Embrace the Tank?


Dayan Viciedo, forcing a question about his potential again at the last moment. // Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs, though hardly in a situation where they should inspire ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ behavior, did an interesting thing Wednesday in response to the season-long travails of young cornerstones Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo: they moved them to the top of the batting order.

Of course, with the monster contract extensions the Cubs handed the pair, the limb they’re going out on to show their commitment to Rizzo and Castro is one they already paid to have built. The philosophy is transferrable, though. They’re not winning, so they’re worrying more about expressing confidence in the guys they expect to be part of their core than hiding their struggles so they can win a game against the Nationals in August.

Seeing as Dayan Viciedo–in hammering a fairly crushworthy hanging slider for a home run, diving wildly outside the zone for a ducksnort single, and taking an outer-half fastball up the middle of the infield–didn’t do anything we didn’t already know he could do, Frank Thomas was probably a little too fired up over him during the Comcast SportsNet post-game show Wednesday night. Yet he made the point that if the Sox believe in Viciedo (though he would probably take umbrage at the use of the word “if”) why are they not making a similar statement with him?

Despite having an even worse record, during this five-game winning streak and beyond, Robin Ventura has been seemingly a lot more dedicated to winning actual baseball games of recent than Dale Sveum. He’s riding his starters deep into games, he’s riding with his top relievers whenever he has a lead (sorry, Jake Petricka) and Addison Reed just pitched for the fifth game in a row.

Oh, and Viciedo is hitting eighth. Although, based on performance, Viciedo deserves to hit eighth.

At 51-74, Thomas is fairly perplexed with why that matters above going all-out to develop a player that is supposed to be important, and I’m mostly inclined to agree. The team should be playing to win, but some of the means in place seem downright ludicrous given the relative lack of ends.

Alexei Ramirez has no earthly future hitting in the No. 3 spot of a major league batting order. As much as he may feel he’s benefitting from it, he’s turning 32 in a month, isn’t lacking for major league plate appearances and is pushing players the Sox actually have hopes of developing farther down the order.

–Addison Reed pitching five times in six days outside of a seven-game series is pretty nuts. Of relievers with more than 10 saves, only Kenley Jansen has thrown more than Reed’s 59.1 innings, and he has the distinction of being in a pennant race, where the marginal gains to be had from heavily prioritizing your best relievers can mean the difference between playoffs and no playoffs. With Matt Lindstrom leading the American League in appearances and Nate Jones being 10th in innings among all pitchers who have only appeared in relief, the Sox are putting as much priority on who pitches relief as anyone with essentially no reward.

–There have already been whispers about some shutdowns for starters reaching career-highs in innings, but with Charlie Leesman available and Erik Johnson eviscerating Triple-A competition, there should be no need to ride anyone into the ground come September when rosters expand.

–Dayan Viciedo hitting eighth, after Conor Gillaspie, seem rather punitive and three plate appearances per game is an odd way to develop someone if you have much hope of them becoming a middle-of-the-order hitter.

“Will you be able to brush your teeth tomorrow,” Hawk said to Reed after game in the most cringeworthy live interview of the season // Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Counterpoint – Maybe it is punitive. Viciedo’s work on defense recently is closer to what was feared from him when he was first called up in 2011 than acceptable growing pains and effort in his second full year. Also, perhaps after 1100 plate appearances in the major leagues and a discouraging lack of progress, organizational faith in his ability to carry the offensive load is not at an all-time high nor something they feel like bending over to facilitate

Bill Melton suggested that Viciedo would have to “earn it,” which is telling. No one wants to flirt too much with whatever results when a team makes it too obvious that winning isn’t important, certain players are essentially meaningless to the franchise’s focus while others will be allowed limitless opportunities to fall on their faces, and so on…But while the White Sox had made the requisite roster moves to show that they realize their situation, the team is run on a day-to-day basis in a manner resembling last season, when a contending team had to integrate a lot of rookies mid-stream. Hierarchies for roles remain in place and players need to prove themselves before they’re trusted with any of the heavy lifting.

Which is odd, since none of the lifting is actually very heavy.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan