The reported deal nearing completion between the White Sox and Eloy Jimenez is much more about having him in a White Sox uniform for the better part of the next decade than it is about having him in a White Sox uniform next week.
But the reported six-year contract that could last eight years, thanks to a couple of team options, would throw the whole service-time issue out the window. There would be no need to delay Jimenez's debut in order to guarantee an extra year of club control. That control is built into the contract. So Jimenez can now appear on the Opening Day roster with no ill effects.
The outfield has been a tough puzzle to piece together all spring. Even if Jimenez were to start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, there would've been too many guys for the four assumed outfield spots on the roster: Jon Jay, Adam Engel, Daniel Palka, Leury Garcia and Nicky Delmonico. Jay isn't going anywhere, obviously, but if Jimenez is there on Opening Day, that eats up two of those spots, leaving four guys fighting it out for two jobs.
Jimenez likely becomes the everyday left fielder, but while Jay is a lock to make the team, he's not a lock to play just one outfield position (his versatility and ability to play in all three spots was part of the allure of his signing) and he's not a lock to play every day. So constructing an outfield with the idea that Jay would be either the everyday center fielder or everyday right fielder is perhaps misguided. He might end up playing both positions a decent amount.
Each of the other four players brings entirely different strong suits.
Palka has the left-handed power that led to 27 home runs in 2018, but his defensive ability is a pretty big question mark — not to mention a bigger piece of this puzzle now that Yonder Alonso and Jose Abreu figure to take up the majority of the at-bats at designated hitter, the position Palka looked best suited for.
Engel has the defensive mastery in center field that made him a Gold Glove finalist last season, but his offensive struggles are well documented: He has a career .207/.260/.314 slash line.
Garcia has the versatility that Rick Renteria loves, the ability to play three infield positions and three outfield positions, but with Jose Rondon adding outfield to his repertoire this spring and boasting significantly more power than Garcia, does Garcia's versatility become superfluous?
Delmonico has the offensive potential he flashed at the end of the 2017 season, when he hit nine homers and had an .856 OPS in just 43 games, but injuries and poor results cratered his numbers in 2018, when he slashed .215/.296/.373 with just eight homers and 80 strikeouts in 88 games.
It comes down to which attribute Renteria and Rick Hahn value most. Engel's bat receives plenty of scorn from the fan base, but his glove could be even more valuable in an outfield featuring Jimenez and Palka, two players not known for their work with the glove. But Palka provides more pop, while Garcia gives Renteria more options when it comes to resting guys throughout the course of the 162-game season.
It's important to note that whenever this rebuild transitions into contention mode, it's possible none of these players — aside from Jimenez, of course — is a part of the White Sox outfield equation. Prospects like Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Luis Basabe and Blake Rutherford might eventually have better claims to these spots than anyone in the current mix. But there's a team to field in 2019.
Truthfully, it's near impossible to pick which of these guys is going to get the short end of the stick. It seemed Delmonico was going to have a challenging time making the team even if Jimenez had started the season at Triple-A, so perhaps it's slightly easier to box him out. But as for the other three, they each boast an attribute the others don't, and the limits of modern technology mean we can't peer inside the minds of White Sox brass and find out which attribute they value more.
After Thursday cuts that sent Ryan Cordell and Thyago Vieira, among others, out of big league camp, the roster is down to 37 (not including Jimenez, who was optioned to Charlotte earlier this month and whose reported contract is not yet official). So there are 12 more cuts to come. But the outfield is where the most intrigue lies.