Finally, the White Sox are on the verge of having too many bats

Over the course of the winter, I wanted the White Sox to block Andrew Vaughn in Triple-A for Opening Day. Not thoroughly. Not for years and years and years. Not in a way that made trade speculation more likely than a path to the majors. Vaughn just hadn’t faced a standard competitive environment higher than Winston-Salem, and the various players occupying his possible positions had a history of occasional injuries.

The most formidable version of the White Sox’s Plan A lineup had Vaughn making the high minors look like a waste of time, during which he’d be in a glass case marked “BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.” In other words, I wanted the White Sox to carry more bats than they had spots.

That didn’t happen. In fact, Vaughn slid up the defensive spectrum during the last week of spring training, winning the job as primary DH, then becoming necessary in left field after injuries to Eloy Jiménez and Adam Engel. The White Sox had no such depth on hand, forcing them to scramble.

And scramble they did. Yermín Mercedes enjoyed a meteoric rise, followed by a meteoric fall, landing in small fragments in Charlotte. Fortunately, Jake Lamb figured out a way to make himself useful off the bench at that time, and then Brian Goodwin looked better in Chicago than Charlotte. Incumbents soon supplemented the outsiders, with Leury García plugging gaps with positive regression, especially with runners in scoring position, and Engel returning twice off the injured list.

Every time it becomes clear that the White Sox are asking a little too much of a particular bench player, somebody shows up to invigorate the roster with impact novelty.

The latest version is Jake Burger and Gavin Sheets, who are offering way more expected as they approach their first 100 plate appearances between them.

PlayerPAH2B3BHRRBIBBKAVGOBPSLG
Sheets571240514713.246.333.633
Burger36103113411.313.389.563
Total9322716171124.272.355.605

And when it looked like Sheets was on the verge of being solved by an array of José Berríos changeups during the nightcap of Monday’s doubleheader, he worked Berríos into a fastball count and hammered his first career walk-off homer at any level.

The only catch is that one or both of these players could be on their way back down as rehab stints reach completion. It could be as soon as today if the Sox don’t want to bother Lamb and Jiménez having them travel with the Knights to Durham. It seems like Jiménez could use another week to get past a clump of strikeouts, but as Goodwin shows, sometimes lackluster performances can be the result of knowing a level is beneath them. Luis Robert is starting his rehab stint with Winston-Salem on Wednesday, which further crowds the picture if he avoids a setback.

When all hands are on deck, a pretty stable lineup emerges, and it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for Sheets and Burger.

  1. Tim Anderson, SS
  2. Yoán Moncada, 3B
  3. José Abreu, 1B
  4. Eloy Jiménez, DH
  5. Luis Robert, CF
  6. Brian Goodwin/Adam Engel, CF
  7. Andrew Vaughn, LF
  8. Zack Collins, C
  9. Leury García, 2B

Behind them on the bench is a backup catcher, a backup infielder and a backup outfielder. If you’re putting defense first, it’s Seby Zavala, Danny Mendick, Billy Hamilton, with Lamb on the periphery if Tony La Russa is fine with seven relievers (and as long as his top five starters keep going five innings, he probably should be).

None of those players is more worthy of at-bats than Sheets or Burger at this time, but Sheets and Burger can still use time in Charlotte to shore up other parts of their game. Burger’s glovework has been the only thing showing any indication of a three-year professional layoff, and he made a significant rookie mistake in the eighth inning of Monday’s Game 1.

Burger had sub-.900 fielding percentages at both third and second base with Charlotte, which is why I’m not a fan of the idea of throwing him into the mix at second base right now. It took Nick Madrigal well into his second season at his natural position to get past rushing his actions on a regular basis, and Yoán Moncada never quite smoothed out the complicated movements at second, so it’s easy to envision Burger’s glove creating too many extra outs for his bat to compensate. He still has errors to iron out, and some of those can be extracted from him at Triple-A.

Sheets’ only error from right field came on a throw, but his cautious footsteps show his uncertainty with the position.

