In the final days of Spring Training, we find ourselves watching with bated breath to see how the White Sox roster will shake out prior to the team’s departure for Oakland and actual, meaningful baseball games. Battles for roster spots can be exciting; competitors reaching deep within during exhibition contests to show that they are most deserving of a chance to compete on the largest stage.
Being that the space on the 25-man roster in question was left open by the retirement of Adam LaRoche, expectations are that somebody in the first base/designated hitter mold will fill it. The timing of the vacancy is also the cause of poor replacement options. Internally, it appears that the remaining candidates are Travis Ishikawa and Jerry Sands. They’re here, and as such are ostensibly frontrunners. Unfortunately, their virtues don’t go a great deal further than that.
Ishikawa hasn’t provided much value at any point during his career. He’s currently riding a streak of four seasons in which he’s appeared on an MLB roster, and is hoping to stretch it into five. But over that four-year stretch he’s accumulated a total of -0.1 WARP with five different organizations. His main strength is that he has a platoon split on the strong side, faring much better against right-handed pitching, but even then his career .242 TAv in those situations means that the best he has to offer still leaves plenty (everything) to be desired.
Jerry Sands doesn’t have the same experience under his belt, and is a right-handed hitter, which doesn’t provide any platoon value as the Sox are already over-represented on that side of the plate. He’s entering what would be his age-28 season, giving him the slightest edge over Ishikawa in the “maybe he’ll be serviceable” lottery, but he’s not even standing on a strong Spring performance to smoke-and-mirrors his way to the show.
The outside options aren’t much better, as the only players with enough free time on their hands to moonlight with the White Sox have already been told by other organizations to take a hike. Old friends Carlos Quentin and Nick Swisher were recently sent packing after failing to make Opening Day rosters. Quentin has been vacillating between retirement and a desire to put himself through the internal stresses that accompany playing for another year, while Swisher was discarded from a franchise that isn’t even planning on fielding a productive team in 2016.
Minor intrigue circulated Wednesday afternoon as word came that James Loney would be a reluctant candidate for acquisition. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Loney was informed he he would not be making the Opening Day roster for the Rays. ESPN’s Buster Olney went on to suggest that both the White Sox and the Padres could be interested in his services.
Loney is mainly known as a high-average, powerless first baseman, and though FRAA hasn’t been a great fan of his defense over the last few years, he would theoretically be able to perform reasonably at first base when called upon. It’s not clear yet whether or not the Rays are going to be able to find a taker for Loney via trade, or what it would cost the White Sox in personnel should they choose to become that trade partner. In all likelihood if Tampa can’t strike a deal, Loney will be released and be free to sign without burdening his new team with the $9.67M that remains on his contract. Left-handed with traditional platoon splits, Loney would be a decent option in practice considering the alternatives, but utilizing three-quarters of the LaRoche savings on him would be a depressing development, albeit a less depressing development than pushing forward with Sands or Ishikawa.
Should the Sox be unable to wait out the Rays patience for achieving a trade on Loney, a cheaper option would be David Murphy, recently cut by the Red Sox. Like Quentin, Murphy is contemplating retirement as an alternative to floating around the waiver wire for an extended period of time. He’s 34, hits from the left side, and would also represent an improvement over internal options as he has a semi-reasonable chance of being a replacement level bat with a strong side platoon split.
Significant trades this close to the season are rare, but the Padres showed last season by acquiring Craig Kimbrel as the starter’s gun was being fired into the air that it’s not impossible. The White Sox do have salary flexibility that came as a bonus to the extra roster spot, and views of team rosters have a tendency to change once the season starts. Whomever Hahn and Ventura choose to move forward with may only be needed to keep the spot warm for a more accomplished player whose team doesn’t yet know they want to trade him.