In case you haven’t gathered, my title is a little bit of a) sarcasm and b) reflective of the genuine surprise I felt when I remembered that, hey, Justin Morneau is now a member of the Chicago White Sox. Well, not yet. We will wind up having to wait six weeks for his glorious debut on the South Side
If this acquisition had happened in the mid-late 2000s, my then-teenage self would have to process a mixture of hatred for one of my sworn enemies becoming my ally, along with extreme excitement considering the White Sox would have just landed a first basemen who was an MVP winner in 2006 and a four-time All-Star who batted .283/.353/.502 from 2005-09 during his prime. Morneau was even healthy enough to play in 163 games in 2008 (Hey, Justin, how did that go?) — he must have been Superman!
Well, back in the day, he was. Morneau tore up the American League Central during a time when the Twins were the team to be feared and not the team to be jeered, Akon was still Smackin’ That and my copy of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium had taken up permanent residency in my first car’s compact disk player.
That was one whole decade ago, Morneau was then the ripe young age that I am now, and had not yet suffered the wounds of concussions, elbow surgeries, and father-time taking his bat away from him.
The White Sox front office’s desire to capture the romanticism of the players of yesteryear is one that will never fail to fascinate me. A friend of mine (who is not a White Sox fan) reached out to me during the short-lived Jimmy Rollins days, asking me if I had plans to begin a collection of White Sox jerseys that were adorned with the names of players that were superstars during a time when Tim Anderson was still in middle school, back when people thought RBI totals were an extremely telling stat even when devoid of context.
I laughed and said no, but saw the point she made so clearly.
The White Sox have a penchant for going through the junkyards where teams with good farm systems and a better understanding of future projections dump players past their primes, hoping to find a small piece of yesterday’s treasure to polish up, throw a band-aid on, and slot into today’s lineup.
My friend laughed as I shared with her this reality that she herself could not understand. She went back to watching Kris Bryant mash home runs into the seats for her favorite team, and I went back to fishing for ways to convince myself that the White Sox were making a move that could, in someway, be beneficial without having to dress it up in the “but he offers veteran leadership” mask.
And here I am again, trying to find ways to convince myself that a name which would have piqued my interest as player with the potential to be a solid contributor and The Real Deal a decade ago, will somehow manage to… to what? That’s the real question at this point.
The White Sox had a hot April, and fans will sit around over their beers crying about how that’s probably one the kernel of joy they’ll take away from this season if things don’t turn around, and quickly. The thing now is, not only are the White Sox getting a slugger who’s aged and worn, but as our own Mark Primiano pointed out on our latest iteration of The Catbird Speaks (which includes a plethora of Darin Erstad trivia and a debate on how each of us says “FIP”), this team had to wait for him.
A team like the White Sox is not afforded the luxury of waiting for a Justin Morneau, or anyone at this point. The White Sox signed an injury prone veteran to a one-year deal on June 9th who won’t be ready to contribute until the middle of July, when odds are this team will be barely clutching to .500 record. That’s not attacking the problem. It’s avoiding the problem.
For now, the White Sox will patiently stand pat and shuffle the deck with a major league questionable in Matt Davidson, or his likely injury replacement Carlos Sanchez, and whatever else they have up their sleeves–and in the farm system–until Morneau arrives.
In isolation, Morneau’s numbers from the last two seasons look fantastic. Morneau hit .319/.364/.496 over 552 plate appearances in 2014 and .310/.363/.458 over 182 plate appearances in 2015
The .319 average that won Morneau the batting title in 2014 was the third-highest of his career and second-highest with a minimum of 350 plate appearances. Looking at that, you’d probably tell me to shut my mouth and be happy that the Sox were able to stash Morneau on the bench, right?
Temper your expectations, and don’t forget that Morneau played in the hitter-friendly, majestically thin air of Coors Field for the last two seasons. Though U.S. Cellular Field is a hitter-friendly park, its amenities don’t include the magical age-defying elixir that Morneau’s bat benefited from in Colorado. Coming out of that environment, Morneau will turn back into a pumpkin and the White Sox will most likely see him for what he really is, something their fans are used to seeing: an aging, injured slugger who works well off the bench, but isn’t the answer for a team that’s desperately searching for some sort of meaningful addition to lackluster roster.
The White Sox have quite a few needs to address at the deadline if they’re hoping to keep their dreams of contention alive in any capacity, and the need for another slugger sooner rather than later was one of them. The response to this need was tepid at best.
All White Sox fans can do now is hope that the moves made at the deadline show a little more promise than this one did, and that Morneau can slot into the role he’s best suited for at this point in his career: a left-handed bench bat that can give Jose Abreu a day off here and there but isn’t going to contribute anything exceptionally meaningful to your ballclub’s playoff aspirations. You can’t blame Morneau if he disappoints, and you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole either.
Lead photo courtesy of David Banks-USA TODAY Sports