May 15, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago White Sox pitcher Dylan Axelrod (33) is visited by teammates and manager Robin Ventura (23) after suffering a cramp during the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
White Sox players–multiple White Sox players–are in a position to lose their jobs (or roles), but for the best reason: starting players are returning and the roster needs to make room for them. Gordon Beckham is getting everyone excited by spraying opposite-field line-drives in Triple-A, free from the top-level velocity he struggles against and John Danks, well, he can’t just do rehab starts for the rest of his contract.
It’s good, since there’s actually a debate over who should make way for each player rather than an obvious pariah–at least not an easily released one–but it would be bad if players as fringe-average as Beckham and Danks are likely to be are being looked to for substantial help. They will increase flexibility.
Here I thought we were just looking for a way to say nice things about Gordon Beckham with all the talk over the past few years about his ability to turn double plays, avoid errors and complete outfield relays, but the past six weeks have been pretty brutal. Set whatever adjustments at the plate Beckham needs to hop back into aside, his simple presence can stabilize second base, and third in turn.
Conor Gillaspie is steadily sliding away from his hot start, but that could be abated by never playing him against left-handed pitching for the rest of his time on Earth. He has a .238/.238/.286 with six strikeouts and no walks in 21 plate appearances against southpaws, but is still over an .800 OPS against opposite-handed pitching. Jeff Keppinger’s start has been too across-the-board bad to get any kind of idea of what his recovery (he’s on a three-game hitting streak!) will look like, but platooning him against lefties is a time-tested reaction to his shortcomings, and might take pressure off him to produce in the biggest role he’s ever been given in a new town.
Utility man Angel Sanchez is also on a rehab stint, and the longer it lasts the better, given the decisions he forces by being a Rule 5 pick. If the White Sox feel comfortable with never giving Alexei Ramirez a day off (they haven’t all year) they could simply carry Beckham, Keppinger and Gillaspie and Ramirez in the infield and maintain the versatility for pinch-hitting that Casper Wells provides. But if the Sox were that cavalier about not having a true backup for Ramirez beyond maybe Beckham in a pitch, Sanchez is probably not on the Opening Day roster anyway.
Whether or not the Sox feel Sanchez is even better than Tyler Greene, is another matter too.
At some point, Danks simply has to get called up. He’s healthy, he’s locked in for three more years after this one and the White Sox need to know what they have and what they’re paying for. That’s the larger truth behind a looming decision of which productive starter should get booted out for a guy who’s walking the park in Triple-A.
Dylan Axelrod has as much immediate claim to a rotation spot as anyone, having allowed over three runs in just two of his nine starts, and he might have just pulled his greatest trick of the year in ducking punishment from the Boston offense for six innings. But while he used to post encouragingly half-decent strikeout rates in previous moonlighting sessions, Axelrod isn’t missing any bats at all these days–just 28 strikeouts in 52.1 innings–since his slider lost its use as an out-pitch. He’s seemingly on track for a 2011 Philip Humber-style fall to Earth, but at least the lack of trust he inspires results in a very beneficial use of caution by management. There’ll be no ‘inning too long’ outings for Axelrod.
Conversely, Hector Santiago has had two consecutive outings where he failed to avoid the troubles of big innings. It’s nothing alarming for a young pitcher who lacks a boatload of starting experience at upper levels and was stretched out fairly recently to struggle with control, but it comes along with a clearly demonstrated ability to miss bats–22 in 21.2 innings as a starter this year. That ability makes Santiago more interesting as a member of the starting the rotation down the road, even as he’s having long ball problems or losing control.
Conversely, that ability probably makes Santiago more interesting as a situational reliever as well, and since that’s the role he was in just last month, chances are the White Sox realize that too, while also remembering the wreck that Axelrod was out of the pen last season. A short-term move puts out Santiago to a bullpen that could use another guy usable in situations that aren’t described with the word “garbage,” and the White Sox typically like to think they’re in a position to make short-term moves until it’s proven to them they aren’t.
In either case, both of these guys have set too high of a standard for Danks to come in and pitch like its spring training again for a prolonged stretch. Meritocracies can only be suspended for so long.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan