BBQ: Sox cuts too tough? Don't make 'em

BBQ: Sox cuts too tough? Don't make 'em
March 27, 2011, 11:37 pm
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Sunday, March 27, 2011
Posted: 6:38 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through spring training, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check.Far be it for me to claim responsibility for putting this bug in Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams ear, but the scenario I recommended just two days ago apparently has come to pass after pitcher Jeffrey Marquez was placed on waivers, leaving three remaining roster spots to pitcher Phil Humber, outfielder Lastings Milledge and superutilityman Brent Lillibridge (after Jake Peavy is put on the disabled list).With the roster apparently settled, lets take a look at how all the pieces fit:

Fourteen position players what is this, a coed softball league?

Williams rarely bows to convention, and while breaking camp with 12 pitchers is the traditional mode of operation for teams, he was faced with picking from two pitchers (Humber and Marquez) who didnt seem much to care about making the big club.

On the other hand, Milledge and Lillibridge were scraping like hell to make the cut, somewhat hilariously trying to top one another, often in the space of a single game: Lillibridge leads off with a home run, Milledge throws out a runner at home, Lillibridge makes a diving catch, and so on. The GM is not known for rewarding underachievement and the feistiness of both hitters made the decision to break with just 11 pitchers rather easy.

What happened to Marquez?

Simply put, given the chance to leapfrog Humber onto the roster after the former first-rounder pitched poorly vs. the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, Marquez couldnt seal the deal. Answering mediocrity with mediocrity is no way to convince the GM of your roster worthiness.

Just a couple of days ago I called Marquez the stronger option, with a higher ceiling than Humber, and I stand by that. He bounced back from Saturdays ugly start vs. the Los Angeles Angels with several strikeouts, and his live arm is the thing GMs normally drool over. Marquez is a better fit in the White Soxs power-arm, K-coughing pen, so Im somewhat shocked that Williams was willing to waive Marquez rather than extend the audition.

So whats left of the Nick Swisher trade?

Aside from the knowledge that Swish is no longer allowed to giddily poison the White Sox clubhouse? Nada. Well, Jhonny Nunez is still around, improbably and in spite of choking away his potential as a future White Sox closer.

Anyone who believes Williams is governed by pride and driven to rationalize even his biggest mistakes needs to be reminded that by cutting Marquez, the White Sox are left essentially barren from his two Swisher deals, while Swish continues to play the pesky mascot in Gotham and Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney are starting for the Oakland As.

Is there really room for five outfielders on the roster?

Well, with Mark Teahens continued misadventures in the infield combined with Omar Vizquels continued excellence there, Lillibridge may bring greater value to the White Sox in the infield, as Teahen becomes more exclusively a corner outfielderdesignated hitter.

Make no mistake, Lillibridge presently is little more than a late-game pinch-runner a position in which he can add value to the club. Milledge has much greater potential theyre not nearly equal players, but consider the fact that Williams wanted to bring Andruw Jones back as a fourth outfielder but ran out of money, and recognize that Chicagos commitment to Milledge could well extend beyond a one-year audition.

If (when) right fielder Carlos Quentin is felled by injury, Milledge is the first choice to plug the hole, and if his spring training play is any indication, the White Sox wouldn't lose much with Milledge roaming in right.

Are there X-factors in keeping both hitters?

While its true that Lillibridge is out of options, and cutting him would result in the White Sox losing him (another club would claim him off waivers), Williams has just proven that not to be a deciding factor in his final cuts (by waiving Marquez).

One of Lillibridges strengths, in addition to his defensive flexibility, is his inner strength and character. Hes learned, through trades, injuries, and slumps, to accept a role that could be more modest than hed like. Theres little question Lillibridge would quietly contribute to a winning White Sox season, even if limited to a start every couple of weeks.

Milledge, however, presents more of a character question mark. He has said and done everything perfectly in the clubhouse this spring learning from veterans, knowing his role, even admitting to me midway through Cactus League play that it was a done deal that hed accept a minor-league assignment if offered (as a non-roster player, Milledge could cut ties with the White Sox if cut).

But the outfielder is a polar opposite of Lillibridge on the field, still the player who might high-five fans on his way back to the outfield after a big offensive inning or toss off his helmet well in advance of home plate to finish off a home run.

Such uniqueness can easily be rationalized as spirited play; but what happens if Milledge is thrown out at third on a sacrifice bunt for failing to slide, or gets a bad jump on a fly ball because hes taken a poor at-bat with him to the outfield? Both of those scenarios played out this spring, too.

The My Fair Gentleman process with Milledge is not yet complete, and bringing Lillibridge north with the club helps protect against any sort of behavioral relapse from the 25-year-old, on or off the field.

Doesnt this decision leave the White Sox short of arms?

Yawn. There are two off-days in the first two weeks of the season, with at least one other cancellation possible, as the White Sox dont play in a weather-safe city until the 16th game of the season. And isnt part of the point of bolstering the bullpen to such an outrageous extent (signing Jesse Crain and Will Ohman, pushing projected starter Chris Sale into a setup role) to let the pitchers in the pen pitch?

But, the fifth starter!

Double yawn. Even if the clouds break and sun shines brightly on every of those initial bad-weather city games, the White Sox can avoid a fifth starter at least until April 10, in spite of all the automatonic tendencies toward using the unnecessary fifth turn in the rotation directly on April 6. If Peavy isnt ready by April 10, sure, throw Humber out there to take on the Tampa Rays, and keep Tony Pena (or Sale!) warm in the garage in case of catastrophe.
Will Peavy be ready?

He threw off the mound Sunday for the first time in a week. Though his 30 tosses were far from game conditions, all signs are pointing to Peavys shoulder tendinitis as a natural offshoot of the aggressive rehab the pitcher has pursued since surgery last July.

The notion that he will stay behind for extended spring training and throw four rehab starts before stepping on a major league mound this season veers a bit on the conservative side.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that Peavy renders Humber irrelevant by striding to the bump for the first required fifth starter outing, on April 10 (and with just a single postponement to be made up later in the summer, the initial need for a fifth starter pushes back to April 20 at the Rays).

So, still digging this 2011 White Sox team?

Yep.
Not budging from a 93-win prediction and a division title?

Nope.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.