Considering Sheets has played just 24 games in the outfield, and Burger four at second base, they still stand to benefit from sheer reps at any level. While Mendick, Hamilton and Lamb would love to play as much as possible, they’re at the juncture in their careers where they understand why they don’t. They’ve adapted by learning to keep their carrying tools sharp while playing sparingly. Guys like Hamilton, Goodwin and Lamb lack minor-league options, while Sheets and Burger can be freely bumped up and down for the next few seasons, and you probably don’t want to risk losing their particular seasoned skills for rookies who could be in line for sizable adjustments just as the stages are growing larger, especially since previous injuries are the most prominent predictor for future injuries.

So my guess is that Burger and Sheets head back to Charlotte whenever the reinforcements arrive, prompting disappointment on a personal level, and a feeling of security with the big picture, even/especially if they’re traded for somebody who adds to the everyday lineup. This is what More Bats Than Spots feels like, 4½ months later than envisioned, but better late than never. In fact, with the White Sox’s playoff probabilities rounding up to 100 percent and October meriting serious consideration now, it’s possible that More Bats Than Spots is better late than early.

(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski / USA TODAY Sports)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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vince

At what # of PAs does Gavin Sheets’ 0 hits against breaking balls become a concern? (He’s almost the anti-Yermin in that regard)

East Side Pride

It’s been a concern, that’s why he’s in AAA & got called up for an injury replacement stint. When Roberts is ready, he’ll be sent back down. Unless Sox waiver mendick. Another bat on the roster who can’t hit his listed weight of 195. Seriously he’s batting .198. See Sheets & Burger in September expansion

Last edited 1 year ago by East Side Pride
hitlesswonder

I think there’s a good chance that one or both of Burger and Sheets gets traded…should be an interesting 10 days.

Infield Grass

My thinking watching this season and really getting into the mindset of being in a championship window has changed on this. The obvious thing would be to just see Burger and Sheets as blocked and therefore a surplus to be easily traded, which would be very true if this was a .500 team or less. Watching the injuries this season has made it look at differently and see an emphasis now on not trading guys who can actually help you inside your championship window. Especially these guys who will still have a couple of option years available that don’t have to eat a minor league roster spot and can by playing every day in AAA ready to go if there is an injury.

mikeyb

Maybe, but there is a TON of redundancy among the best hitters in this organization.

Abreu, Vaughn, Eloy, and Sheets probably ALL should be 1B/DH. Plus Grandal is probably going to need quite a bit more rest with the numerous leg injuries, so he’s a guy you want to slot in at DH in maybe 25% of games. (And this ignores the fact that the organization might still believe in Collins’ bat vs. righties and Yermin’s potential for correcting his struggles against fastballs, which would be 2 additional guys at DH).

As for Burger, he’s basically ONLY a 3B, with maybe the potential to play 1B. He’s not a 2B except in a true emergency. And this season has shown the Sox have no interest in shifting Moncada back to 2B, even in an emergency, so Burger is only going to play 3B when Moncada is hurt or needs a day off. So that’s another guy to toss into the DH mess.

I don’t know what it would cost to get Adam Frazier, a catcher, or a high end reliever. But I would definitely move any of Vaughn/Sheets/Burger to make Frazier happen. It just makes too much sense; we’re in desperate need of a 2B this year, and he can play RF next year when Madrigal comes back (or fill in for Madrigal if he gets hurt, as he has done every year since his final year in college).

polishwith

Frazier definitely looks good, but by that trade, are the Sox essentially replacing Madrigal? Seems like Escobar or Baez would cost less in trade chips and provide potential to make moves next year with Sheets and/or Burger.

Infield Grass

I just think the arguments for Frazier being valuable next season are a little overblown? Do we really want a player taking most of the ABs in right that has never hit more than 10 HRs? And unfortunately he can’t truly replace Garcia because Frazier doesn’t play short so you would still have to carry another middle infielder, which likely would eliminate another power bat off of the active roster. Of course they could trade Frazier again this offseason or once they are sure Madrigal is fully healthy. So if he is the only one they can get it then great, but I don’t buy that Frazier is some solution for next season as well that would be worth paying a premium for over the other options

As Cirensica

Very good points. I think a 1 year rental like Escobar makes more sense.

jhomeslice

Exactly. Frazier is better than Escobar, but the difference between the two is not worth the prospect cost. Frazier would be an absolutely awful solution to RF next year (his career OPS is identical to Eaton, coincidentally). Get Escobar, save the prospects, and keep options open for a real RF this winter.

