White Sox

BBQ: Sox cuts too tough? Don't make 'em

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BBQ: Sox cuts too tough? Don't make 'em

Sunday, March 27, 2011
Posted: 6:38 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through spring training, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check.Far be it for me to claim responsibility for putting this bug in Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams ear, but the scenario I recommended just two days ago apparently has come to pass after pitcher Jeffrey Marquez was placed on waivers, leaving three remaining roster spots to pitcher Phil Humber, outfielder Lastings Milledge and superutilityman Brent Lillibridge (after Jake Peavy is put on the disabled list).With the roster apparently settled, lets take a look at how all the pieces fit:

Fourteen position players what is this, a coed softball league?

Williams rarely bows to convention, and while breaking camp with 12 pitchers is the traditional mode of operation for teams, he was faced with picking from two pitchers (Humber and Marquez) who didnt seem much to care about making the big club.

On the other hand, Milledge and Lillibridge were scraping like hell to make the cut, somewhat hilariously trying to top one another, often in the space of a single game: Lillibridge leads off with a home run, Milledge throws out a runner at home, Lillibridge makes a diving catch, and so on. The GM is not known for rewarding underachievement and the feistiness of both hitters made the decision to break with just 11 pitchers rather easy.

What happened to Marquez?

Simply put, given the chance to leapfrog Humber onto the roster after the former first-rounder pitched poorly vs. the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, Marquez couldnt seal the deal. Answering mediocrity with mediocrity is no way to convince the GM of your roster worthiness.

Just a couple of days ago I called Marquez the stronger option, with a higher ceiling than Humber, and I stand by that. He bounced back from Saturdays ugly start vs. the Los Angeles Angels with several strikeouts, and his live arm is the thing GMs normally drool over. Marquez is a better fit in the White Soxs power-arm, K-coughing pen, so Im somewhat shocked that Williams was willing to waive Marquez rather than extend the audition.

So whats left of the Nick Swisher trade?

Aside from the knowledge that Swish is no longer allowed to giddily poison the White Sox clubhouse? Nada. Well, Jhonny Nunez is still around, improbably and in spite of choking away his potential as a future White Sox closer.

Anyone who believes Williams is governed by pride and driven to rationalize even his biggest mistakes needs to be reminded that by cutting Marquez, the White Sox are left essentially barren from his two Swisher deals, while Swish continues to play the pesky mascot in Gotham and Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney are starting for the Oakland As.

Is there really room for five outfielders on the roster?

Well, with Mark Teahens continued misadventures in the infield combined with Omar Vizquels continued excellence there, Lillibridge may bring greater value to the White Sox in the infield, as Teahen becomes more exclusively a corner outfielderdesignated hitter.

Make no mistake, Lillibridge presently is little more than a late-game pinch-runner a position in which he can add value to the club. Milledge has much greater potential theyre not nearly equal players, but consider the fact that Williams wanted to bring Andruw Jones back as a fourth outfielder but ran out of money, and recognize that Chicagos commitment to Milledge could well extend beyond a one-year audition.

If (when) right fielder Carlos Quentin is felled by injury, Milledge is the first choice to plug the hole, and if his spring training play is any indication, the White Sox wouldn't lose much with Milledge roaming in right.

Are there X-factors in keeping both hitters?

While its true that Lillibridge is out of options, and cutting him would result in the White Sox losing him (another club would claim him off waivers), Williams has just proven that not to be a deciding factor in his final cuts (by waiving Marquez).

One of Lillibridges strengths, in addition to his defensive flexibility, is his inner strength and character. Hes learned, through trades, injuries, and slumps, to accept a role that could be more modest than hed like. Theres little question Lillibridge would quietly contribute to a winning White Sox season, even if limited to a start every couple of weeks.

Milledge, however, presents more of a character question mark. He has said and done everything perfectly in the clubhouse this spring learning from veterans, knowing his role, even admitting to me midway through Cactus League play that it was a done deal that hed accept a minor-league assignment if offered (as a non-roster player, Milledge could cut ties with the White Sox if cut).

But the outfielder is a polar opposite of Lillibridge on the field, still the player who might high-five fans on his way back to the outfield after a big offensive inning or toss off his helmet well in advance of home plate to finish off a home run.

Such uniqueness can easily be rationalized as spirited play; but what happens if Milledge is thrown out at third on a sacrifice bunt for failing to slide, or gets a bad jump on a fly ball because hes taken a poor at-bat with him to the outfield? Both of those scenarios played out this spring, too.

