When the White Sox resigned Paul Konerko and traded for Adam Eaton, they seem to have ended up with way too many players for OF, 1B and DH. What’s going to happen there?
“Chicago River Jam”
As we approach St. Patrick’s Day, when the Chicago River runs green with blarney, this is not a bad time to try to figure out what the south side squad has in mind.
Here are the players in the mix (I’m going to cross them off as we determine their role):
Jose Abreu, Alejandro De Aza, Adam Dunn, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Paul Konerko, Dayan Viciedo.
Here are the positions: DH, 1B, LF, CF, RF. Looks like seven players for five positions
Let’s start with DH. Adam Dunn will hit (or walk) against righties. He was not great against righties last year, but not good against lefties. Paul Konerko was not good at all, overall, last year, but was very good against lefties. That seems like a nice match.
1B. Jose Abreu has been solid during spring training, which seems to be increasing confidence that his move into the majors is going to be a smooth one. Maybe. But what happens if he struggles? Success during the first couple of weeks of games in spring training is pretty meaningless. Keep an eye on Abreu’s health and effectiveness through the rest of camp (he’s having physical issues with his feet and ankles). When he can’t play, it looks like either Dunn or Konerko will be backing him up.
LF. This would seem to be a battle between Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo. De Aza doesn’t have a big platoon split in his career but has generally been protected against left-handed arms. Viciedo has been much better against lefties in his career, but was a little better against righties last year. De Aza is coming off two fine fantasy years, but he’s more of a liability in real life baseball, making plenty of outs while he’s stealing bases and hitting homers. Viciedo is the youngster, the potential power source who has yet to erupt. It’s tempting to see this as a head to head matchup, or a straightaway platoon, but Viciedo’s potential development and De Aza’s usefulness playing center field mean that there could be room for both men, at least some of the time.
CF. Adam Eaton was supposed to take the league by storm last year. He was a fantasy darling before camps even opened, the sure source of scores of stolen bases, except that he wasn’t. After hurting his elbow in spring training and deciding not to have surgery, he did not run wild in the second half of the season. He then found himself traded to Chicago in the offseason. No one knows whether he can be an everyday centerfielder or whether he can hit and run enough to help a team batting leadoff. He is far from proven. He’s ripping it up in spring training so far, but that’s just 26 at bats. De Aza was the team’s center fielder last year and is insurance this year should Eaton stumble at the plate or have his elbow unravel under stress.
RF. The White Sox traded Jake Peavy last summer to the Red Sox in a three-way deal that returned the excellent outfield prospect Avisail Garcia from Detroit. Garcia hit .304 after landing in Chitown last summer, raising hopes that Little Miggy (his Motor City nickname, based on body type, not hitting profile) will step into the right field job without issue. Could happen, but the youngster (he turns 23 in June) is pretty unseasoned, walked just 9 times in 249 at bats last year, while striking out nearly 25 percent of at bats. Garcia’s success this year is far from guaranteed. Some contingency has to be available should he struggle. That would be De Aza, too.
CONCLUSION: What looks like a mountain of alewives piling up at the south end of Lake Michigan doesn’t look that bad under closer examination. At least in terms of planning. There are some potential success stories brewing, including Viciedo, Eaton and Garcia, and valedictory turns positioned for success, in Dunn and Konerko. De Aza’s versatility will be utilized, one way or the other, and the door is open for Jose Abreu, who has the talent to explode onto the scene. To my taste, the sweetest anchovy in the box is Viciedo, whose price has been dropping because of the uncertainty (and his own slow development). He is just two years older than Garcia, approaching that age where smarts and experience best complement a player’s natural physical gifts.