White Sox

Tyler Saladino could be White Sox SS until Tim Anderson is ready

tyler-saladino-0902.png

Tyler Saladino could be White Sox SS until Tim Anderson is ready

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.

[MORE WHITE SOX: Frankie Montas ready to pitch from White Sox bullpen if needed]

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.

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox could further explore Robertson trade in offseason]

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.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Improved routine has Erik Johnson ready for second shot with White Sox]

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.”

Is latest bullpen implosion a sign White Sox need to go shopping for relief help this offseason?

Is latest bullpen implosion a sign White Sox need to go shopping for relief help this offseason?

The White Sox bullpen imploded Wednesday night in Cleveland. It sent Indians fans home happy. It sent White Sox fans scrambling for their computers.

I'd like to see the Google data. How many people in Chicagoland — the ones not flooding the streets of Northbrook to celebrate Jason Kipnis' walk-off grand slam — frantically searched "free agent relievers 2019"?

The results are pretty enticing, to be honest. Craig Kimbrel's going to be on the market. So is Cody Allen. So are Jeurys Familia and Kelvin Herrera and Zach Britton. And some guy named Andrew Miller.

It seems like a good idea, right? Ink one of those guys, two of 'em, even, and the bullpen troubles are gone. No clinging to a pillow and crossing your fingers when Rick Renteria comes out of the dugout in the late innings. No more outcomes like Wednesday's, when a trio of White Sox relievers entered the bottom of the ninth with a 1-0 lead only to load the bases and surrender a walk-off salami.

But a couple points.

First, the White Sox don't need a lockdown bullpen right this second. In a point that will come up again and again this offseason, the team is still in rebuilding mode. Spending big bucks might not be prudent at this juncture because the White Sox have not yet transitioned from rebuilding mode to contention mode. Spending big on high-priced free agents is something teams do when they're in win-now mode. And while a big acquisition can certainly carry a team into win-now mode — just look at what the Cubs did when they signed Jon Lester ahead of the 2015 season — it could also be jumping the gun when there's still a year or two of development that needs to happen for the team's young players to grow into the contending group of the future.

Plus, spending big on bullpens isn't exactly a magic bullet. The Indians and the Colorado Rockies both spent huge sums on their bullpens this past offseason, and while both teams could end up in the postseason, they rank near the bottom of the game in bullpen ERA: Cleveland's 24th out of 30, and Colorado's 26th.

Contending teams often make a habit of trading for bullpen pieces, a strategy that makes a lot more sense considering those deals usually come midseason, when a team is clearly established as a contender. But those deals have their downsides, too. The White Sox have shown how valuable stockpiling prospects in trades can be. The Cubs got their ring but probably would like to have Gleyber Torres right now after shipping him to the New York Yankees in 2016. The Indians are division champs again, but will there be a day when they'll wish they hadn't sent Francisco Mejia to the San Diego Padres in this summer's trade for Brad Hand?

But that, of course, is more of a "cross that bridge when you come to it" situation. The White Sox aren't at that bridge quite yet, as good a point as any that spending on a 30-plus closer two years ahead of when the playoff pushes could come is a risky proposition.

Second, the White Sox are still trying to figure out what they've got when it comes to the bullpen.

Last year and in the first half of this season, the White Sox relief corps was primarily an audition ground for midseason trades. That strategy worked well for Rick Hahn's front office in both seasons. Last year, a big trade with the Yankees sent two relievers out of town and returned a package that includes Blake Rutherford, the No. 7 prospect in the farm system. The White Sox dealt five relief arms last summer. This season, a trade that sent Joakim Soria to the Milwaukee Brewers brought back minor league pitcher Kodi Medeiros, an arm currently ranked as the system's No. 19 prospect. Soria was one of three bullpen arms traded.

In the second half of this season, however, young arms have reached the South Side that have the potential to make up a future bullpen that's mostly homegrown. The ERAs aren't pretty — especially after Wednesday's four-run ninth — but if ever there was a time to play the "small sample size" card, it's now. Ian Hamilton, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare, Jose Ruiz and Aaron Bummer all put up big numbers in the minors this season. Jace Fry has been at the major league level almost all season. They're getting their opportunities now, and unless the White Sox produce their own episode of "Extreme Makeover: Bullpen Edition" this winter, they'll get their opportunities next year, too. A homegrown bullpen on a contending team is a hard thing to pull off, of course, but these guys — and the heretofore unmentioned Zack Burdi, many's pick for the closer of the future — have the opportunity to do just that.

As is the case with everything surrounding this rebuilding team, there is the luxury of time. The young group of arms does not need to be championship ready right now or in 2019. These guys will take time to develop just like the Yoan Moncadas and the Lucas Giolitos and the Tim Andersons and the Reynaldo Lopezes. Growing pains are to be expected. Until they're given the chance to either succeed or fail, the White Sox won't know what they have, which makes charting a long-term course in one offseason difficult.

Obviously the White Sox don't want to lose games like they lost Wednesday night's battle in The Cleve. But is it a sign that the checkbook needs to come out this winter? The bullpen of the future might not need to be bought at all. It might need to simply be given the opportunity to grow.

There will always be a free-agent market. There will always be a trade market. And shopping at those markets are always more exciting than playing the waiting game. But that's what rebuilding is all about.

Matt Davidson's magnificent mustache is the facial hair highlight of the White Sox season

0919_matt_davidson.jpg
WGN

Matt Davidson's magnificent mustache is the facial hair highlight of the White Sox season

It look until the last two weeks of the season, but the White Sox finally got the facial hair highlight of the 2018 campaign. And it's courtesy Matt Davidson.

Davidson has rocked a bearded look at various points throughout the season, and that recently took the form of a goatee. But he upped his facial hair game for Wednesday's contest in Cleveland, shaving the chin for a rockin' retro mustache.

Handlebar, horseshoe, whatever you want to call it, you can agree that it's a sensational 'stache, one that makes Davidson look like he could play bass in Spinal Tap.

The White Sox need to rock their 1970s throwback uniforms before Davidson rids his upper lip of this bad boy to really complete the picture.

The mustache is probably not the highlight of Davidson's season, which has featured a three-homer game on Opening Day, a walk-off dinger on Labor Day and an incredible boost to his on-base percentage, which stood at a team-leading .330 heading into Wednesday night after finishing at just .260 last season. But in this very specific category, it's the pinnacle.