The My Fair Gentleman process with Milledge is not yet complete, and bringing Lillibridge north with the club helps protect against any sort of behavioral relapse from the 25-year-old, on or off the field.

Doesnt this decision leave the White Sox short of arms?

Yawn. There are two off-days in the first two weeks of the season, with at least one other cancellation possible, as the White Sox dont play in a weather-safe city until the 16th game of the season. And isnt part of the point of bolstering the bullpen to such an outrageous extent (signing Jesse Crain and Will Ohman, pushing projected starter Chris Sale into a setup role) to let the pitchers in the pen pitch?

But, the fifth starter!

Double yawn. Even if the clouds break and sun shines brightly on every of those initial bad-weather city games, the White Sox can avoid a fifth starter at least until April 10, in spite of all the automatonic tendencies toward using the unnecessary fifth turn in the rotation directly on April 6. If Peavy isnt ready by April 10, sure, throw Humber out there to take on the Tampa Rays, and keep Tony Pena (or Sale!) warm in the garage in case of catastrophe.
Will Peavy be ready?

He threw off the mound Sunday for the first time in a week. Though his 30 tosses were far from game conditions, all signs are pointing to Peavys shoulder tendinitis as a natural offshoot of the aggressive rehab the pitcher has pursued since surgery last July.

The notion that he will stay behind for extended spring training and throw four rehab starts before stepping on a major league mound this season veers a bit on the conservative side.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that Peavy renders Humber irrelevant by striding to the bump for the first required fifth starter outing, on April 10 (and with just a single postponement to be made up later in the summer, the initial need for a fifth starter pushes back to April 20 at the Rays).

So, still digging this 2011 White Sox team?

Yep.
Not budging from a 93-win prediction and a division title?

Nope.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avisail Garcia returned from his latest disabled-list stint with a bang, smacking a three-run home run in the fourth inning Saturday in Seattle.

The White Sox right fielder hasn't even played in 20 games since late April, when he went on his first DL trip, which lasted two months. A second, also featuring an injury to his hamstring, made it two weeks between games.

But when he has been able to step to the plate this summer, Garcia has been tremendously productive. He came into Saturday night with a .333/.347/.783 slash line and a whopping eight home runs in the 17 games he played in between his two DL stays. Then he added that homer Saturday night off longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, giving him nine homers in his last 14 games.

Keeping this up could do an awful lot of things for Garcia: It could make his ice-cold start a distant memory, it could prove that last year's All-Star season might not have been a fluke, and it could keep him entrenched in the conversation about the White Sox outfield of the future, giving the team one of those good problems to have when deciding how he would fit into the puzzle alongside top prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

But here's another possibility: Has Garcia swung a hot enough bat in his limited action that he could be a trade candidate before this month runs out?

The White Sox don't figure to have too many players who are going to get contending teams worked up into a lather. James Shields, Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Xavier Cedeno. Those guys could classify as additions that would bolster teams' depth, but they might not be the attractive upgrades the White Sox were able to trade away last summer.

Garcia, though, could be. He might not slide into the middle of the order for too many contenders, but someone looking for a starting corner outfielder might be enticed by the kind of numbers Garcia has put up in June and July, albeit in a small sample size. Teams would also have to consider his health. He's already been to the disabled list twice this season. Teams would certainly have to be confident he wouldn't return in order to make a deal.

On the White Sox end, Garcia would figure to fetch a far more intriguing return package than the aforementioned pitchers, given that he's still pretty young (27) with one more season of team control after this one.

The White Sox have plenty of options when it comes to Garcia. They could deal him now, deal him later or keep as a part of the rebuild, extending him and making him a featured player on the next contending team on the South Side. But with a lot of significant injuries this year perhaps having an effect on when all those highly rated prospects will finally arrive in the majors — not to mention the disappointing win-loss numbers the big league team has put up this season — perhaps it would make more sense to acquire some rebuild-bolstering pieces.

Of course, it all depends on if there are any deals to be made. Do other teams' front offices like what they've seen from Garcia in this short stretch as much as White Sox fans have? We'll know by the time August rolls around.

The White Sox outfield is finally healthy, and it's got a lot to prove in the second half

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USA TODAY

The White Sox outfield is finally healthy, and it's got a lot to prove in the second half

The outfield the White Sox thought they'd have all season long is finally back together.

