GLENDALE, Ariz. — Yoan Moncada's path to the big leagues has one less obstacle after the White Sox waived Brett Lawrie on Friday morning.
Wanting to create opportunity for younger players, general manager Rick Hahn said the club requested waivers on Lawrie for the purpose of granting him his unconditional release. Lawrie hit .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs in 384 plate appearances last season but hasn't played since he sustained a leg injury last July.
By releasing him now, the White Sox saved roughly $2.9 million of the $3.5 million Lawrie was set to earn. Hahn said the White Sox would give the playing time to Tyler Saladino, Carlos Sanchez and several others in the interim. Ultimately, Moncada, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI triple and a run in a 3-1 White Sox win over the San Diego Padres on Friday night, is expected to take over as the everyday second baseman.
"Part of this process of building something sustainable for the future involves making some difficult decisions," Hahn said. "Today was a difficult decision. Brett is a talented player who no doubt in any of our minds will help a club this season. At the same time, we are committed to giving an opportunity several of our young players, players who are going to be here for an extended period of time and we want to find out about it."
"This was a baseball decision about the long term interest of the club."
Acquired from Oakland when the team was in win-now mode, Lawrie's usefulness to the rebuilding White Sox had its limits. The White Sox want to create space for their younger guys now that they've headed in the opposite direction. Though Moncada is expected to start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, the hope is he'd arrive in Chicago at some point in 2017.
Saladino should get the first look after he put together a strong sophomore campaign in 2016. Slowed by a back injury late in the year, Saladino hit .282/.315/.409 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 319 plate appearances and was even better as a starter, hitting .301/.332/.409 from July 20 to September 21.
"When Saladino was participating, he made things happen," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "He could steal a base. Defensively he made the plays. On the offensive side he put together really good at-bats. He just has all the energy and all the things you want a big league player to have."
Lawrie hadn't participated in a game this spring despite feeling like he'd made good progress in a frustrating rehab. He had been a full participant through the first handful of full-squad workouts but informed Renteria last Friday he didn't feel as if he was at 100 percent, which prompted the team to keep him out of the lineup.
"I haven't really gone backwards and that's been key for me," Lawrie said on Saturday. "I guess the biggest thing is being able to trust myself when I get out on the field and not have to worry about my body and just worry about the game."
Lawrie last played for the White Sox on July 21 when he sustained a left leg injury. Neither Lawrie or the team could find the cause of the malady for the remainder of the season, which left him frustrated. Lawrie tweeted in the offseason that he believed an injury Robin Ventura accurately described as "tricky" was caused by the use of orthotics.
A highly energetic player, Lawrie never proved to be a handful in the White Sox clubhouse despite his reputation as one. While he bounced off the walls, the team seemed to thrive off his energy early and fans appreciated Lawrie's all-out effort.
"We got along real well," third baseman Todd Frazier said. "It's a crazy business. We talk about it all the time. But like I said, he's a good friend of mine. I'll keep in touch with him forever. Class act. He was a gamer. When he was out there battled his butt off and one of those guys you always want on your side."
Oddly enough, it's likeky that Frazier's presence perhaps expedited Lawrie's exit. Hahn said the White Sox signed Lawrie to a one-year, $3.5-million deal on Dec. 2 because they thought another spot might soon be open.
"We certainly envisioned various transactions that would have opened up more play time for him," Hahn said.
At that point, the Los Angeles Dodgers had yet to re-sign Justin Turner and appeared to be a good fit for Frazier. The Dodgers had at least considered trading for Frazier on their own the previous offseason before they helped facilitate a three-team deal with the Cincinnati Reds that brought him to the White Sox. But Turner returned to LA on a four-year deal on Dec. 13 and the White Sox found no takers for Frazier the rest of the offseason.
Lawrie could have provided an expensive block for Moncada, who isn't too far from the majors even though he's only played 53 contests above Single-A.
"Obviously Moncada is going to be a factor at some point here in the future," Hahn said. "As I've said from the time we acquired him, very likely not to start the season, but certainly you can envision over the course of the 2017 season, wanting to have second base open for Moncada.