Rick Hahn announced Tuesday that the White Sox are not calling Zack Burdi nor Carson Fulmer up to the majors for September. From one, very real angle, this is a monumental drag. Much of the Sox bullpen and the back of the starting rotation are only tolerable with the aid of extreme feelings of professional obligation, and Fulmer and Burdi would give something to watch and project for 2017, warts and all. Not every ball is hit to Tim Anderson, nor does he bat in every spot of the order, and someone needs to fill those gaps (Perhaps a second Tim Anderson is tucked away somewhere?).
But the reasons to hold them back are also pretty clear. Burdi has already had a full season (68 innings between the pros and college) of work, and without any reason beyond aesthetics to upgrade the bullpen at this point, the value of testing the 2016 first-round pick has been outweighed by concern about an unnecessarily high workload. It would have been nice to have him up, but Burdi’s command development didn’t really enable that anyway. Maybe just start using Michael Ynoa as if he were Burdi down the stretch and see where it leads.
Fulmer is a more peculiar case, since the Sox sent him down on the explicit premise of stretching him out for September starts just three weeks ago. Getting torched in his Triple-A debut might have crippled enthusiasm for such a move, and even though his last two outings were scoreless, he had yet to show a dominance of the level, nor did he look close to being ready for multiple trips through major league batting orders when he was last in the majors.
A more conspiratorial view is that Fulmer is being maintained as a trade asset and an informative but brutal test drive as a major league starter would dampen his value, or that a rough final month would be damaging for those in the organization that want to keep Fulmer out of the bullpen long-term. Either way, the accelerated timeline push for Fulmer lost a coherent direction in 2016 once he began to struggle.
Holding back Fulmer certainly does not become more inspiring given what is going to go down instead. Despite an unimaginably awful stretch with the White Sox that has made him by far the worst qualified starter in the majors, James Shields is reportedly going to make his next start after an MRI on his ailing back came back clean. Shields has beating his head against the wall to no positive effect since arriving in Chicago, seen his velocity dip and strikeout rate plummet, and looks like the type of guy for whom any reason to shut him down for 2016 would be worth it, even as the Sox try to work him back to usability for the remaining two years on his deal.
Instead Shields will shake off back stiffness and keep pitching, and continue a start streak he still wants to maintain, even though it’s never been challenged with long-term terribleness in this way. In sum, the Sox treatment of Shields fit the colloquial definition of insanity a while ago, and now they are pushing past injury concerns so that he can make a last ditch effort at 50 home runs allowed in a single season. Obviously they have to keep him and try to recoup some value, but we’ve yet to see any sign that this is helping. This is not some normal decision sticking with a struggling starter in hopes of a turnaround, this is sticking with someone who has been clearly helpless for months.
Actually earning a September call-up was 28-year-old Blake Smith, a former outfielder and Dodgers second-round pick turned yeoman Triple-A reliever. He’s had a solid last year and a half with the Charlotte Knights, holding a 3.46 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 101.1 innings, and has certainly earned the happy ending that a call-up provides to his nice story of determination. As a prospect, he doesn’t provide much upper-end potential to dream on.
Leury Garcia‘s call-up probably gets few eyerolls given how raw his bat was in all of his entirely premature major league cameos of the past, but he’s a 25 year-old (four months younger than Micah Johnson) who can play center and the up the middle positions in the infield, and hit .313/.367/.426 this year in Charlotte with a 18.7 percent strikeout rate. What Leury’s career looks like if anyone cares about his development between 2013-2014 is at least a mild curiosity. The Sox did just go with an all-glove centerfielder as their Opening Day starter in 2016, wouldn’t they love to spend even less on one in 2017?
Lead Image Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski // USA Today Sports Images