As some of you know, I have the odd distinction of being a White Sox fan who lives in New York. As a result, I always make sure to catch their games when they come to play the Yankees or Mets, and did so on Tuesday night. Overall, the game was a very good one to attend, even if the White Sox ultimately lost. They led for most of it, made some good defensive plays, consistently threatened, and only lost on a dramatic walk-off home run. For a cellar dweller, that should be a moral victory against a juggernaut like the Yankees, even if both squads were missing their best bats.
But I still came away with a negative feeling, because as September 1 approaches, it was clear to me the White Sox were not running their best players out there, and if the team isn’t trying to win, it’s hard not to feel a little bit like a sucker. There were a few moments in particular where this feeling was palpable.
From the pitching side, the White Sox ran James Shields against a depleted but still dangerous Yankees lineup. Even without Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, and even Aaron Hicks are significant threats. Shields battled admirably but ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth, when he surrendered a lead off triple to Brett Gardner while defending a 4-0 lead. Well, it probably should have been a single or a hustle double at worst, but Avisail Garcia misplayed it and let it get to the wall. Next, with Stanton up, Shields visibly dropped his arm angle and morphed himself into a ROOGY and got a pop-out on the infield on his first pitch. Miraculously, he got another infield pop from Hicks next, and it made all the sense in the world to try to let him close out the 6th inning and wriggle out of a jam, however improbably.
Then Miguel Andujar absolutely annihilated one to left field and the lead was cut in half. For some reason, Shields was left in. He allowed a single to Luke Voit. Still he was left in. He walked Torres. Mercifully, he was finally pulled for arguably the White Sox’ best reliever, Jace Fry, to face lefty Greg Bird. Bird scorched one to the warning track but the lead held. OK, fine. I have no idea why Shields got to face Torres, but whatever. Fry was, correctly, left in to pitch a clean 7th as well.
Then Juan Minaya came in for the 8th. Minaya had thrown 23 pitches the night before, and although he has had a solid August, the guy has a career BB/9 of 5.1 and is walking almost seven (7) batters per 9 this year. I understand why the White Sox keep giving him chances in a general sense, but he has no idea where his pitches are going and hasn’t for most of his career. Stanton single, Hicks homer, game tied.
Next, Dylan Covey was given the rest of the game. He pitched around a single and his own throwing error in the 8th before giving up a walk-off home run in the 9th. Like Minaya, I see what Covey has to offer, and I think he could be a good reliever, particularly of the multi-inning variety. But I can’t figure out what signals are being sent by these decisions. Leaving Shields in after the Andujar home run feels like a “Conserve the Bullpen” decision only to immediately behave as though you’re playing to optimize your chances for victory by playing match-ups in the bottom of the 6th with your best reliever. Only then, with the same lead, to send out an erratic and, by many indicators, bad reliever on a back-to-back against Stanton and Hicks reads as a “we don’t care about the outcome” decision. But then, how does that square with keeping arms fresh or the aforementioned Fry decision?
Which brings me to what was screaming in the back of my head throughout this sequence, because there is something deeply wrong with me: Where is Ryan Burr and why is Ian Hamilton still in Charlotte?
Other than a bout of wildness while he adjusted to the new approach the White Sox wanted Burr to take, he has essentially crushed every level of the minors, and was blitzed through Charlotte after just over 8 innings of dominant ball. He hasn’t pitched since August 23. What are the organization’s priorities where Minaya and Covey get the ball on Tuesday instead of Burr? It’s hard to believe there’s a circle of trust that excludes Burr at this point. They’ve been cycling through scrap heap options all season. To some success, sure, but if you’re willing to try to make Bruce Rondon your closer, burying Burr communicates … well, cognitive dissonance.
Meanwhile, Hamilton has now thrown 25.1 innings in Double-A and 25.1 innings in Triple-A. His ERA at both stops is 1.78. He throws 100 with a low-90s slider and his Triple-A K:BB ratio is almost 7. He’s allowed two home runs all year. Relievers don’t last very long, he’s 23-years-old, was drafted out of college, and I’m just grasping at straws as to what he’s doing in the minors. Are they going to hold him down until mid-April to try to claw back his age-30 season in 2025? And please do not helpfully point out he would have to be added to the 40-man roster. Even with all of the additions they will need to make to it, there is an embarrassment of players who can be exposed to the Rule 5 draft without a second thought. It should not be an issue. Theoretically, they are just waiting for rosters to expand, but I’m not clear how a team running Jeanmar Gomez and Juan Minaya can’t find room for him.
And, perhaps it is simply confirmation bias, we are starting to see evidence that the players themselves are growing impatient with the White Sox’ front office. Eloy Jimenez wrote an article for the Players’ Tribune saying he’s ready. Before his call up, Michael Kopech posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “nothing left to say.” Even Burr commented on how strange it is Hamilton hasn’t been promoted yet. In non-White Sox territory, the Mets’ Peter Alonso issued a statement through his agent lambasting the Mets for leaving him in the minors. I am genuinely curious to see if or when a player refuses to negotiate with his team because the relationship was undermined by service time manipulation. Or, perhaps, Ronald Acuna and Kris Bryant really did just need two more weeks of seasoning.
Look, the win or loss here doesn’t matter, really. And even the best managers make weird bullpen decisions sometimes. I don’t have all the information Renteria does — maybe Burr wasn’t feeling well or something or the organization wanted to spare him the high pressure situation so quickly in his career, but that doesn’t necessarily square with Renteria’s approach of, “We have to let these young guys get used to specific situations.”
And let’s look at the big picture here: unless the White Sox finish the year 29-1, they’re going to post their seventh losing season in a row. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. White Sox fans have been asked to endure and give the benefit of the doubt for a long time now. Please do them the smallest of courtesies here and at least call up the college reliever who has humiliated batters in Triple-A for over a month now and use the other one who is probably your second best reliever on the major league roster more than once a week. Maybe they call up Jimenez and Hamilton on September 1 because they can’t figure out which of these corner guys they want to keep moving forward, but if that date passes and they do not I will be profoundly baffled and disheartened.
Moreover, if they don’t call Jimenez up in September, the minor league season ends on September 3 and the Knights have already been eliminated from the playoffs. By contrast, the major league season continues for weeks after that. Leaving him down would mean sacking about 100 PAs of experience, which hardly seems like the best support for the “but it’s for his development!” crowd.
Oh, and Eloy Jimenez has 18 hits in his last 34 PAs.