive option should Robert remain out than AJ Pollock. The team may also view his speed off the bench in late-and-close situations as an advantage too great to pass up.

Option 3: Designate Leury Garcia for Assignment

If White Sox fans were responsible for transactions, Leury Garcia probably would’ve been cut from the team around May or June. Garcia was given a three-year, $16.5M deal following a 2021 season in which he hit .267/.335/.376 with a 97 wRC+. He has followed up that performance by, unfortunately, being one of the worst offensive players in baseball. Through Sunday, Garcia has hit .211/.234/.268 on the season, good for a 39 wRC+. His defense has never been his calling card, and it certainly hasn’t been one this season.

Why it would happen: Leury Garcia’s contract – just like every contract currently on the team – is a sunk cost. For those unfamiliar with Economics, this means that the length/dollar value of Garcia’s contract should not be a factor in determining whether or not to keep him. The numbers on the field above speak for themselves, and with Josh Harrison and Romy Gonzalez this season, followed by Lenyn Sosa next season, and Colson Montgomery not too far behind, there is very little use for Leury Garcia that can’t be filled internally. A .500 OPS and 39 wRC+ is a low bar to hit, and it’s likely it can be done with internal position players – for this season, 2023, and 2024.

Why it wouldn’t happen: On paper, Tony La Russa is still the manager of this team for the foreseeable future, and fans are well aware of La Russa’s admiration of Garcia as a ballplayer. It is hard to see the team truly view Garcia solely as a sunk cost and cut ties. This is in part because of who is still in charge in the dugout, and in part because of historical White Sox tendencies. The team hasn’t been afraid to DFA players, but will usually only do so with one year left on their contracts. However, there are always exceptions to historical trends – the White Sox designated Jeff Keppinger for assignment in 2014 before he could begin the second year of a three-year deal. At the time, Keppinger was still owed $8.5M over two seasons.

Other Potential Transactions:

– Option Gavin Sheets to AAA
– Designate Josh Harrison for Assignment
– Place Luis Robert on 10-Day IL

None of these scenarios are incredibly likely but are worth mentioning as we consider the totality of options that the White Sox have available. Gavin Sheets has been mashing righties again since the All-Star Break (.261/.328/.523, 130 wRC+) and has been serviceable enough in the outfield to warrant his spot. Josh Harrison is still right behind Romy Gonzalez in terms of playing time, has been a great defensive option (other than some recent lapses), and is hitting .333/.391/.333 in September. Finally, as for Luis Robert, even if the White Sox pushed their roster issues down the road by putting one player on the IL and activating the other, this problem still doesn’t go away completely. This option would also necessitate Tim Anderson coming back very soon, which still is unclear.

So, the leading transactions for the White Sox are above. What should the team do when it comes to playing time? Let’s explore those options below.


How to Manage Playing Time

With Elvis Andrus and Romy Gonzalez playing excellent baseball in Tim Anderson’s absence, the White Sox have a good problem: too many good players for too few positions. While some of these issues may sort themselves out due to injury/rest and/or drop-off in performance, what should the White Sox do when their All-Star shortstop returns to the lineup?

Note that, below, all potential lineups assume full roster health.

Option 1: Tim Anderson to SS, Elvis Andrus to 2B

Elvis Andrus has been otherwordly since coming to the White Sox, and it would be very hard to justify removing him from the lineup, both offensively and defensively. Andrus has expressed a willingness to play elsewhere on the diamond once Anderson returns, despite only playing SS in the majors in his career. In this scenario, the team puts their face of the franchise back at his natural position and slides Andrus over to second base.

Potential Lineup: (1) Anderson, SS (2) Andrus, 2B (3) Abreu, 1B (4) Jimenez, DH (5) Vaughn, LF (6) Moncada, 3B (7) Robert, CF (8) Grandal, C (9) Pollock, RF

Why it would happen: This appears to be the most likely scenario for the White Sox. There is no place other than second base to put Andrus, and until he cools off, there is no reason to put him on the bench. At a minimum, his glove needs to continue to be in the field as often as possible, and this scenario accomplishes that while keeping him as close to the top of the lineup as possible with how well he has been hitting.

Why it wouldn’t happen: A lot can happen between now and the time that Tim Anderson comes back. It may just be completely impossible to bench Romy Gonzalez, or Andrus might cool down enough to where he doesn’t need to be in the lineup every day. Regardless, if this doesn’t happen, it’s likely because someone else (Gonzalez, Harrison) forced the issues of getting into the lineup.

Option 2: Tim Anderson to SS, Romy Gonzalez to 2B; Elvis Andrus splits time at 2B/SS

This is the scenario that is briefly mentioned above: Romy Gonzalez does so much that it is impossible to remove him from the lineup. In that scenario, Elvis Andrus would be able to serve as a pinch hitter/defensive substitution while continuing to serve as an incredible insurance policy in the case of injuries to any of the White Sox’ starters. Gonzalez’s glove has been excellent at second base, and it remains to be seen how Andrus would do a 2B – though, to be fair, middle infielders tend to transition pretty well from SS to 2B.

Potential Lineup: (1) Anderson, SS (2) Moncada, 3B (3) Abreu, 1B (4) Jimenez, DH (5) Vaughn, LF (6) Robert, CF (7) Grandal, C (8) Pollock, RF (9) Gonzalez, 2B

Why it would happen: While we aren’t sure when Tim Anderson will return, we know there will be a bit of time for players to start to sort through this roster mess through solid performances. If Romy Gonzalez outperforms Elvis Andrus until Tim Anderson is ready to return, Gonzalez would force the issue of leaving his bat in the lineup.

