Sometimes there’s a blind spot. An uncorrectable weakness. A seemingly systemic Achilles’ heel that exists for reasons that don’t quite make sense. Think of the Chicago Bears’ practically perennial ineptitude at developing quarterbacks. You can recognize the flaw. It’s glaringly obvious as it stares you in the face, year in and year out. But there’s a pretty big difference between seeing what needs correcting and actually being able to correct it.
Like the White Sox and the bottomless well of depression that has been center field since winning the 2005 World Series. Trading Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome made sense. The Sox needed a reliable DH (sorry Carl Everett) and some left-handed thump in the lineup. And Brian Anderson looked ready for the big leagues. Until he all of a sudden very much did not and the next two seasons involved the hideous amalgamation of Anderson, Jerry Owens, and Rob Mackowiak bringing their own unique weaknesses to center stage. Anderson couldn’t hit. Mackowiak didn’t belong in the outfield at all, much less in center. Owens couldn’t actually play baseball. Things weren’t great, but they were about to get worse.
I’ve had a pet theory for a while now that the Nick Swisher trades are the moment you can see Kenny Williams’ roster decisions start to falter. There were certainly misses before 2008 and hits after 2009, but things never quite went as well as they did before the failed one year experiment of starting the bro-iest bro of all time in center field for the last Sox playoff team. 153 games of disastrous BABIP-luck and grating personality later, the Sox were left with Anderson once more. Mid-2009 through 2011 saw the worst three year stretch of Alex Rios’ career, an abysmal morass worth 1.1 WARP over 333 games. A shift back to right field salvaged Rios’ value and gave Alejandro de Aza a brief window to shine over the next two seasons.
It looked like the Sox had finally found their man in Adam Eaton in 2014 before admitting his route running skills were better served in right and then in Washington instead with the last two seasons involving the horrific hodgepodge of J.B Shuck, Austin Jackson, Jacob May, Adam Engel, about one second of Charlie Tilson, and some Leury Garcia magic. It’s been less than ideal.
With Tilson having been reassigned to minor league camp and May being May, it’s looking like the starting center field job for 2018 belongs to Engel with Garcia filling in whenever he’s not manning one of five other positions any given day, and maybe a bit of Ryan Cordell. Depending on how much faith you have in Engel’s oft-tinkered swing, your mileage may vary. But the future at least looks less bleak than the majority of the past two decades. Luis Robert starts his inevitable march towards Chicago this year. We just have to be patient for a few more seasons.
Lead Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports