There’s an argument that being required to report to a Charlotte Knights team that’s 14-52 in the second half constitutes an unconstitutional punishment, but take the specific destination out of play, and Oscar Colás more or less deserved his Triple-A sentencing.
But it didn’t come without a cost, because what it removed from the White Sox is one guy for whom the remaining weeks of the season could have actually mattered. Even if nobody wanted Colás as Plan A for an outfield with ambition, a Colás who worked his way out of Pedro Grifol’s doghouse would be an easy Plan B across the board due to the lack of alternatives.
That’s not going to happen, and so the relevance of the September roster takes a big hit. You can eliminate nearly three-quarters of the 28-man roster when it comes to hoping whether a strong finish to 2023 matters for 2024. Start by crossing off the impending free agents, as well as most of the pitching staff due to the small sample sizes and lack of present momentum. Carlos Pérez, Zach Remillard and Trayce Thompson seem to have no bearing on next year’s roster, and Gavin Sheets shouldn’t. Andrew Benintendi and Dylan Cease have been disappointments, but they’ll still be around.
As far as the eight men in, they’re mostly intriguing for their circumstances, not the inherent excitement of watching them. In alphabetical order:
Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiménez: Anderson has a club option, while Jiménez will be entering the last year of the guaranteed portion of his extension. I don’t think a hot finish will change any minds in terms of their reliability, but it could change the tenor of trade talks if the Sox are hoping for a change-of-scenery deal with either over the winter.
Korey Lee: I’m not buying him, but if the White Sox are, then we have go to along for this ride.
Yoán Moncada: Like I wrote a week ago, a Moncada who sees this terrific 30-game stretch all the way through is the team’s best bet for added entertainment value in 2024, which would then turn into trade value halfway through if he doesn’t get much support elsewhere.
Luis Robert Jr.: I want to see him finish as high as possible in American League MVP voting.
Gregory Santos: Similar to Robert, it’d be nice if his finish could preserve numbers that reflect how reliable he’s been all year.
Lenyn Sosa: He’s the only player on the active roster born in the 2000s. It’s very much a problem when a team tears it down at the deadline, and the resulting roster doesn’t make you feel that old.
Last but certainly not least, because he wouldn’t be in the headline otherwise…
Andrew Vaughn: No matter what kind of start Vaughn produced, I was mostly interested in what he could offer at the end of the season. He hit just .169/.222/.261 over his first two Septembers while dealing with concerns about his back and legs, so he hadn’t yet shown that his body was capable of surviving a six-month grind.
This season suggest he might have a handle on it. He reached 20 homers in a season for the first time with his two-run shot on Thursday, which produced the only runs in the White Sox’s 10-2 loss to Minnesota. He’s now hitting .292 and slugging .542 halfway into the final month of 2023, and he’s raised those particular second-half stats to .286 and .451, which is a lot closer to what was expected of him all along.
Scott Merkin’s game recap took notice of Vaughn’s stronger state …
His overall inexperience and extra wear and tear brought about by literally the first outfield experience took its toll on Vaughn, who finished 2021 going 4-for-42 with no extra-base hits in his final 12 games. In ‘22, Vaughn hit .200 with a .580 OPS during September and October.
As a result, getting himself ready to succeed from Games 1 to 162 was an offseason priority. With his two-run blast against Kenta Maeda (5-7) in the seventh, Vaughn is hitting .353 with three homers, three doubles, seven runs scored and six RBIs over his last nine September starts.
“I’m feeling good. Definitely feeling better. The last two years, I learned a lot about myself and tried to prepare for this,” Vaughn said. “Nothing huge. Just adding stuff in the weight room. I need to go in the training room, don’t be so stubborn. Get it done.”
… yet it’s too early for Vaughn to take a victory lap for a couple reasons. He needs to see it all the way through, because last September looked decent until he went 2-for-34 to close it out. Also, you may have noticed that I didn’t produce full slash lines in the preceding paragraph, and that’s because his lack of walks is too distracting.
Here’s what it looks like when you add his OBP to the mix:
- September: .292/.306/.542
- Second half: .286/.306/.451
Somewhere along the way, Vaughn developed a lethal allergy to ball four. Here are the walk rates for every White Sox hitter with more than 50 plate appearances since June 29:
- Yasmani Grandal, 11.8%
- Jake Burger, 11.3%
- Andrew Benintendi, 9.2%
- Seby Zavala, 8.9%
- Eloy Jiménez, 6.8%
- Zach Remillard, 6.2%
- Trayce Thompson, 5.8%
- Yoán Moncada, 5.6%
- Luis Robert Jr., 5.6%
- Elvis Andrus, 5.5%
- Tim Anderson, 5.2%
- Gavin Sheets, 5.0%
- Oscar Colás, 3.9%
- ANDREW VAUGHN, 1.8%
- Lenyn Sosa, 0.0%
Most of the White Sox’s disappointing developments in 2023 have explanations, because they’re why the projection systems were so unenthusiastic about the team before it even played one game. This one defies any easy one. Vaughn, who drew a walk in 24.5 percent of his plate appearances his junior season at Cal, is now walking less than guys who never draw walks (Anderson, Colás), and the only guy he’s beating is the guy who literally never draws walks.
So while Vaughn is pounding the baseball with more authority than ever, he’s still playing a game of Wack-A-Mole in terms of his overall profile. He swatted down at one hole in his game (finish seasons strong), but now there’s another to contend with (avoid outs at even an average rate), and solving that one isn’t as simple as getting into the gym.