The Chicago White Sox didn’t have a particularly good offseason as the team mostly continued its cheap ways, allocating most of their money to a closer (Liam Hendricks), trading a pitching prospect for one year of a starter (Lance Lynn), and re-acquiring former White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton. The team also let important role players like James McCann and Alex Colome go to other teams in free agency.
The Chicago White Sox are really going to miss Eloy Jimenez this season.
Despite this lackluster offseason, many fans were excited for the upcoming year, believing the Sox to be World Series contenders. Even the Wall Street Journal seemed to think so. The thinking was that if everything went right, the White Sox would have an above-average player at every position which is the way to build a good baseball team.
Despite questions about rookies Andrew Vaughn and Nick Madrigal, and comeback seasons needed from Yoan Moncada and Adam Eaton, this didn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Unfortunately with Eloy Jimenez dealing with a misfortunate injury, the White Sox now have a hole in the lineup that is impossible for them to fill. Before the injury it seemed that Jimenez was poised for a breakout season with 40 to 50 home runs, surpassing a .300 average, and 120 RBI’s. Now, he will be lucky to play a single regular-season game at all. The White Sox don’t have anyone on hand on the farm or anywhere else who can replace that kind of production.
Who is to blame for this mess? Partial blame has to go to the Sox themselves. They refused to stock up on outfield/DH depth. Players like Joc Pederson and Kyle Schwarber were available for cheap this offseason but the White Sox refused to add to their offense despite having no solidified DH option. No, Andrew Vaughn doesn’t count as the man has not played a single game above high-A ball (where he wasn’t even that good in limited at-bats).
Ultimately, if Rick Hahn had more money available to spend, he probably would have spent it so the majority of the blame for lack of depth lies at the hands of Jerry Reinsdorf’s cheapness. He has cried poor despite never really having spent that much money on any recent Sox team.
Still, it’s not a good look for the White Sox that their outfield depth was down to two star players (Jimenez and Robert) and one average one (Adam Eaton) with basically nothing after that. Adam Engel is good enough to be a defensive replacement and backup but there’s no way he can hit well enough to be an everyday corner outfielder.
You could put a lot of blame on Jimenez himself who badly injured himself trying to catch a home run he had no chance of catching and in a spring training game no less! At this point, I think the White Sox should give up on the concept of Eloy being a left fielder as there’s no point in him risking injuring himself again. He’s had more than enough chances at that position and they need him to have a full season of at-bats every year to contribute the most value to the team.
One long-term solution could be moving Eloy to rightfield and acquiring a left fielder for next season. Jimenez would be less likely to get injured this way. The problem with this is rightfield is a position that requires at least a halfway decent defensive outfielder or at least one with a strong arm. Eloy doesn’t fit those qualifications.
The good thing about this option is that it wouldn’t require that many personnel or position changes. The bad is that it would require the White Sox to basically give up on defense at an everyday position and he very well still could get injured playing the outfield. I don’t think he would be any worse in rightfield than he is in left.
The best move might be just to move Jimenez to the designated hitter role. I don’t care that he is “too young” to be a DH. It’s not like he’s providing any value on defense anyway and this is the role where he is least likely to get injured. The problem is this leaves the White Sox with a hole in the outfield and no position for Andrew Vaugh. Moving Andrew Vaughn to left field (as Tony La Russa has been planning) seems like a pretty weird idea.
It’s generally a bad idea to move infielders to the outfield and vise versa but maybe he will play and be good there. I just seriously doubt it as he hasn’t played the outfield in either the minors or college. Playing left field in the major leagues isn’t just something anyone can do as Jimenez himself has proven.
Now they could try Andrew Vaughn at third base, Moncada in center field, and Luis Robert in right field, but that would be literally three different position changes to accommodate one guy. Would that help this team defensively at this stage? Probably not. I would like to see the White Sox become more of a Joe Maddon-style team where most players can play multiple positions when asked but that’s not really the way the White Sox have developed this team.
Speaking of Joe Maddon’s Cubs, many baseball fans are comparing Eloy Jimenez’s injury to Kyle Schwarber’s injury during the early stages of the 2016 season. Unfortunately, other than the timeline for return, this White Sox injury and that of Schwarber’s aren’t a similar situation for a number of different reasons.
For one, the 2016 Cubs had actual outfield depth as after Schwarber they still had backup outfielders like Jorge Soler, Chris Coghlan, and Albert Almora Jr., as well as the option of playing infielders Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist in the outfield. The White Sox don’t have anywhere near that kind of outfield depth as after their three guys they don’t have a single person capable of even league-average offensive production.
The 2016 Cubs were also coming off a season where they made the NLCS and gave a franchise-record contract to a new outfielder (Jayson Heyward). The Cubs were coming off a better season, a better offseason, and were loaded in the outfield. The White Sox are not. They also have a DH position to cover as well because they’re an American League team.
Furthermore, Eloy Jimenez is much more important to this White Sox team (and future ones) than Kyle Schwarber was to the Cubs. Jimenez is the White Sox main run producer! A better equivalent would be if the 2016 Cubs lost Kris Bryant for the season but even then they would have a pretty decent backup (Javier Baez) ready to take over for him. Even with that, I don’t think the Cubs would have won the World Series that year.
This is a pretty big blow to a team that absolutely did not need one, as this franchise has already been through so much misfortune and heartbreak. FanGraphs now projects the White Sox to be only an 84-win team and miss the playoffs, after previously projecting them to win the division. Fortunately, they do have Tony La Russa at the helm and that guy is known for being pretty resourceful with what he has. Still, does he really expect Andrew Vaughn to be an everyday left-fielder and Zack Collins the starting DH? That’s pretty scary on many levels.
One might draw a similar comparison to starting Vaughn in left-field to another rookie who started in left field for La Russa 20 years ago despite not playing above the high-A ball in Albert Pujols. The problem is that Andrew Vaughn is not and will not be Albert Pujols as Pujols is one of the greatest players ever. There’s only one Albert Pujols. At best, we can expect Andrew Vaughn to be Paul Konerko which would of course be very good, but not someone I would put in left field.
The Opening Day lineup I would go with would be to play Billy Hamilton in left field and Andrew Vaughn at DH. Yes, it’s a joke to think that Hamilton could replace Jimenez offensively in any way shape or form but he is an exciting player that plays baseball the old-fashioned way, hitting singles and stealing bases.
I also think he would be a better option than Leury Garcia who is somehow the longest-tenured White Sox player despite only putting up 3.0 rWAR for them in 8 seasons. Hamilton has a career WAR over 10 and is better defensively, so I would want him to start over Garcia.
After that, the Chicago White Sox should consider signing someone like Yoenis Cespedes or trading for a guy that can play left field or DH to add to the mix before the trading deadline. This would require the White Sox to actually increase their payroll which is something owner Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t seem too keen on doing. I think he would rather finish in second place than spend the money to make the White Sox a first-place team.
At the end of the day, Tony La Russa will work with what he has to work with and he’s not really a bad guy to do that. All we can do is hope for the best from Andrew Vaughn, Zack Collins, and Billy Hamilton in the meantime. This injury was a real bummer in what should be an optimistic time for baseball fans.