Joliet Orange Sox

I agree the Sox should not overpay for Frazier. I think mentioning his career OPS is identical to Eaton muddies the discussion in a few ways (and you acknowledge that it is coincidental). Eaton’s career is coming to its end and his career numbers include some years of serious decline while Frazier has not yet entered his decline. Frazier right now is a much better player than Eaton right now but peak Eaton was a much, much better player than Frazier. Eaton put up 15.9 bWAR over 3 years for the Sox between 2014 and 2016. Frazier has never had that kind of value.

yinkadoubledare

yeah but if Eaton was hitting his career OPS this year, he’d still be on the roster and be a useful player getting on base at a decent clip. it’s because he was like 200 points worse than that after he got hurt in April that he’s gone.

HallofFrank

Trading Vaughn for Adam Frazier is not a good idea. That probably makes the Sox worse in 2021.

Frazier is consistently overrated by Sox fans. He’s having an excellent season, but it’s boosted by an abnormally high BABIP. Look at his only full season—2019—for a guide to what Sox fans should expect from him: 97 wRC+, 2.2 WAR. That’s a valuable addition to a team in need of a 2B for sure, but it’s not the All Star/elite production Sox fans seem to expect. They’d be better off getting Escobar: not only in terms of prospect cost, but in expected production, too. I’d be *very* annoyed if Adam Frazier was the Sox solution to RF in 2022.

HallofFrank

Also, Andrew Vaughn is a LF now. It’s a surprise to all of us, but we have to drop the idea that he’s 1B/DH only. He grades out around league average or better—and presumably that will only improve. He’s a LF.

hitlesswonder

Just to add to the Adam Frazier conversation, there’s this interesting piece from Fangraphs.

I agree with everyone that said the extra year of control isn’t super-valuable to the Sox with Madrigal coming back…I would not like the Sox to pay a premium to have Frazier play RF next season if his babip looks more league average in 2022.

It really comes down to what the Pirates want for him…I wouldn’t trade Vaughn…that seems like a tremendous overpay. I probably would trade Sheets or Burger but I’m not sure that’s enough for Pit.

Last edited 1 year ago by hitlesswonder
GrinnellSteve

Rosters can get old in a hurry when you let your core age and supplement it with proven veterans by trading “blocked” assets. I want to see this window stay open for a long time. One way to do that is to astutely trade some of the core for the next wave of core players, turning over some positions to previously blocked players.

Playoffs are a crap shoot. Going all in is no guarantee over 7 games that you’ll have a winning record. Your best shot to win it all is to have a strong team year after year.

I have thrown out the idea of dealing our best player this winter and replacing him with Burger. Could the Sox get a young pitcher to replace Keuchel in 2023, a young catcher to pair with Collins in 2024, and a strong bullpen arm for 2022 in exchange for Moncada? Obviously it would depend on the confidence in Burger and the quality of the return, but Hahn has done well when trading prime assets. That’s one of the ways you keep a window open. You still need to draft and develop, too.

polishwith

I’m with you on this. This is, in part, why Tampa is so successful. They never fall in love with any one player, and continue to compete in a brutal division with a almost non-existent fan base.

As Cirensica

I think Giolito should be Tampa Bay’ed. Trade Giolito (in the off season), and keep Rodon. Replenish the minors with a couple of potential good prospects. I don’t think the White Sox can afford to extend Giolito, and since he has 1 more year of team’s control, I would entertain the idea of trading him like Tampa Bay has done in the past with Snell and Archer.

Last edited 1 year ago by As Cirensica
snoopy369

Rodon is going to cost a heck of a lot this year, though. Gio will also eventually, but I’m not sure he’s much more than Rodon, unless he takes another big step – the inconsistency will keep from him getting to the Scherzer/Cole level of pay.

