You hear that? That’s the sound of fastballs popping a mitt in the Arizona sun. That’s a sound that we will be hearing in just under a month, hell, there might even be a video of it. We’re dangerously close to baseball’s return. Our White Sox have done a solid job of improving this roster heading into the 2020 season. However, I don’t think anyone can say they feel as though this team is the favorite in the American League Central at this moment in time.
There is still room to tinker around the edges of this roster as we approach the opening of camp in a few weeks. As I see things today, this is about an 83-win team (shout-out to #83Nation). My view is that the Sox are realistically chasing five wins before you can say this team is neck-and-neck with the Twins and Indians. Now, I know you’ve read recently that Twins bloggers aren’t seeing what all the fuss is about with the Sox. Who knows, they may be right. After all, it’s probably realistic to think the team from Canada South will hit 300 homers again and that Mitch Garver will perform like peak-level Mike Piazza.
There are still plenty of options available on the open market that wouldn’t require significant financial investments from the team. I know we are getting dangerously close to the team saying they are tapped out financially (despite not really being), so that’s why I’m looking at realistic options instead of living in fairy tale lands where people scream about owners being rich.
From my perspective, there are three areas of improvement this team should be focusing on: 2B, a platoon RF, and SP/RP. I only view 2B as a short-term need due to the fact that once the service time shenanigans with Nick Madrigal are up, I expect him to be here playing every day. I have long feared that the Sox will circle the wagons and bring back Mr. Gatorade bath, Yolmer Sanchez, to start the year at the keystone. If this team is serious about 2020, they need to resist the urge to bring back a wacky, fun mascot that has been one of the 30 worst hitters in the league since arriving in 2014.
There are really only a couple of 2B options I’m interested in at the moment: Brad Miller, my preferred option, and Wilmer Flores. Miller split time between the Indians and Phillies last year, slashing .260/.329/.565 with 13 HR in 170 PA, good for a 126 wRC+. Miller brings positional versatility with the ability to play 2B, SS, 3B, and even corner OF. His defensive marks varied last year by position:
I think this versatility will come in handy for the Sox given that they have several young core players in Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert that have all had varying levels of difficulty remaining healthy for a full season.
Miller isn’t without his warts, however. He has shown inconsistency at the plate from year-to-year. He’s shown upside similar to last year and his 2016 season in which he posted a 111 wRC+ and 30 HR for the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, he’s paired that with seasons like 2017 and 2018 in which he posted offensive numbers below league average, dipping as low as 84 wRC+ in 2017.
One interesting thing of note for Miller were changes to his Statcast data in 2019 when compared with 2018.
The data above may indicate a concerted effort to adjust his swing path that resulted in greater elevations and exit velocity. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in 2020. If those trends continue, Miller could reasonably be counted on to provide some thump from the left side of the plate in a utility role.
Should Miller not be an option for the Sox, another suitable alternative could be found in the form of Wilmer Flores. Upon arriving to the Major Leagues with the Mets in 2013, Flores was essentially a lesser defensive version of Yolmer Sanchez. However, since the start of the 2016 season, something clicked for Flores, as he’s slashed .278/.325/.462 with 54 HR and a 110 wRC+ in the last four seasons between the Mets and Diamondbacks. Wilmer’s offensive value peaked in 2019 when he slashed .317/.361/.487 with 9 HR and a 120 wRC+ in 285 PA for Arizona. Another plus for Flores is his ability to hammer LHP. Since the start of 2016, he’s slashed .296/.331/.534, good for a 127 wRC+ against southpaws.
Flores was initially billed as a defensive first middle infielder, however, advanced metrics haven’t taken kindly to his glovework in recent seasons. Last year, Flores saw the majority of his playing time at 2B, where he accrued (-2) DRS. He has spent time briefly at 1B and 3B in recent years, but that data will just make you throw up your last meal. Flores isn’t going to provide tremendous value with the glove, but his offensive production the last few seasons could represent a viable option for the Sox while seeking to fill out the roster. If the team chooses to forego defense in the short-term until Madrigal is ready, this may be an avenue that they take.
In the end, I wouldn’t be surprised in any way if Yolmer Sanchez is the starting 2B on March 26th for the Sox. His defensive prowess certainly provides value for a team in a utility role, however, giving large quantities of at-bats to him in a year when this team is supposed to be competing will be painful to watch. There simply is no offensive upside with Yolmer, and for that reason, I think the team would be much better served looking at an option like Brad Miller. His offensive upside and defensive versatility, while not at the same level as Yolmer, is the type of player this team should be giving a roster spot to instead of a guy who dumps Gatorade on his head making for good GIFs.