With the regular season in sight, the White Sox seemed to be making it out of Arizona unscathed until their defensive outfielder, Adam Engel strained his hamstring on Sunday, keeping him out for a couple of weeks. The bigger blow came on Thursday when the team announced that Eloy Jimenez suffered a ruptured pectoral tendon in his left arm.
Rick Hahn addressed the media on Thursday and said that Jimenez will undergo surgery within the next couple of days, and is expected to be out for 5-6 months. The good news coming from this is that Hahn made it a point that this isn’t a season-ending injury, and that Jimenez is generally quick to recover from injuries. This means we could see him back on the field by mid-late August at the earliest, in time to return for the last month of the regular season, as well as the postseason.
Another option thrown out by Rick Hahn and Tony La Russa on Thursday was to get Andrew Vaughn as many LF reps as possible over the last week of Spring Training, to see if that is a feasible option. This comes as a surprise, as the team’s top prospect has never taken in-game outfield reps, as well as never playing above Advanced-A. Vaughn was expected to be the Opening Day DH for the Sox, but might see himself in a different position come April. It is worth noting that Vaughn took practice reps in the outfield during his time in Schaumburg at the Alternate Site in 2020, but the 1B/DH isn’t known for his athletic ability. Leury Garcia is another internal option, as he serves as their ‘super-utility’ player who can play all infield and outfield positions and looked to serve as depth this season. Garcia is definitely a solid option but doesn’t harness the power that will be missing from Jimenez in the middle of the lineup. Garcia missed part of 2020 due to injury, but in his last full season, he hit .279/.310/.378 with 8 HR, and 40 RBI in 140 games. I think he serves better as a bench player, but he could be one of their better internal options.
Some minor league options for the White Sox could include Blake Rutherford, Micker Adolfo, Luis Gonzalez, and Nick Williams. Williams has the most Major League experience out of the group, with 290 games over 3 seasons, and has had a good impact this Spring. Promoting one of these players to be the starting LF for 5-6 months doesn’t seem like a likely option, as Rutherford and Adolfo have not played above AA, and Gonzalez has only 2 PA in the majors, which came in a brief stint in 2020. Rick Hahn also shot down the possibility of newly-acquired Yoelqui Cespedes being fast-tracked to the Major League team in early 2020, saying it would be “premature.” Cespedes was signed internationally earlier this year.
It would not be surprising to see Rick Hahn pull the trigger on a trade, as the team could still use an upgrade in RF even with a healthy Jimenez in the lineup. Right field has been a gaping hole in this lineup recently, and the Adam Eaton signing isn’t the long-term fix. This could be a chance for the front office to make a splashy trade, have an outfield of the new player, Robert in CF, and Eaton/Engel in RF, and make changes accordingly when Jimenez returns late in the season. Upon research, there are some intriguing names that could be available. Some top-tier players that could interest the Sox could be Austin Meadows, Trey Mancini, Joey Gallo, and Charlie Blackmon. I think a player in this category would be unlikely, as Meadows would probably be too expensive, Mancini is making his return after missing the 2020 season while fighting cancer and the Orioles could keep him around, Gallo seems to always be thrown into trade discussions but Texas never pulls the trigger, and Blackmon has a massive contract for an aging player.
Some middle-tier players that could interest the White Sox are Mitch Haniger, Anthony Santander, and Mike Tauchman. These players could all be possible, and wouldn’t cost as much as the players above. Mitch Haniger missed all of 2020 recovering from surgery on a herniated disc and looks to be healthy for 2021. Now whether or not the Mariners would trade Haniger is the question, as they appear to be trying to compete in 2021. But I would imagine that a package would involve 2020 second-rounder Jared Kelley. Haniger is making just over $3 million in 2021 and is under contract through 2022. Haniger struggled in a injury-shortened 2019, hitting .220/.314/.463, 15 HR, 32 RBI in 63 games. In a normal season, Haniger put up a .285/.366/.493 slash line with 26 HR, 93 RBI, in 157 games. Durability could be the main concern for Haniger for the White Sox, especially after having numerous surgeries in 2020, as they would be adding him to solve their injury issues, but if they got a healthy Haniger, they would be in a great position in 2021/2022. Santander and Tauchman would be more realistic options, as they would come cheaper. Santander is on a bad Orioles team that looks to be selling any assets, and Tauchman projects to be the odd man out in the Yankees outfield. Santander hit .261/.315/.575 with 11 HR, and 32 RBI in 165 PA across 37 games in 2020. Tauchman hit .242/.342/.305 with 0 HR, 14 RBI in 111 PA across 43 games in 2020. Obviously there’s nothing extremely attractive about those two options, but they could have good seasons in 2021 and be a solid patch in LF for 5-6 months.
It is also worth noting that Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig are both free agents right now. Cespedes played 8 games in 2020 before deciding to sit out the remainder of the season. He also missed all of 2019, and the majority of 2018 due to injury. Cespedes seems like the player the Sox were always rumored to be “in” on, but it just never happened. The signing of Yoenis’ younger brother makes this interesting, as the team already has a connection with Yoenis, and the idea of playing with his brother has been rumored to be an interest for him. Puig had a rumored deal with the Braves in 2020, but that was short lived as he tested positive for COVID 19 before playing a game and ended up not signing with the team. It seems that both players could be options for the Sox as they would come rather cheap and without trading away any future talent, but Cespedes’ injury history seems concerning and Puig is under investigation by the MLB for sexual assault allegations.
Ultimately, I think Chicago ends up with a Leury Garcia-Robert-Eaton/Engel trio to start the season, or maybe they go with moving Andrew Vaughn from DH to LF, allowing the team to get former first-round pick Zack Collins at-bats at DH. Collins could help replace some of the power in the lineup with Jimenez out. With Robert in centerfield, Vaughn would not have too much space to cover in left field, and it could be a feasible option. If the team goes another route, I think it’s a mid-tier player or a free agent acquisition to patch the position for 5 months.