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White Sox Mailbag: Where’s Thompson? Is Flowers done after ’15?

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Welcome to the first edition of the Southside Showdown Chicago White Sox mailbag. Thank you to everyone who submitted questions via Twitter this week, and for those of you who missed the memo, be sure to submit questions by the Thursday deadline for next week’s column.

With that said, it’s time to dig into the mailbox, or should I say the Twitter File.

Flowers is clearly not talented enough offensively to survive another season as primary catcher, right? Anyone available? – Frank (@Chisportsnut) 

Frank, you certainly make a good point in questioning the offensive abilities of Tyler Flowers and whether or not that makes him a viable candidate to be the primary catcher in 2016. His .218/.274/.337 slash line leaves a lot to be desired.

What Flowers brings to the table however is exceptional game calling, which is something the White Sox have openly touted. It’s important to note that ace, Chris Sale has made all of his 26 starts with Flowers behind the dish. Carlos Rodon has a 2.71 ERA when throwing to Flowers and a 9.12 ERA when throwing to Geovany Soto this season, so there is an obvious positive to having Flowers behind the plate.

After the 2014 season, Flowers knew he was in danger of losing his job if he didn’t mitigate his offensive shortfalls with something of value. That’s why he worked tirelessly on pitch framing, a skill that can now be quantified, over the offseason. It’s paid dividends this season as Flowers is only 2nd to Yasmani Grandal among all qualified catchers in added strikes with 99.1 per Baseball Prospectus.

That won’t show up on the back of a baseball card, but it’s enough to at least partially make up for his pitfalls at the plate.

I think the White Sox will also look at Flowers’ .280/.337/.553 second half line that he posted in 2014 as an indication that he can maybe convert on being a 20 home run player.

With the need to upgrade positions at third base, shortstop, and potentially right field, the White Sox may just have to live with him for another year. With that said, his .190 average and .513 OPS since the break is virtually unplayable, and there’s no other way to frame that.

So if the White Sox do look to upgrade the catcher’s spot this offseason, what’s out there?

Internally, not much. Geovany Soto doesn’t have the durability or defensive acumen to start even if he returns next season. Rob Brantly doesn’t instill much confidence, Kevan Smith would likely be overmatched, and Adrien Nieto needs quite a bit of minor league seasoning still.

Looking outside of the organization, the White Sox have been interested in Houston Astros’ catcher Jason Castro via trade in the past, especially after his 2013 all-star season. But Castro has struggled since and would only be a marginal upgrade at this point.

They could look to pull a blockbuster for Jonathan Lucroy of the Milwaukee Brewers, as the Brewers could dangle Lucroy in an effort to accelerate their rebuild. The price would be steep however, as talks would probably begin with Tim Anderson and Lucroy is headed to free agency after 2016 anyway.

Speaking of free agency, Matt Wieters is the prize. Unfortunately, injury concerns follow the Baltimore Orioles catcher and worst of all, his agent is Scott Boras.

With a thin free agent market beyond Wieters (A.J. Piersynski is not likely to be a starter in 2016), it seems like the White Sox will roll with Flowers, but expect them to make a big play for Jonathan Lucroy next offseason.

Why is Robin Ventura so afraid to play Trayce Thompson everyday? – Avid Chi Fan (@AvidChi)

Aug 22, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Chicago White Sox right fielder Trayce Thompson (28) points to the crowd after hitting a solo home run in the second inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Avid Chi Fan, the quick answer is that Robin Ventura is more afraid of playing Thompson than he is of losing his job apparently. Another answer is that he is just an awful manager. That’s an easy response, but might be the most accurate.

If we want to get more analytical about it, then the lack of playing time may lie in Thompson’s offensive splits. There’s no denying he hits left-handed pitchers better than their right-handed counterparts and Ventura has almost exclusively tried to give him looks against lefties.

The other factor is that the White Sox were actually on the periphery of contention when Thompson was initially called up. It’s counter-intuitive, but Ventura may have looked at playing Adam LaRoche as the more win-now move.

Now that the White Sox are firmly out of contention, there’s absolutely no reason Trayce Thompson should be riding the bench. An extended look offers three benefits. It reveals whether or not he’s a potential starter for 2016, helps his own development, and showcases him as a possible trade piece.

With LaRoche facing insurmountable struggles this season, I feel as though it’s in his and the organization’s best interest to give him a mental break and essentially the rest of the season off with the rational of “Get right for 2016 and let the kids play.” I think a veteran such as the 35-year-old LaRoche would accept this fate.

Unfortunately, Robin Ventura doesn’t really seem to have an interest in Thompson consistently facing right-handed pitching, which eliminates the chance of him starting for multiple days in a row.

With the added challenge of balancing playing time for Avisail Garcia (who needs the at-bats), Adam Eaton, and Melky Cabrera in the outfield, LaRoche really would have to be the casualty for Thompson to get more playing time. This will only get more complicated when Micah Johnson arrives in the next wave of call-ups. Considering the way Dayan Viciedo has been raking in Triple-A, maybe he even sees Chicago again.

It’s a fluid situation, but if Thompson’s 1.180 OPS hasn’t been enough to convince Ventura, then nothing probably will. Maybe it would take the young outfielder setting up speakers near Ventura’s office and blaring John Fogerty’s “Centerfield (put me in coach)” at max volume, but even then Ventura seems to be deaf to rational thinking, so this might not do the trick either.

Next: Will John Danks be traded this offseason?

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