ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When you consider everything the team has endured thus far, the White Sox have to feel lucky to sit only four games under the .500-mark as they approach the season’s quarter-pole.
There’s no question the play of a team that boasts a $109 million payroll has been subpar at best. The offense has been dreadful. The defense may be even worse. And injuries have hampered manager Robin Ventura’s everyday lineup and the starting rotation.
But even with all of their issues, the 17-21 White Sox have the same record that they did at this point last season when they won 85 games thanks to an outstanding pitching staff. That fact and a three-game offensive surge in Minneapolis this week spearheaded by slugger Adam Dunn has to give White Sox general manager Rick Hahn some semblance of hope his team can turn it around as temperatures begin to rise.
Over the past three games the White Sox have seen their dreadful team on-base percentage increase from .280 to .287 and with a very good starting staff and a strong back end of the bullpen the White Sox could conceivably get back on track if they can produce 4-4 1/ 2 runs per game as well as shore up a porous defense.
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But if those two facets of the team’s play continue to stumble as they have for the better part of these first 38 games, Hahn will face difficult questions in regard to his roster.
With no impact talent immediately available in the organization’s farm system and an aging core of position players, Hahn may need to start a miniature fire sale of sorts before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline in order to build for the future.
Don’t expect to see him push the panic button in the near-term however as second baseman Gordon Beckham’s return to the lineup is nearing as is the potential addition of starting pitcher John Danks, who continues to rehab from shoulder surgery last August.
On to the mailbag:
When Beckham comes back does (Jeff) Keppinger go to the bench with (Conor) Gillaspie starting at third? @ChisoxDekalb
-- Ventura no doubt has a difficult choice ahead of him when Beckham comes off the disabled list, presumably later this month. Given how Keppinger has struggled at the plate thus far and with how Gillaspie has been one of the team’s most consistent hitters, Ventura will have to find a balance between the two and perhaps all three. Ventura has made it clear that Gillaspie will receive regular playing time and he’s earned it with a solid approach. Although Keppinger hasn’t played well, it’s hard to think the White Sox would give up so easily on someone they signed to a three-year deal this offseason, even if it rates as a pretty affordable contract. The team appreciates what Keppinger has offered over the course of his career, a guy who puts the ball in play, moves runners over and doesn’t strike out much. Also, Keppinger probably has another week to get going before Beckham gets back and anything can happen.
Who do you think gets demoted when Beckham returns? Also, who leaves the rotation when Danks returns? @bjm676
-- The White Sox will likely choose between Tyler Greene and Casper Wells when Beckham comes off the disabled list, whenever that may be. As of Wednesday, Beckham didn’t think he’d start his rehab assignment until Saturday. With how the roster is constructed, part of me would lean toward Greene being the odd man out simply because Beckham is another infielder and it would seem the logical direction in which to head. However, Greene has good speed and can hit the ball to right field, two solid assets. Wells hasn’t been given much playing time save for his two starts earlier this week, but the team loves his track record against left-handed pitchers. The Sox face two more lefties in their four-game series at the Angels and Wells might get another start. One other factor that could play into the decision is the White Sox only felt they needed four outfielders when they broke camp, so there’s that.
Who do you see playing center field and batting leadoff for the 2014 White Sox? @domeSki22
-- At this point I don’t know if there’s a surefire answer here. Alejandro De Aza very easily could be back with the team next season given he performs similar to the way he did in 2012, when he reached base 35 percent of the time. While De Aza is arbitration eligible and certainly would be due a significant raise if he matches last season’s number, the White Sox don’t appear to have anyone else ready to assume the role as of right now. Nobody in the minor leagues with a similar skillset is off to a great start and while De Aza has struggled some, he has still scored the second most runs on the team and has the tools necessary to play center and leadoff. He can steal a base, is a solid defender (though he has struggled in 2013) and brings power to the top of the lineup. Of course if the team continues to plummet in the standings, De Aza could be an attractive option to a potential contender looking for outfield help.
Do you think the Sox will be forced to rebuild in the next two years and is that why Hahn was elevated? @ChiSportsUltd
-- With several aging position players on the roster, the White Sox likely will have to retool their roster soon out of necessity. Rebuild might be too strong a word here only because of the pitching staff is full of young arms and veterans signed for several seasons. And when you have good pitching, you’re never too far off from being a contender. But with Paul Konerko in potentially his last season and the contracts of Dunn and Alex Rios winding down, the White Sox could have several big holes to fill in the middle of the lineup very soon. If they are to fall out of contention before the trade deadline it’s hard to think Hahn wouldn’t hesitate to improve the roster any way he sees fit. Hahn was elevated because he’s earned the chance to sit in the chair. Kenny Williams did a very good job in his 12 seasons as general manager, but if the White Sox didn’t give Hahn an opportunity soon it was thought he’d eventually seek it elsewhere.
If the season doesn’t turn around, do you think a firesale happens? @_MHa11
-- Speaking with absolute certainty on these matters is difficult because only Hahn and his decision-makers know how they will play their cards. But there’s a strong possibility the White Sox would move several players with the idea of restocking the farm system or in an attempt to find a young potential star. Even if the White Sox falter, they have plenty of attractive commodities on the roster. Relief pitchers are always a hot ticket around July 31 and both Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton not only have strong track records, but both are in the final years of their contracts. One reliever alone won’t nab a huge bounty, but the team can find value. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if Hahn entertained offers for practically everyone on the roster save for Chris Sale and perhaps Jake Peavy, though with the way he has started he could net a windfall of young talent if he were dealt. Alexei Ramirez might draw interest considering his defense and his affordable salary and De Aza, Beckham, Konerko and Rios could be attractive to contenders too. Rios is certainly easier to trade now that he has one year left on his contract. Will be interesting to see which way Hahn goes if the White Sox are out of the race.