As someone on the Baseball Prospectus thread for Transaction Analysis assignments, I would be able tell that the White Sox have been busy for the last week or so even if I was sunning in Tahiti. More plausibly, I would be able to tell the Sox have been busy even if I was incarcerated in federal prison and allowed to check my email once per day.
In the last week:
—Justin Morneau was signed. His injury history makes him best utilized as a designated hitter, occasional first baseman, where he figures to be a left-handed salve to a DH situation overly reliant on Avisail Garcia. He was immediately added to the disabled list, where he is expected to remain for another month.
That last item does not really belong in the same category, as it is not so much a move as something that happened to the White Sox against their will, but in the immediate, it has the same impact of the first three items combined, if not more.
Jackson was hitting .282/.356/.369 from May 1 on (check the current OBPs across the roster if that clip sounds worthless), but his absence has more of a cascading effect that the simple loss of his individual production. He was the one solid defender at a premium position who decreased everyone else’s responsibility. Adam Eaton was allowed to become a superb right fielder, Garcia was spared the indignity of playing defense at all, and J.B. Shuck was able to remain a slap-hitting pinch-hitter/defensive replacement/pinch-runner that could avoid the scrutiny that regular playing time — and hitting fifth — brings.
Jackson’s absence necessitates a move, ideally not a duplicative addition of another light-hitting defensive center fielder who will lack a purpose in six weeks, but Jay Bruce, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun; the more improbably aggressive, the better. They need the impact bat that they will still lack for another month even in the best-case scenario for Morneau; another veteran with whom the Sox are hoping to stumble on a late-career burst of production.
At 31-32, the Sox are tied with the Yankees — who mostly made Chicago news this weekend for the possibility that they could sell off — for the ninth-best record in the American League. Never at any point projected to be world beaters coming into this season, with PECOTA only tracking them for barely over .500 for the rest of the year, the Sox are at the point where they could dig a hole they will be unable to fill in.
Anderson is less an upgrade than an acknowledgement that Saladino and Rollins offered no certainty to be immediately better, and they might as well start the youngster’s grueling adjustment to the majors now and hasten the arrival of his peak. Shields is the most fitting acknowledgment of the urgency of the situation, and allowed the Sox to avoid the brunt of the impending disaster of Latos’ diminished abilities that had really only started to arrive. But his debut certainly provided no immediate relief, and his mundane assignment to be a No. 4 starter looks to be more appropriate than hoped.
Both Shields and Morneau stand to be a referendum on the Sox ability to scout and identify which veterans have something left in the tank and which are toast, an area in which they have not covered themselves in glory of recent. But can either raise the Sox to a new tier of talent level? Above the Indians, who were projected to be significantly superior and now have a 4.5 game lead? Or above the glut of Wild Card contenders?
A fully operational Jose Abreu might be able to do that. A version of Adam Eaton unlike the one that has a sub-.300 OBP over the last month might do that. But if the Sox leave it at that, they will remain in this middle space where it is impossible to tell how dedicated to winning in 2016 they really are. They have a mostly short-term roster, they have been extraordinarily active, and of recent, almost ruthless with their willingness to cut bait on marginal contributors who are not producing, but the major addition, and the major investment, that puts them undisputably in line with the AL contenders remains missing.
Lead Image Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski // USA Today Sports Images