I don’t necessarily disagree with trading Giolito, but recognize that the window is wide open right now – and the White Sox are not Tampa Bay. They don’t have to skip paying for people and forgo some 2022 value necessarily. Much depends on Jerry though – if he’s okay with a $180MM payroll for a few years in exchange for a shot every year at a title, he can afford it, and so can the team.

Infield Grass

What you’re saying doesn’t really contradict what I was saying though. I was more pushing back at the concept of people feeling like they might as well trade Burger and Sheets now and get what they can for them since they’re blocked. My thinking has changed to they’re not truly when they still have minor league options. The Moncada trade you proposed doesn’t have to be made this offseason to extend the window because Burger still has options. They can still make that trade even after the 2022 season where Burger, but trading Burger now would eliminate that possibility and all the eggs are then in the Moncada basket.

GrinnellSteve

I wasn’t contradicting you at all. Moncada doesn’t have to be traded this winter, but trading a third year of him would net a bigger return (assuming he continues to rebound this season). As you say, if Burger is considered expendable now, then flipping Moncada becomes much harder to think about.

MrStealYoBase

It seems like a lot has changed over the last 2-3 years regarding the relative value of prospects/proven veterans. I think you are assuming that Hahn could get a return for Moncada similar in value to the returns for Sale/Quintana/Eaton. Those trades just don’t seem to happen as much anymore. I think the pendulum has swung wayyy in the other direction towards “prospects are the most valuable asset you have”, with the exception of maybe San Diego.

Last edited 1 year ago by MrStealYoBase
HallofFrank

From my very limited vantage point, it seems everyone is expecting a major change the way prospects/younger players are compensated in the next CBA. If that happens, prospects and cost controlled players are likely still valuable, but much less valuable. It will be interesting to see how teams value prospects this deadline and in the offseason.

HallofFrank

I agree with the principle but not the practice. I agree, that is, that the Sox (and Sox fans) should be thinking of this not as a 2-3 window to push all the chips in, but a sustainable winner. The Sox should add before the deadline, but I don’t like emptying the farm for Frazier and Marte and Kimbrel since, as you say, the playoffs are a crapshoot.

In practice, however, the Sox don’t need to trade Moncada (or Giolito, as mentioned elsewhere) to build a sustainable winner. If they draft well and invest in the international market, the farm system should absolutely produce another wave of talent in 2024-2025. If some prospects are knocking on the door (i.e., Burger), I’d rather flip them for different younger, high upside prospects than trade a stud (i.e., Moncada) to make space.

GrinnellSteve

Acknowledging we don’t know what may be available to Hahn in any potential deals, I don’t advocate for trading Yoan or Lucas or anyone else. I do strongly advocate for being genuinely open to the idea. If the market has changed and no one will give up worthy prospects for a current stud, then don’t deal the stud. But if the Yankees miss the playoffs, what would they give up to acquire 3 seasons of a premier third baseman in his prime? Rick should ask.

Growing old together is a great idea for my wife of 39 years and me. It’s less desirable for a baseball team.

HallofFrank

Sure. No one is literally “untouchable.” If the Yanks call and offer the farm for Moncada, fine. But I doubt Hahn is interested in cold calling teams and hoping they’re up for being ripped off. Presumably, he (and we) operate under the assumption that the Sox could get ~fair value for Moncada or Giolito, where fair value means a prospect cost comparable to previous, similar deals.

I know the Rays have been successful doing this, but the White Sox aren’t the Rays. They should run a payroll of ~$90-100m more than where the Rays typically sit. They should have no problem paying Moncada, but also investing in the international market and the draft and player development to raise up a new wave of talent without trading Moncada.

soxygen

I did not watch a decade of bad baseball to see them go “all in for 2021.” I’d like them to be competitive for several consecutive seasons. I’m hoping this ends up being the 10th best Sox team of the next decade!

