The White Sox Could Find Their Designated Hitter In The Big Apple
When the White Sox designated John Danks for assignment on Tuesday, they made quite a statement.
There's no doubt that the Sox have been trying to build a contender for the last few years, but this season things are actually paying off. So when the team showed its longest-tenured player the door because he just wasn't performing well enough, it was the first real sign we've seen since the season started to indicate the White Sox fully intend to "go for it."
And while removing Danks from the rotation and replacing him with a carousel of other starters could possibly improve the situation -- I'm honestly not convinced it will, but that's another post for another time -- this is still an imperfect team, win-loss record be damned.
The White Sox offense has picked up the pace in recent weeks, but even with a stronger offense, there are still only five regulars with a wRC+ of 100 or higher (100 is league average). While the Sox aren't likely to look for improvements at shortstop, catcher or in centerfield, the one area where the Sox could quickly improve the offense is at designated hitter.
Jerry Sands has done well enough in limited time -- certainly better than I anticipated -- but he's still striking out in 44.1% of his plate appearances. That's not the kind of number that bodes well for continued success. Then there's Avisail Garcia, who seemed to be getting things going a bit before a hamstring sidelined him the last few games.
But that's been Garcia's entire career. Short stretches of competence, surrounded by vast deserts of failure with the occasional injury sprinkled in. He has not shown any real signs of being the player the White Sox need, particularly when his sole role on the team right now is to hit the baseball.
An upgrade at designated hitter could turn this team from a serious playoff contender to a real threat to reach the World Series.
Now, since it's early May, odds are if the Sox make a major move, it won't come soon. Options like Carlos Gonzalez and Jay Bruce are still options, and the idea of Ryan Braun has been floated recently as well.
There's also Josh Reddick, an idea that many Sox fans have been behind since the winter, and with Oakland not looking like a real threat as of yet this season, it's likely only a matter of time before Billy Beane starts fielding real offers for him.
There could be some new possibilities, however.
The Yankees are losing this season. Baseball's most-storied franchise is currently last in the AL East at 8-16, 6.5 games behind the Red Sox already. Earlier this week, Brian Cashman said "there's only so long you can allow it to go on before tinkering."
Now, while I'd have a hard time passing up somebody like Braun if he came cheaply enough, I still think that, ideally, the White Sox want a lefty bat. They're already righty-dominant in a division full of right-handed starters. If the Yankees are really looking to "tinker," they have three veterans I'm sure they'd be more than happy to listen about.
The two I believe would be of most interest to the White Sox are Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran. Both are switch-hitters, both are old (Teixeira 36, Beltran 39), and both are in the final year of their contracts, and I can't imagine the Yankees are enthusiastic about the idea of bringing either back in 2017, particularly with Alex Rodriguez still on the books through next season.
So both could present interesting options for the White Sox if nothing else.
Neither player is off to a great start this season. Beltran is currently slashing .261/.283/.432 with four homers and nine RBI. While the OBP leaves a bit to be desired, his OPS of .714 is league average, and is currently better than Avisail's .691 mark.
Teixeira is at .217/.343/.337. He's not hitting all that well, or for much power (three homers, one double), but he's certainly still willing to get on base via the walk, as he's pairing a walk rate of 16.2% with a respectable 22.2% strikeout rate.
What's concerning about Teixeira right now is his ability to elevate the baseball, or more specifically, his inability. While Teixeira has a hard contract rate of 32.8%, which is more or less in line with his career rate, he has a groundball rate of 49.2% and a flyball rate of 26.2%. Both numbers are way off his career rates, and not for the better. All of which helps explain his .259 BABIP and his .217 average.
Beltran, meanwhile, has a BABIP of .302 (over time, the average BABIP is typically .300) as he seems to be doing the same things he always has when it comes to putting balls in play. Where Beltran has not been the same has been his willingness to take a walk. Beltran has a career walk rate of 10.2%, but that's a bit misleading because he hasn't actually finished a season with a rate that high since 2012.
The number has decreased just about every season, but it has absolutely cratered this year, as it's currently at 3.3%. All while seeing just about the same number of pitchers per at bat that he always has.
Now, neither Beltran or Teixeira strike me as the ideal addition to the Sox offense, but they could come cheap, and after the Danks move, I think that could be a big factor for the White Sox this summer.
Not from a financial aspect (eating Danks' deal cancels out the money saved on LaRoche, but it's also an indication Reinsdorf is willing to spend if he thinks the team is good enough), but from a resource angle.
Yes, the Sox need a designated hitter, but I also believe it's only a matter of time before another starting pitcher becomes a very real need. Not just because I don't have much faith in the in-house Danks replacement options, but because, as good as he's been so far, I don't think any of us expect Mat Latos to actually continue pitching like he has been.
So when it comes down to it, Latos could be more in line with the guy you want as your fifth starter, not somebody you want to rely on in a playoff game if you don't actually have to.
Considering the depth of the Sox farm system, I don't know that they'd be able to go after one of the top hitters that will be available this summer, and then get a capable starter as well. Particularly when there will be so many teams still considering themselves contenders, and everybody is constantly on the lookout for pitching.
Sure, there's a chance that Carson Fulmer is ready to step in by August, but counting on that would be asking for a bit too much in my opinion.
So a bat like Beltran or Teixeira may not be the dream, but it could become a very real possibility for this team going forward. Neither are the player they used to be, but both could probably still be an upgrade just by being average.
And so far that plan of attack has worked out well for the Sox in 2016.