Why it wouldn’t happen: Based on the transactions we discussed above, there is still a very real chance Romy Gonzalez isn’t on this team when Anderson returns to the lineup because of his available options. That would make this option completely impossible, likely moving the Sox back to option 1 of this list.

Option 3: Elvis Andrus remains at SS, Tim Anderson to 2B

This option has become fairly popular among some White Sox fans, as recency bias has gotten the best of their analysis of the White Sox decision-making. With Andrus playing incredibly well, some fans have argued that it’s impossible to move Andrus from his spot, citing the production he’s brought to the team on top of Anderson’s second-half struggles before his injury. Either way, with two players on this roster who have only played shortstop in their careers, someone is going to be getting some looks at second base for the first time.

Potential Lineup: (1) Anderson, 2B (2) Andrus, SS (3) Abreu, 1B (4) Jimenez, DH (5) Vaughn, LF (6) Moncada, 3B (7) Robert, CF (8) Grandal, C (9) Pollock, RF

Why it would happen: This would be an incredible change of pace for the White Sox – it’s a change that’s so drastic that I can’t see them making it. In order to even explore something like this, Andrus would need to play like 1983 Cal Ripken Jr.– not just the pace he’s currently playing at. However, alternatively, if Anderson is going to continue to struggle at the plate, the White Sox may reach a point where they either need to make their star shortstop happy or make a run at the playoffs in the closing weeks. Let’s hope they don’t have to make that sort of decision.

Why it wouldn’t happen: Tim Anderson is the face of the franchise. It would take a lot more than a few hot weeks at the plate from Andrus and Gonzalez to force the White Sox to forget about Anderson’s stellar play since 2019 on the South Side. At a certain point in their career, players – like it or not – earn their spot on the team by the nature of being proven veterans for the team. That fits the bill for two players on the White Sox: Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson.

Option 4: Elvis Andrus and Romy Gonzalez remain at SS/2B; Tim Anderson to bench

This is the most unlikely scenario of all of them, particularly because there really is no upside to benching Tim Anderson right away upon his return. He is the best player of the three when healthy and performing, and the White Sox would be smart to put him in the lineup in hopes the energy he has to return to the field comes out in his performance.

Why it would happen: Tim Anderson either doesn’t fully recover even after being activated, or Elvis Andrus and Romy Gonzalez quite literally play like the 2021 Dodgers’ version of Corey Seager and Trea Turner up the middle. I cannot stress enough just how good Andrus and Gonzalez would have to be playing to even entertain this option.

Why it wouldn’t happen: Benching Tim Anderson out of the gate doesn’t work out for anyone, for reasons mentioned in Option 3 above. Anderson is a team leader here – the spot is his until otherwise noted.


The White Sox have no shortage of options as to how to make this roster work once Tim Anderson is ready to re-join the club, but with more options also comes more difficult decisions. The White Sox know that they need to see what Tim Anderson will be able to bring to the table – if anything – as the season comes to a close over the next few weeks. For all we know, Anderson may get bad news from the doctors tomorrow, and there will be no decision for the team to really make.

However, if things go well and Anderson is due back soon, how the club responds with their roster is a much bigger deal than it may appear on the surface. The choice they make could be the difference between meaningful October baseball and sitting at home with the rest of us.

How would you handle the White Sox lineup moving forward with Tim Anderson’s return? Let us know in the comments below!


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Featured Image: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports


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9 Comments
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RB

As I see it Andrus is a better SS than Anderson, so putting TA at second might work if his ego could stand it. Many of the options are possible but I propose using this unlikely one.

Joel

Here’s an option you haven’t entertained: bench the miserable bat of Yoan Moncada. Play Elvis at third where he may still enjoy the left side of the infield “comfort level.” Moncada has, notwithstanding a very good glove, given Leury a run for his money as the worst, clutch-less hitter on the team. Wanna take advantage of the glove? Stick him there in later innings. Or not. My vote? Trade his derriere this coming off season. He’s had ONE good year since joining the team in the Sale deal. Remember, we have Jake Burger knocking on the door, too…

Jeremy

This article is silly. It comes down to, “What will happen will depend on a lot of stuff.” It also loses points for flagrant overuse of the words “incredibly” and “incredible”.

James Clemens

Be a real team player,Tim,and let the club know that you are willing to play RF.

Gary Rosing

Elvis has shown us fans what a solid, responsible shortstop looks like. That the type of SS this team needs at this moment. TA would be wise to watch and learn from Elvis so that he can one day become that reliable player but until then I move TA to 2nd for remainder of yr

Marcus Wojcik SR

How about Anderson Left. Keep Romy at 2nd. VaughnRF. Elvis SS. Eloy DH

John frank burchardt

I like your scenarios, but one I believed you missed is Eloy playing LF and TA DHing. Of course, this means either Pollock or Vaughn will have to sit, but it’s another option that protects Elvis-Romy defense. But, as much as I can appreciate Romy’s production, I’d put Elvis at 2B and let TA have his spot back. Sadly, the guy I cut is Engle. We can’t have a guy at this time of the season who can’t hit. My line-up assumes a healthy Robert: TA (ss), EA (2b), JA (1b), EJ (DH), LR (cf), AV (lf), YM (3b), AP… Read more »

Ray Converset

Why is Moncada always the
3b? He has not done much for our offense.
Why not Romy, TA, and Andrus covering the INF. Moncada hurts us offensively.

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