Limited September roster expansion will require White Sox to consider who, when, why

The White Sox and the other 29 teams will be able to expand their roster when September arrives on Wednesday, but the 28-man roster takes some of the open-ended, wild-eyed excitement out of it.

Teams were limited to 28 players last September, but then again, teams carried 28 players the entire season due to the heightened risk of having to isolate members of the active roster due to COVID-19. Between that and the lack of a minor league baseball season, there wasn’t the typical giant pool of players jockeying for consideration in organized, recorded baseball games.

This is the first year where the limits of the roster’s barely bigger belt can actually be felt. In a world where the White Sox could add any and all remaining players on the 40-man roster, you’d have at least five deserving candidates from the Charlotte Knights raring to go. Instead, the White Sox will have to be strategic in their selectivity.

That’d be worse news in previous seasons. In 2021, the White Sox’s 26-man roster is pretty much rock solid, with a number of key hitters needing at-bats in the final month due to missed time earlier in the year. Also, thanks to the delayed start to the 2021 minor-league season and 10 additional “Final Stretch” games added to the schedules of Triple-A teams, those who don’t get the call to Chicago will be able to get reps with Charlotte through Oct. 3.

As Orson Welles once supposedly said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Let’s explore those limitations that could inspire some creativity from the front office.

THE CONSTRAINTS

The injured members of the 40-man: There’s theoretically less drama this year because the White Sox have a pretty entrenched 26-man roster, and the Sox have three players who should be able to come off the injured list in September (Adam Engel, Billy Hamilton, Evan Marshall).

That said, there’s a little time to experiment. Hamilton’s rehab stint can extend to Sept. 9, and Marshall’s can be maxed out into the following week (Sept. 14). Engel is the one guy whom the White Sox would have immediate use for, but he hasn’t even begun his rehab stint, which is concerning since this is his third time on the injured list, and his initial timetable has extended from “the minimum 10 days” to “welp, it’s more than 10 days.” The White Sox placed him on the IL back on Aug. 16, so he’s probably at the point where a rehab stint is necessary.

The other 10-day minimum: Most teams call up a third catcher, and Zack Collins would and may forever be the obvious candidate for a third catcher on an expanded roster. But because the White Sox optioned him to Charlotte on Aug. 27 due to the return of Yasmani Grandal, Collins won’t be able to return to the fold until Sept. 6 unless injury occurs. Injury could occur, but there are few natural candidates for a phantom stint. With the White Sox only playing four games over the first six days of September, the Sox might feel like two catchers is enough to start the final month.

THE CANDIDATES

*Yermín Mercedes: If the White Sox wanted somebody who could squat in behind the plate due to an emergency before Collins becomes available, Mercedes is the only other qualified candidate on the 40-man. He’s hitting .276/.320/.534 in Charlotte, but only .155/.228/.204 over the last 30 days. He seems to be biding his time for an opportunity elsewhere.

*Gavin Sheets: He picked up where he left off after returning to Triple-A, hitting .306/.392/.613 with four homers, seven doubles and 10 walks over 18 games while dividing his time between first, right field and DH. He’d be their best bet for left-handed bench power, but he’s redundant with Jake Lamb, whose ability to back up Yoán Moncada at third could be a difference-maker.

*Jake Burger: Burger had a rockier return to action due to a bone bruise in his thumb, hitting .209/.255/.488 in 12 games since coming off the injured list. He hit four homers over three games to suggest the hand injury isn’t an active concern, but there’s a real chance the White Sox have already seen his best ball this season.

*Micker Adolfo: He’ll be out of options next spring, so in past seasons, he’d be one of the best uses of a roster spot in September. But with a 36-percent strikeout rate over an otherwise productive first 22 games in Charlotte (.270/.333/.527), he’s probably better off getting as many reps as possible in Triple-A than a handful of plate appearances in Chicago. Engel would be the better use of those opportunities in order to get up to speed for October, at least assuming he gets healthy enough to take them.

*Danny Mendick: He did what he could with his opportunity at shortstop while Tim Anderson rested his legs and Leury García was concussed, hitting safely in six of his last seven games with the White Sox before they optioned him to Charlotte. He wouldn’t be able to return to the roster until Sept. 5 unless an injury necessitates an extra infielder, and if an outfielder returns before that, García, Lamb and Andrew Vaughn provide enough depth.

*Matt Foster/Ryan Burr: Foster has been nails in Triple-A, with 18 strikeouts to one walk over 11⅔ innings. Kyle Crick is the only one pitching better in the Knights bullpen, but Crick isn’t on the 40-man roster, and would have to be added by today in order to be eligible for a postseason roster. Otherwise, Foster and Burr would be the righties rotated in and out of the bullpen for fresh, low-leverage arms.

*Jace Fry: If the White Sox want a lefty, Fry is the only candidate on the 40-man, and fortunately he’s looking like a guy who previously enjoyed long stretches of MLB success. He’s gotten his walks under control in August, issuing only three of them against 17 strikeouts over 11⅔ innings this month.