As Cirensica

I hope we don’t trade neither. I see Sheets like a diluted version of Freddie Freeman (he even looks almost like his younger brother), and I like Burger’s persistence. I hope they both stay in Chicago. There will be open spots for them in the outfield/DH/3B spectrum.

East Side Pride

Better chance they both get sent back down as their injury replacement stints are over, & that’s what AAA is for. Trade Gio. He’s 49-46 with a 4.30 era in his career. He’ll lose most value afteer this season. Loaiza written all over it. 126-114 4.65 career. Kopech is ready to be the best 5th man in mlb

yinkadoubledare

If they go back down, it presumably will be with a mandate that Sheets spend his time in RF starting every day to get him more work there. They can only bring 2 guys up in September roster expansion and Sheets as a lefty bat carries some extra value especially for the Sox and their worse stats against righties as a platoon advantage guy (0 for 9 against lefties so far, 300/396/775 against righties) as a starter against some righties and as a pinch hitter where a manager can’t swap in a lefty to pitch to him.

As Cirensica

I mentioned on tweeter the other day, and I can’t believe I am saying this, but finally Hahn, and his team has pulled a feature that I thought once to be impossible: The White Sox are drafting useful pieces. The White Sox are drafting well in recent years.

Since 2016, the White Sox have drafted:
Collins
Madrigal
Sheets
Heuer
Burger
Vaughn
Crochett

Zabala (sorta) if we want to stretch it to the 1015 draft

All these players have contributed positively at the major league level, and it is a nice change of scenery on the high draft front that brought us Walkers, Hawkings, Burdis, Mitchells…sandwiching Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon.

I can’t believe how many times this year, the White Sox have been down a player, and the organization has provided with apt replacements with the only exception of the Nick Williams failed experiment.

Now Hahn assured Lynn for 2 more years, and despite of his misses in RF, Hahn appears to have a good plan (or his luck made a huge turn).

dongutteridge

I’m so happy with the Sox right now and how things are working out that I don’t think they should change anything.

If they do anything at all it should be to add a good bullpen piece.

Sox_Fan2008

My Offseason plan for the next few years:

  1. Trade Giolito, Grandal, Keuchel, and Jake Burger. Expected return would be among the lines of Brenden McKay, and a stud catching prospect (i.e. Keibert Ruiz).
  2. Keep Gavin Sheets on the Major League roster and send down or cut one of the older bench bats. Keep Vaughn in the outfield as the replacement for Eloy (Eloy would be DH’ing).
  3. Promote Yoelqui Cespedes to the OF and sign Oscar Colas (keep him down in the minors). Engel would become a bench bat and the Sox would have to decide on Vaughn or Sheets to keep.
  4. Trade one of Vaughn or Sheets for an impact reliver and sign a backup catcher for the aforementioned catching prospect. Also promote Kopech to the rotation.
  5. Let go of Abreu after his contract expires, move Vaughn to first, and promote Oscar Colas.

And voila a younger core. This is probably going to be really hard to achieve, but who cares? Lineup, rotation, and bullpen after this…
Lineup:
1B: Andrew Vaughn
2B: Nick Madrigal
SS: Tim Anderson
3B: Yoan Moncada
OF: Yoelqui Cespedes
OF: Luis Robert
OF: Oscar Colas
C: Keibert Ruiz
DH: Eloy Jimenez

Starting Pitching:
1: Carlos Rodon
2: Lance Lynn
3: Dylan Cease
4: Michael Kopech
5: Brendan McKay

Bullpen:
Matt Foster
Garrett Crochet
Jose Ruiz
Person from Sheets trade
Codi Heuer
Ryan Burr
FA
Liam Hendriks

Bench:
Engel
Leury Garcia
Mendick
Hamilton
Goodwin

Sox_Fan2008

Forgot to say this: Extend Carlos Rodon

rugbysox

In this five year plan, Is this before or after we meet Mr Henry?

Sox_Fan2008

Who is Mr. Henry?

ImmortalTimeTravelMan

Yoelqui Cespedes is in his first season of American baseball, is batting .220’s as a 23 year-old in High-A, and somehow he makes the team next year?