1. It feels wrong to open up immediately after a victory, albeit far less emphatic and encouraging of a victory than at one point anticipated, and talk about how the White Sox lack of depth–and apparent lack of interest in fortifying that depth–has left them hopelessly ill-suited to catch a surging Cleveland Indians team.
So perhaps let’s begin instead with James Shields, who was decidedly not bad Wednesday night. Shields got through six and two-thirds against a Twins offense missing Miguel Sano, or a good version of Joe Mauer and 100% of the runs he allowed came on a solo home run. This was certainly a lineup against which it was extremely possible to hang a lot of curves, which Shields seemed to, and wind up perfectly fine. He seems uncomfortable with his signature pitch–his changeup–and mostly got by throwing enough strikes with enough life that he didn’t do any favors for a bad hitting team.
That’s more than he could seemingly do a couple weeks ago, and is definitely a sign of some normalization from his lowest low, but projecting him to be anything beyond a No. 4/5 who is interchangeable with Miguel Gonzalez is finding a level of confidence I cannot match right now.
That’s certainly better than the Sox were going to get from Mat Latos, but for the upgrade they were seeking, and how serious an investment absorbing Shields contract is for this organization compared to what they are typically willing to do, it is decidedly not good.
2. Melky Cabrera is now officially out at least three-to-four days with a sprained wrist, which is being couched as not bad enough to force a disabled list stint, but could easily keep him out of the Houston series. This is a lineup that is already putting Avisail Garcia and J.B. Shuck at the bottom out of necessity, and now will likely be conscripting Tyler Saladino out of his utility role a bit more.
To some degree, the Sox are unfortunately beset by injury beyond their control, but their depth issues are entirely of their own making. Everyone knew pre-season that Garcia had, at best, a puncher’s chance of being a usable major league player, and the Sox still entered the season with a full-time role for him.* Instead of being ready to address it and replace him, the only player who could displace Garcia won’t be ready for another two weeks, when Garcia’s bat last burped a death rattle in May.
Austin Jackson being hurt doesn’t help, but his offense had been declining for years and the Sox should have been prepared with someone who could provide offense if his bat collapsed (and it’s only by White Sox standards that it hasn’t), and instead they have been content to make an everyday player out of the slap-hitting Shuck. It’s only in this kind of situation where Cabrera missing a handful of games looks like a crisis, and where Saladino, the backup shortstop, could figure to be an offensive upgrade, or where putting a 23-year-old rookie with a barely developed plate approach at leadoff is almost irrelevant in terms of offensive problems.
*Upon revisiting, Adam LaRoche, though a recovery project of his own, was originally intended to limit the burden placed on Garcia and Jackson. His retirement lent the Sox resources to pursue a replacement, but not the same opportunity, as the last viable free agent options had been picked off the market by the time of his announcement. That said, they did not pursue any scrap heap options to fill the void, and the freely available James Loney–who was better and younger than LaRoche in 2015–currently has a .286 TAv for the Mets.
3. Matt Purke has issued his last major league walk for a while, as he was optioned to Triple-A and replaced with Matt Davidson. The 25-year old third baseman is coming up to at least serve as an extra man who can hold a glove and a bat (though not at the same time) and finally break up the eight-man bullpen.
Davidson is a pedestrian hitter (.266/.349/.432) with a 26-percent strikeout rate and mild power production during his fourth year in Triple-A, and there is no credible semblance of optimism about how he projects to the majors anymore. Ironically, the Sox are a bad offense who cannot find legit bats to slot at what are traditionally the easiest positions to fill: corner outfield and designated hitter. Instead they have Davidson, who can fill in at third–but so could three guys they started in their lineup Wednesday night (probably with better defense)–and might need to consider if they think Saladino is up to adding more time in the outfield to his resume.
4. Elbow surgery and rehab is a harrowing and perilous process, and inappropriate for anyone to recommend outside of a doctor closely monitoring the situation, but there’s at least a temptation to just tell Zach Putnam to shut it down for 2016 while reading him describe dealing with chronic elbow pain for years and disquietly calling it “reliever stuff.”
Essentially, Putnam held out until elbow pain and finger numbness actually stopped him from being effective rather than when it simply became concerning, but is still pushing himself to rehab despite the fact that full reconstructive surgery is on the table. The Sox should assume they will be without him until something radical changes, and if Wednesday is any indication, that’s a crisis on its own. There are three guys in that group that get outs or throw strikes with any reliability, and they had to warm up two of them in a game where they entered the ninth inning with a 9-1 lead over the Twins. The Twins.
5. Finally, it’s not like we needed evidence that a prominent business leader can get their local congressional representative to draw up any ridiculous bill to protect their profit line, or that MLB and their affiliates have no shame about their efforts to suppress wages, but the ludicrous Save America’s Past Time act co-sponsored by Cheri Bustos of Illinois’ 17th district, fortified both notions in one galling swoop.
Proposed last week, the bill really gained attention for the ridiculous press release issued in support of it by Minor League Baseball, which offered the absurd threats that minor league affiliates would cease to exist if their players–whom they are not directly responsible for paying–were subject to federal overtime laws.
Congressman Brett Guthrie and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos introduce the Save America’s Pastime Act in House of Reps pic.twitter.com/AL8ohwqwuo
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) June 29, 2016
Also lumped in are arguments that there will be no other affordable family entertainment anywhere on Earth as a result of minor league affiliates shutting down (which they won’t, even if the they stopped turning a profit), and a personal favorite: concern that publicly-funded stadiums would lie unused. Hoodwinking the populace into paying for the stadiums of team owners, then invoking those paid-for stadiums in a complaint that the costs of running of a team is too high, is a level of nerve I can only admire, if never truly comprehend.
This bill will likely never pass, but calling out MLB and MiLB for being unduly entitled and truly asinine is at least worth the effort.
UPDATE: Evidently due to a massively negative response, Representative Bustos has rescinded her support for the bill that she introduced last week.
Lead Image Credit: Matt Marton // USA Today Sports Images