Now that the smoke is clearing from the trade deadline, it’s easier to see what the White Sox are right now (in tank mode), and a little more apparent to project the foreseeable future (2024 no, 2025 maybe).
The White Sox opened that rest of the season with a sleepy 2-0 loss to the Texas Rangers that will probably foreshadow the liveliness of the remaining 54 games on the 2023 schedule.
Yasmani Grandal and Elvis Andrus are still with the team, and there are probably reasons for it, or else every club would jettison its remaining veterans the day after the trade deadline. Maybe a team wants to wait for an injury elsewhere before placing a player on waivers, hoping for some salary relief. Maybe there’s a transition that needs to happen with game-planning. Maybe a team wants to shorten the amount of time it gives to overmatched rookies. Maybe everybody appreciates two weeks’ notice whenever possible.
None of the reasons are compelling to the viewer, but merely sets an appropriate tone for the next two months, during which we’re going to have to make our own fun. Don’t underestimate how long two months can last when little about the roster feels essential. There’s going to be ample time to get tired of everybody.
While there won’t be much inspiration for fans to hang on every pitch, a sizable chunk of the roster has all the motivation to remain invested on a day-to-day basis.
For the players who can treat every MLB inning as a gift — your Zach Remillards, your Touki Toussaints, your Jesses Scholtens — obviously there’s something to play for. The same can be said for the catchers, as Seby Zavala and Carlos Pérez now have to contend with Korey Lee and Edgar Quero being on the horizon. This could be as good as it gets, so they have to enjoy the unfettered — or minimally fettered — opportunities for as long as they last.
For the mainstays who are staying, there are four in particular I’m monitoring the rest of the way, even if watching them on a game-to-game basis won’t be all that enjoyable.
I wish I could see what the White Sox see in Vaughn, whether it’s considering him untouchable before the trade deadline, or Rick Hahn considering him a potential leader in the aftermath.
“I think it’s going to be a really interesting clubhouse over the next few months,” Hahn said. “I mean that in a good way. It will leave room for some of these young guys to grow and blossom. They can take some of the leadership reins. I talked to Andrew Vaughn about his former college teammate today before we traded for him, that’s a guy I think will take a new leadership role in that room.”
Maybe, but here’s a counterpoint: Vaughn hasn’t been good. This is not to rule out the possibility of him becoming good, just because every draft prognosticators thought Vaughn would hit, but his present form offers the possibility that he can’t create the swing leverage to damage MLB pitching the way an MLB first baseman needs to.
There’s also the matter that he’s faded to the finish in each of his first two seasons, hitting .169/.222/.261 over 40 September games. He’s still trying to figure out how to survive a six-month grind, so it doesn’t seem like he’s in a position to set an example.
If Vaughn can elevate his game over the last two months, it makes it a little easier to see how the White Sox might be able to fashion a sort-of contender in 2024. Then we can see what the leadership stuff is all about.
It’d be kind of fitting if Jiménez finally reached his ceiling as an all-world hitter just in time for it to actually hurt the cause, but it’d still serve a purpose. He needs to prove that he’s capable of playing 100 games. Maybe it helps the White Sox come closer to a building a threatening offense for 2024, or maybe it inspires another team to fork over somebody who diversifies the roster’s skill set. Both are better than merely riding out the rest of his contract, because the White Sox are already doing that with Yoán Moncada, whose back makes it harder to trust him beyond the next 48 hours.
It seems like Sheets is being phased out of the White Sox’s plans. Granted, he’s doing his own part by going 57 plate appearances without an extra-base hit, dragging his season line down to .215/.290/.355, but he’s only started one game over the last 10 days, with Grandal taking some starts at first base in his place.
Before the season, I’d wondered if the shift ban would hurt Sheets more than help, because his ability to tap or flip a pitch to a vacated left side helped mask the fact that he just doesn’t hit the ball all that hard. It seems like those fears were warranted when looking at his hit charts from last year to this one.
After hitting .404 on balls to left field over his first two years, Sheets is hitting .152 this season. He’s pulling the ball more (from 38 percent to 48 percent), and he’s lifting the ball more (ground-ball rate down to 37 percent), but it just doesn’t go anywhere.
Now that Jake Burger’s in Miami and Grandal is blocking young catchers who need an evaluation period, Sheets might get one more blast of playing time, even if he just helps fill out the lineup card. If he doesn’t, that’ll tell you the White Sox have seen all they need to see.
Colás is a reason why I don’t think it’s necessary to eliminate all veterans with extreme prejudice. He’s hitting .215/.235/.246 with 21 strikeouts over 68 plate appearances since he’s returned. Obviously that failure is more valuable than watching somebody like Sheets come up short in right field, but it’s still a lot of failure to witness. The same can be said for Lenyn Sosa, who everybody wants to see in Chicago until a week after seeing him in Chicago.
The difference is that the Sox have options beyond Sosa in the near future. Colás represents the only internal upside in the outfield, and if he still doesn’t look any more under control in the plate or on the field, then he can’t be considered a given for 2024. White Sox fans are used to dealing with uncertainty in right field, but lump it in with the fresh questions in the rotation and left side of the infield, and that’s way more than a front office can be expected to answer over one winter. Especially this front office.