BEST GUESSES

Fresh off a day off and with two more to come on Thursday and Monday, the usual, immediate demands for a third catcher and extra arms aren’t there, so the White Sox could strike a balance between the inevitable and the exciting by reinstating Hamilton and recalling Sheets. Hamilton’s rehab stint thus far looks like a stretch from his MLB game log — 3-for-19 with a double, two walks and eight strikeouts — but he’d be making any roster for his defense and speed, and the White Sox could use a better option behind Luis Robert in center field. Sheets might not see a whole lot of action, but the Sox could use him to see how many times his specific bench bat might be necessary down the line.

Starting a week from now, the White Sox open a stretch of 20 games over 20 days, and that’s when there’s less room for imagination, whether it’s because Collins comes back to afford Grandal risk-free reps at DH, or because Hamilton, Engel and Marshall all need to be part of the roster. Marshall looks like the most awkward fit, because he was a mess before the injury, and he’s out of options. I’m not sure what kind of innings he can expect to receive if the White Sox are required to carry him over the second half of the month.

The good news is that ninth bullpen spot currently occupied by Mike Wright can be used as a rotating door for the other fresh arms mentioned. The other reality is that players could be shelved between now and then, whether due to an actual injury or as a precautionary measure, so the guys currently on the outside looking in could eventually find themselves within the 28-man roster’s wall.

(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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a-t

First time in a long while there’s been a real roster crunch with deserving candidates that’ll be left out, it feels like.

Yermin won’t be in the org next season, DH at-bats are fiercely contested for on this roster, and I don’t think he’s even first in line for that in AAA (that’d be Sheets) whether he plies his trade in Japan or MLB might depend on whether the universal DH is included in the new CBA.

Burger is almost certainly staying in AAA and could be trade bait this offseason for mostly the same reason as Yermin, but if no trade materializes I wouldn’t be super surprised if he got the backup corner IF/bench bat role over Lamb next year.

Sheets has raked all year and has finally tapped into his power. I think he’s a semi-regular next year with long stretches of starting since all of the first-team outfield Eloy, Robert, and Engel have been injury-prone. The roster spot is a little complicated tho bc Engel/Robert injury proneness means they absolutely need a third (Hamilton) and maybe fourth (Goodwin) CF available, and Sheets can’t do that.

Hamilton has to be on the roster if Engel isn’t. If Robert and Engel are healthy, I don’t think that’s the case. I wonder if a trade in the offseason might be for a Hamilton-like guy with at least a couple minor league options.

If all goes well in AAA for them, I prefer Marshall and Fry over Wright and Ruiz. The former pair have previously shown high-level high-leverage capability and the latter haven’t. Fry is simple— he needs to throw the ball in the zone and he seems to be doing that good enough in AAA. Marshall I don’t think was fully healthy at all this year, I think he can be his 2019-20 self if he finally is now.

mikeyb

It’s going to be very interesting. Neither Goodwin nor Sheets should take another swing against LHP this season in a situation that matters, as they are atrocious. Lamb has weirdly been better against LHP than RHP this year. Really don’t think I want to see Lamb on the postseason roster. Goodwin has been good enough against RHP and plays solid enough corner defense.

I think I would call up Sheets immediately and get him as many ABs against RHP as possible. He could not touch breaking balls at all during his first stint, so we need to see if he’s been able to adjust or not. He can’t be on a postseason roster if he can’t hit them.

Last edited 1 year ago by mikeyb
LamarHoyt_oncrack

Good take. Your point on Goodwin and Sheets splits is spot on. Goodwin has a sub-.300 OPS against lefties, .900 vs RHP, yet started Thursday vs a lefty… and then was benched in favor of Garcia the next game against a righty. Some of TLR’s lineup choices have made no sense at all, like he doesn’t even take something that obvious into account. The number of AB’s Goodwin has gotten vs lefties is just stupid.

I agree I hope no Lamb for October. Position versatility or not (and he’s only played a few games at 3b), he isn’t good. Sheets is a better hitter vs righties even with his weaknesses. I hope Sheets gets called and Engel comes back soon so we see an end to the Lamb nonsense, as well as Goodwin playing vs lefties.

joewho112
As Cirensica

Great read, and my favorite quote is a fact that some fans quickly forget when Abreu is in one of his “slumps”

He’s had off years, but only in the context of his own career; he’s never approached anything that could be called bad.

GrinnellSteve

Great article! Thanks!

Eloytes

Also off-topic, but certainly a testament to something: I picked up a White Sox team set for the Topps 2021 Series 1 yesterday and these were some of the players included:

  • Codi Heuer
  • Dane Dunning
  • Nomar Mazara
  • Gio Gonzalez
  • Steve Cishek
  • Nick Madrigal (rookie card)
  • Jarrod Dyson
  • Adam Eaton
  • Edwin Encarnacion

Trade bait aside, what an amazing lineup of woe. It made me feel so much better about how our free agents have worked out this year (Eaton aside) and made me wonder what last year would have looked like with this year’s success in the FA department.

dwjm3

Lynn on the 10 day IL

As Cirensica

His last two starts haven’t been good. Maybe this is another 10 days “rest” disguised as injury.

jhomeslice

I hope so. Actually he was just fine vs Toronto, but two if his last 3 have shown some fatigue.

After the Cubs several were suggesting to skip a start. Seems likely that’s all this is.