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White Sox Options Without Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert

Options for the White Sox without Eloy Jimenez or Luis Robert
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The Chicago White Sox have been aiming at the 2021 season for several years. Back in late 2016, the “South Siders” decided to go full rebuild mode and traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox (netting Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech in return) and Adam Eaton to the Nationals (bringing back Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning).

A few months later, Chicago opened up the pocketbook to ink top international free agent Luis Robert and then shipped Jose Quintana to the crosstown Cubs (welcoming in Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease). They proceeded to lock up Tim Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez, and Robert to long-term contracts In the interim.

As the youngsters began to flourish, the playoff appearance in the 2020 season was a nice surprise and seen as a year early for Chicago’s long-term plan. The rotation was set as Giolito became a legitimate ace, Dallas Keuchel was brought aboard, and in the offseason, Lance Lynn was acquired to bolster the staff. Liam Hendriks was also signed as a free agent to take the ninth-inning role. All the pieces seemed to be in place for 2021.

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A turn for the worse

On March 24, Jimenez decided to needlessly try to rob a spring training home run, putting himself on the shelf for the majority of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Yermin Mercedes came out of nowhere to provide a scorching first month of the season to help the White Sox overcome Jimenez’s injury. And then, this past Sunday Robert came up lame beating out an infield hit. The club delivered the worst-case scenario report on Monday night; a grade three hip flexor injury, the worst of its type. He will not be resuming baseball activities for three to four months, so (like Jimenez) an end-of-season return is all the White Sox can hope for. Chicago is now without two of baseball’s most exciting young stars and cornerstones of their lineup.

Is all hope lost for 2021? Not necessarily. What are the options for the White Sox? Let’s take a look.

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Internal replacements:

In the Minors

There are not a whole lot of appealing options here. The outfielders with their top-level minor league team (Charlotte) include Luis Gonzalez, Blake Rutherford, and Gavin Sheets (a first baseman but the Sox have hope for his bat and have experimented with him in the outfield). None of these three can be counted on to provide a boost at the major league level at this point. One option for later in the season could be Yoelkis Céspedes. The White Sox made him their international signing priority this off-season and he does have some significant playing experience in Cuba as he is already 23 years old. Reports out of the spring training minor league site were high and some insiders are predicting his major league arrival in 2021. His upside is much higher than the Charlotte outfielders.

In the Majors

On Chicago’s major league roster are players who should be strictly role players at best. New manager Tony La Russa seems to love the likes of Billy Hamilton, Leury Garcia, and Nick Williams. The fanbase (and, if reports are to be believed, the upper management too) has been screaming for more of Andrew Vaughn in left field and he’s been surprisingly adequate defensively in left field while the bat is starting to come around. But La Russa was given sole authority over lineup choices and will continue to give significant time to Hamilton and Garcia (and perhaps now Brian Goodwin who was signed to a minor league contract on Tuesday) as long as they are choices on his roster.

Robert’s injury would seem to slot Vaughn in for more or less full-time playing time but Hamilton and/or Garcia will also now be in the lineup every day which significantly weakens the offense potential. Showing the fan’s desperation, Adam Engel’s return is now seen as vital. He’s been out with a hamstring injury and won’t return for another month or so. Engel has taken a step in the right direction with his bat and is plays sublime defensive centerfield. But his best role would be to platoon with Eaton. He’ll be just fine (and perhaps even a weapon) against left-handed pitchers but won’t provide much against right-handers. He’s a perfect fourth outfielder but shouldn’t be counted on for much beyond that role.

External replacements:

The American League Central is not particularly strong and the White Sox, despite the injuries, has had a solid start in their first month. Instead of folding their cards for 2021 by simply relying on their pedestrian internal options, there are quite a few trade or free-agent options to pursue.

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Shooting High

Starling Marte: He’s currently on the IL but not too far off from returning. He’s in the final year of a rather expensive contract. We all know the Marlins are not fond of paying their players and have no delusions of playoff aspirations this year. While not elite, Marte is a strong all-around player and would be a perfect addition for the White Sox. If they picked up the whole contract, they probably wouldn’t have to give up a talent that’s close to the major leagues at this point to bag him.

Joey Gallo: Hasn’t found the power stroke yet in 2021 but he is intriguing. The White Sox and Rangers were trade partners this off-season (Lynn for Dunning) and Texas’s desire to rebuild and Gallo’s contract make it a possibility.

Kris Bryant: Seems to have found his form again and would be a huge addition for the White Sox. The Cubs are at a crossroad and all indications are they are on the verge of a sell-off (along with Bryant, cornerstones Javier Baez and Willson Contreras are probably out the door too). Trades between the rivals can be tricky. On the other hand, the Cubs would love to get young prospects back from the White Sox after the opposite happened in the past with the Quintana for Jimenez/Cease trade. Bryant has the most value of all the players on this list. However, it’s doubtful that the Cubs would be rushed into dealing him this early in the season unless the White Sox overwhelmed them.

Next Tier

Mitch Haniger: If Seattle feels Kelenic is ready (and by all accounts he is) and Julio Rodriguez isn’t too far off, dealing Haniger to free up a spot in their outfield makes a lot of sense. His contract is feasible and Chicago has been attracted to Haniger in the past. He’s healthy for the first time in quite a while and is off to a nice start to 2021. The Sox will be on the phone inquiring as to his availability.

Austin Meadows: Reports over the years are that White Sox have coveted Meadows. He’s still young and has flirted with star-level production but had a down 2020 and hasn’t lit the world on fire in the first month of the 2021 season. It’s the Rays so you never know but as Tampa Bay is always a contender, it’s probably a pipe dream for the White Sox to acquire him.

Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk: I’ll lump these two together because they are both in a similar situation. They are older, and play for contending teams, but are only fringe starters for the Athletics and Blue Jays. Neither would be overly appealing options but might be fallback alternates if nothing else falls into place for Chicago.

If All Else Fails

Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes: Both are free agents and Chicago has strong Cuban connections. The White Sox signed Cespedes’s younger brother a few months back so there is that link as well. Unlike all the previously mentioned players, Chicago wouldn’t have to give up anybody to get either of these players. On the negative side, Puig and Cespedes are not thought to be great, hardworking teammates. Still, both could be rather inexpensive dart throws and have had strong stretches in past years. But their best years are behind them and both have been rather injury-prone in recent seasons.

Prediction: White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has been aggressive and tactical putting this team together. Bringing La Russa on board was owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s decision but seen as signaling a win-now attitude. With the pitching staff appearing to be one of the best in all of baseball, the White Sox will not give up on the season. Look for them to make a strong push to trade for a real contributor as soon as possible. Most likely additions:

1) Joey Gallo

2) Starling Marte

3) Mitch Haniger

4) Yasiel Puig

5) Yoenis Cespedes

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Main Image Credit: 
Embed from Getty Images

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