The assertion will understandably make some White Sox fans scream at their computer or cell phone screens, but it’s the hard truth: Despite Dayan Viciedo’s many shortcomings, the Chicago White Sox would be wise to stand pat with him as their left fielder in 2015.
I know what you’re thinking, I must be crazy, under the influence of narcotics, or at the very least, nursing a hangover. I assure you, however, I am not (Christmas is still 12 days away, after all). What I have been doing is pouring over the realistic possible replacements for Dayan Viciedo and how they might compare to “Tank” in 2015. Unfortunately, it’s not pretty. The available names are abundant; Ichiro Suzuki, Colby Rasmus, Jonny Gomes, and Ryan Ludwick, but the talent is not. I have conspicuously omitted Nori Aoki and Melky Carbera, as they are garnering such a large amount of attention, I assume the going rate for their services will be more than the White Sox will want to spend after their recent winter meetings bonanza.
Ichiro Suzuki at one time was one of the best contact hitters in the sport. Those days are behind him. Suzuki is now 41 years old and declining fast. His offensive and defensive value has fallen off significantly the last four years. During his last All Star season in 2010, Sukuzki boasted a .754 OPS (On-base Plus Slugging Percentage). His highest OPS since then was .696 in 2012. His OPS in 2014 was .664. Judging by defensive fielding metrics, his defense has taken a similar turn for the worse. As an outfielder in 2010, Suzuki had a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of 14.1, and a UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) of 13.4. In 2014, he had a UZR of -0.9, and a UZR/150 of -1.5.
Suzuki earned $6.5 million each of the last two seasons. It’s likely that he will earn just as much as the Sox are set to pay Viciedo in 2015, likely in the $4-4.5 million range. Viciedo brings much more power to the table than Suzuki, and should his batting average recalibrate around his career average of .254, it serves no purpose for the White Sox to pay Suzuki millions for a marginal defensive upgrade. Suzuki’s age also makes him an injury risk if he’s expected to play as an everyday outfielder.
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Colby Rasmus is an interesting option I have long thought about as an option to replace Viciedo. After further consideration, however, it wouldn’t make sense. Rasmus has been plagued by many of the same issues that haunt Viciedo, a high strike out rate and low average, but Rasmus’ struggles seem to be even more pronounced. Comparing Viciedo and Rasmus’ steamer projections predicts Viciedo will have a significantly more productive offensive year than Rasmus in 2015, with “Tank” hitting for a higher batting average, accumulating 3 more HRs, 11 more RBI, and 23 fewer strike outs. While Rasmus had a couple of impressive seasons at the plate in 2010 and 2013, they required the help of a .350+ BABIP. Seeing as how his career BABIP is .298, basically the league average, team’s should not bank on him repeating that level of production going forward.
Rasmus earned $7 million in 2014, and while his defense would be a significant upgrade with respect to his arm and committing errors, Viciedo actually boasted a better RngR (Range Runs Above Average) than Rasmus in 2014, -3.3 compared to -8.6. Rasmus is also two and a half years older than Tank, and I have to believe Viciedo has room to grow if the team, and fans like me, place their confidence in him. Replacing Viciedo with Rasmus might ultimately result in a marginally better, but more expensive defensive upgrade that takes away from their lineup.
Jonny Gomes and Ryan Ludwick are both in the same boat right now; older, defensive and offensive liabilities. Gomes has a career batting average ten points lower than Viciedo, and Ludwick has batted higher than .265 just once since 2008. Gomes has never been a consistently spectacular outfielder, posting a positive UZR/150 once in his career, in 2011. Ludwick’s age and injuries seem to have taken a toll on his defensive abilities, as he’s posted a negative UZR and UZR/150 in each of the last four seasons. Ludwick would be a great candidate to have on a team as a fourth outfielder, but he is not a player I’d want replacing Viciedo in the lineup full-time.
The big question is whether or not the Sox will agree. Right now it seems they don’t, as they have been actively shopping Viciedo and appeared to be in serious discussions with the Mariners this last week. Unless the Sox plan on making a run at Melky or Nori, however, they should pull back from their discussions about Viciedo and leave him in left. He may not be the most appealing option, but right now, for only $4 million bucks in 2015, it seems like he’s the most promising one.
*All advanced stats, unless otherwise noted, provided by Fangraphs.com