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The Avi Garcia experiment is over on the South Side.

 

The White Sox opted not to tender a contract to the guy who’s been their right fielder for the past six seasons, making him a free agent and suddenly putting “corner outfielder” in a high spot on their offseason to-do list.

Garcia was acquired way back in the three-team Jake Peavy trade at the 2013 trade deadline. He came over from the division-rival Detroit Tigers with a decent amount of hype, folks comparing his build and skill set to that of then-perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera. But his numbers rarely looked like Cabrera’s, and Garcia finished his White Sox tenure with a .271/.322/.434 slash line. His power never emerged, either, as he hit a grand total of 74 home runs in six seasons with the White Sox.

That did not stop fans, observers or the front office, however, from insisting he could still be part of the long-term future. Just one season ago, in 2017, he had a breakout campaign, his .330 batting average and .380 on-base percentage making him one of the best hitters in the American League, statistically.

But he was injured from the jump in 2018, admitting at the end of September that he’d been playing with a knee injury since Opening Day. That injury led to hamstring injuries that sent him to the disabled list multiple times. While he ended 2018 with a career-high 19 home runs, his .236/.281/.438 slash line and only 93 games’ worth of action made his future near impossible to forecast.

With one year of team control remaining before his regularly scheduled free agency, the White Sox were reportedly trying to find a trade partner for Garcia this winter. But that same report carried with it the idea that he could wind up a non-tender candidate if no deal was found. And that’s what ended up happening.

Garcia is still relatively young, only heading into his age-28 season, but he’ll be doing it somewhere besides the South Side of Chicago as Rick Hahn’s front office finally determined he wasn’t a fit with their long-term plans and that the $8 million he was projected to receive through the arbitration process would be better spent elsewhere.

The decision creates a short-term hole in the White Sox everyday lineup for the 2019 season. Entering the offseason, the White Sox figured to have an unofficial platoon of Nicky Delmonico and Leury Garcia in left field, Adam Engel in center and Avi Garcia in right. Top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez is expected to reach the majors early in 2019, and after he played mostly left field in the minor leagues last season, he’d figure to slide into that spot at the big league level, too.

So who will step in in right? Many of the outfielders currently part of the team failed to impress offensively in 2018: Delmonico, Ryan Cordell and Charlie Tilson. Daniel Palka, who hit 27 home runs as a rookie in 2018, is certainly an option, though he’s perhaps better suited for the role of the team’s regular designated hitter. Leury Garcia was injured in 2018 and played in fewer games than Avi Garcia did, and he slashed just .271/.303/.376 when healthy. Plus, it’s likely the White Sox would be upset to see his valuable versatility negated by making him an everyday player in right.

The point being: With Avi Garcia non-tendered, adding a corner outfielder might now shoot near the top of Hahn’s offseason to-do list. It might only need to be a short-term addition, what with the amount of outfield depth in the organization’s loaded farm system. That could mean a veteran on a one- or two-year contract. But the vacancy will also bring to mind potential long-term options, such as the star of this year’s free-agent class, Bryce Harper, who the White Sox are reportedly interested in.

Here’s a sampling of the list of free-agent outfielders as of this writing: Michael Brantley, Derek Dietrich, Carlos Gonzalez, Marwin Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Harper, Jon Jay, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen and Gerardo Parra.

Will one of those guys be the White Sox everyday right fielder in 2019?

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