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It’s hard to say the Brewers knew what they had when they acquired him on April 19, because they started by optioning him to Colorado Springs. They him called up from Triple-A on May 9 after hitting .295/.392/.432, although it’s worth noting that Security Service Field is 6,531 feet above sea level.
Originally, Saladino took the place of utility man Nick Franklin, whose trip to the disabled list opened the roster spot. Then he ripped three homers over his first 21 plate appearances with Milwaukee, a staggering number considering Saladino failed to homer in his any of his last 103 games with the White Sox.
On Thursday, Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said he needed to get Saladino more playing time. On Friday, the Brewers made it possible by optioning starting shortstop Orlando Arcia to Triple-A. Saladino has now made the lineup card in four consecutive games, including a 2-for-5 day against the Mets that raised his Milwaukee line to .333/.349/.619.
Right now, it’s easiest — and perhaps the likeliest — to call it a crazy small sample. However, Justin Morneau, Saladino’s former teammate who is now an analyst on Minnesota Twins broadcasts, dropped this observation when the Brewers played at Target Field last weekend.
The good news is that the White Sox are benefiting from their own small-sample success story in Saladino’s spot.
Jose Rondon is hitting .259/.310/.556 with a pair of dingers over his first 10 games with the White Sox. That production will be tested because Rondon isn’t likely to return to Charlotte anytime soon. He’s no longer subject to LIFO because Charlie Tilson has since joined the roster in Leury Garcia’s absence, and Matt Davidson has missed the last four games with a back problem, including a late scratch Saturday that thrust Rondon into the cleanup spot.
It’s worth following this tale of the tape as the two accrue playing time, even if it only rises to the level of a C-plot at most. They’re directly comparable as right-handed utility infielders, and Rondon has some built-in advantages. He holds the edge in age (4½ years younger) and service time (he has at least three more seasons of club control). On Saladino’s side, he has the richer track record, and looked to be an ideal bench player before his back acted up.
He would’ve had a problem fitting the White Sox timeline in the same role, so if he settles into his old numbers — even the ones before his back problems — Rondon won’t have to do much to justify the swap. (The same can be said if Saladino’s back betrays him for a third consecutive season.)
For the time being, it’s this newfound level of production that warrants monitoring. Take both of their track records and Saladino’s injury history, and I’m guessing the Sox made the right call in giving Rondon the priority. However, if Saladino somehow sticks as a starting shortstop for a first-place team, and the swing change was a bigger problem than the back, then the Sox might want to consider what else they’ve fixed.