Avisail Garcia came off the disabled list ahead of Saturday night's game in Seattle, bringing an end to his second DL stint of the campaign, both of which involved hamstring injuries. Garcia's return came a day after the return of Nicky Delmonico, who had been on the DL with a broken hand since mid May.

Here we are 96 games into the season, and Garcia has logged just 35 games, with Delmonico playing in 38. Leury Garcia had his own lengthy DL trip and has played in only 59 games. Daniel Palka, the replacement for any variety of those injured outfielders, has played in 66 games. Adam Engel, the Opening Day center fielder who is once again struggling with the bat (he entered Saturday with a .215 batting average), is the lone outfielder to see action in an overwhelming majority of the team's contests. He's appeared in 86 of them.

At the dawn of the second half, though, everyone's healthy again. But as is the case with most positions on the current big league roster, how long into this rebuilding franchise's future will those players be occupying those spots?

Outfield is one of a couple areas in which the White Sox have incredible depth. Eloy Jimenez is the No. 2 prospect in baseball and gets a deserved amount of attention (he hit two home runs in Friday night's game down at Triple-A Charlotte), with Luis Robert generating plenty of excitement, too, with his high ranking and oft-discussed tool set. But those two headliners are hardly the only guys angling for a spot in the White Sox outfield of the future. There's Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, Joel Booker and more all developing down in the minor leagues.

Will all those names make the current crop of White Sox outfielders, finally healthy, irrelevant? And if so, how quickly?

Garcia came into the season as the White Sox reigning All-Star representative, but health isn't the only area in which he's had bad luck this season. He had a very slow start at the plate, slashing just .233/.250/.315 with one homer in 18 games before hitting the DL for two months in late April. Of course, after returning from that first layoff, he was excellent. Garcia slashed .333/.347/.783 with eight homers in just 17 games between June 22 and July 8 before hitting the DL again.

Garcia still has plenty to prove if he wants to be a part of the White Sox long-term future, chiefly in the form of consistency. Some of his numbers in 2017 were among the best in the American League, but can he do that again? Injuries have wiped out his ability to show he can do it over the course of another full season, but the remaining two months and change of the 2018 campaign will be the perfect opportunity to show the White Sox, not to mention the rest of the league, that he is a dependable long-term piece. If he can do that, the White Sox could find offseason suitors or interested parties at next year's trade deadline to swap Garcia for a rebuild-improving package. Or they could opt to extend him. His team control runs out after the 2019 season. Remember: He's only 27 years old.

Delmonico was another player embarking on a "prove it" campaign when 2018 began, and the broken hand sure didn't help him out in that department. But he managed to impress enough to get into the long-term conversation in only two months of action last season. Perhaps he could do the same over the final 60-plus games of this season.

If he's going to impress enough to do that, though, he'll have to shake off his own not-so-great beginning to the season, when he slashed .224/.333/.302 with only one homer in 37 games. In Friday's second-half opener, he went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts.

Can any other members of this outfield do enough to keep themselves among the possibilities as the wave of prospects starts washing ashore on the South Side? For has hard as he's hit the ball — his nickname maybe should be "Exit Velocity" — Palka's managed just a .234 batting average and a .280 on-base percentage to go along with his 12 homers and 33 RBIs. Engel has still struggled to show he can do much offensively to complement his great defensive abilities. The player with the best case to stay in the conversation, at this point, might be Leury Garcia. The White Sox love his versatility, his ability to play both infield and outfield, and he's been on an offensive tear since returning from his own month-long layoff, slashing .338/.348/.477 in his last 20 games. Maybe he garners some interest as the trade deadline rapidly approaches?

Jimenez — slashing .319/.373/.594 with five homers in 18 games since being promoted to Triple-A — is coming. If he keeps this pace up, he'd figure to be a lock to play for the White Sox before the end of this season. But Rick Hahn has talked about the importance of Jimenez getting at-bats in Triple-A, and the 30-games-under-.500 White Sox are in no rush to bring up reinforcements before their development dictates it.

So there might be an increasingly limited window in which this crop of outfielders has the opportunity to prove its worth in the White Sox long-term plans. Injuries that have slowed things down for Robert and Adolfo have increased that opportunity for the current big leaguers, too. But as Basabe showed in last weekend's Futures Game, there's no shortage of outfield prospects knocking on the door. So for the Garcias, Delmonico, Engel and Palka, now's the time to impress.