MINNEAPOLIS — Hope you got a good look at Tyler Saladino at shortstop for the White Sox on Wednesday night.
He could spend a lot more time there next season.
While the rookie merely spelled Alexei Ramirez for a night, Saladino could assume the role in 2016 until Tim Anderson is ready to make the leap to the majors.
With a $10 million team option that looks pricey given his current production, Ramirez, who has a $1 million buyout, looks to be headed for free agency after eight seasons with the White Sox.
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Though he doesn’t have the same kind of offensive potential as the 2014 Silver Slugger winner and All-Star Ramirez, Saladino is a strong defender and appears to be the top in-house candidate for the role. Saladino went 1-for-4 on Wednesday night as the White Sox lost to the Minnesota Twins, 3-0, at Target Field.
“If you’re not as good offensively, you better be real good with the glove,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “And if you’re not very good with the glove, you better be really good with the bat. There’s always give and take with that, but you really look when a guy doesn’t play it well, it’s a tough go for the pitchers, especially in the middle of the field to have somebody do that. You always need somebody in there that can hold that position down.”
Ramirez has been much better since July 1, posting a .285/.324/.435 slash line with six homers and 22 RBIs in 214 plate appearances. But in spite of a strong July performance with his glove, Ramirez, a Gold Glove finalist a season ago, has continued to hover in the bottom third in defensive metrics. He ranks 19th among 25 qualified shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved and 20th in Ultimate Zone Rating, according to fangraphs.com.
Through 127 games, Ramirez has been worth minus-0.8 Wins Above Replacement. With several other holes to fill, the White Sox seem likely to use the roughly $8.5 million they would save by using Saladino to address other concerns. Saladino has struggled offensively (he brought a .601 OPS into Wednesday’s game) but has impressed the White Sox with how quickly he has adapted to third base, where he has a team-high nine Defensive Runs Saved.
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General manager Rick Hahn recently said the White Sox don’t need to see much of Saladino at short this month to see how he’d handle the position.
“We know he can play short,” Hahn said. “It was more of a question could he play third because he only had done it for a handful of times in the system. But we knew before his callup what we felt what kind of big league shortstop he’d be even though he’s probably not going to get much of an opportunity to play over there this year. We’ve got it in our minds what he looks like going forward.”
The White Sox weren’t quite sure how Saladino would respond after his 2014 season ended early because of Tommy John surgery.
Actually, Saladino didn’t know, either.
“I had no idea, that was part of the mental roller coaster,” Saladino said. “Once that happened, of course you think ‘Am I ever going to play again?’ You can’t help but think that but you just try to stay the course, trust the medical staff you’re working with and pay attention to what they advise, find the things that help it feel better and then just sticking with it.”
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But since he returned to the field following some shoulder strengthening issues earlier this season, Saladino has possessed an arm worthy of playing at either spot on the left side of the infield. Saladino said he’s had no signs of weakness and only has to do specific work to maintain his arm strength.
Anderson has had a spectacular season at Birmingham with improved defense, a .780 OPS and 49 stolen bases. But the White Sox seem to prefer more time for Anderson to mature, as he’s only two-plus years removed from junior college.
“Tim hasn’t had a ton of time playing,” Ventura said. “So that experience is important for him.”
Because Saladino has experience at third and shortstop, the White Sox have some flexibility in how they could attack their offseason. Along with catcher, third and shortstop have been the most difficult vacancies to fill the past few offseasons.
Options are limited.
While Saladino’s offense likely makes him a better fit at shortstop, the White Sox can look for the best overall player at either position knowing they can put Saladino at the other spot, if they chose.
“He can handle the position,” Ventura said. “Offensively, that’s a whole other thing. But short is a tough position. To be able to do it every day is a tough task for a lot of guys because it’s a demanding position. He has the ability to maybe do that.
“Any position, you’re giving and taking.”