Maximum Utilization: How the White Sox Can Add Versatility in Free Agency
The 2021 White Sox need to look to maximize their 26-man roster. These utility players could bring productive versatility to the South Side.
I think we can all agree the 2021 White Sox will have some roster limitations. The team has three corner/DH players in Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, and top positional prospect Andrew Vaughn. There is also the potential that this mix could be compounded if they decide to bring in Michael Brantley to plug their hole in right field. As I discussed in my column looking at right field free-agent options, my greatest concern about Brantley is his ability to physically hold up handling the position. A Brantley acquisition would probably necessitate seeing a decent amount of starts at the DH spot, further complicating things for the White Sox.
Now, I feel pretty confident that Andrew Vaughn will not break camp with the club having never stepped in a batter’s box above Class A Winston-Salem. So, how should this team approach the DH spot in the early phases of the season and who could they turn to in an attempt to fill the void?
It is my belief that the lack of flexibility the roster presents with and without Vaughn necessitates that the Pale Hose take a non-traditional route to fill the position. There are players like Yoenis Cespedes, Shin-Soo Choo, and Carlos Santana that could be acquired, but all these options are aging players with defensive limitations themselves.
I am of the belief that the White Sox should look to utilize the DH spot in a manner that Ozzie Guillen envisioned ten years ago. Particularly early in the season before Vaughn’s arrival, I think plugging the hole with an individual who possesses the defensive utility to fill in across the diamond makes the most sense. During the Los Angeles Dodgers World Series run, we saw that having a flexible roster with defensive versatility can be of tremendous value. So what options in the open market would provide this flexibility?
I was pining for Brad Miller last season before he signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. The recently-turned 31-year-old Miller was penciled into the DH spot 32 times by Mike Schildt last season while also playing 15 games at 3B, two at SS, and one at 2B. Miller put together a solid campaign by slashing .232/.357/.451, good for a 121 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR. He hit seven homers in his 48 games while walking at a 14.6% clip.
Since leaving the Rays following the 2018 season, Miller has seen a considerable increase in his offensive production, as evidenced below:
He sports an 11.7% BB rate in that time frame, as well, which is still an area in which this White Sox team needs improvement. Miller’s production from the left side would be ideal in a DH/utility role and help provide balance to a lineup that is still right-hand dominant. Miller does have significant swing-and-miss in his game, sporting a K rate of 26.7% in the last two seasons. That is one major drawback to his offensive profile, and, frankly, the Sox have plenty of this in the lineup already.
On the defensive side, Miller is a player that has shown an ability to play all over the infield in addition to seeing action in corner outfield spots. This ability to serve as a “swiss army knife” of sorts would be a tremendous value to the roster. He’s proven to be, at the very worst, passable defensively in a number of spots.
Miller has only played a handful of innings at SS and RF the last couple of years, but the mere fact that he “can” play the positions if the team was in a pinch would help lighten the load for players like Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick while providing increased offensive production.
Going into the 2012 season, Jurickson Profar was the top prospect in the game of baseball. A slew of injuries caused that lofty prospect status to go unfulfilled. However, Profar has proven to be a useful Major League player since the 2018 season. The 27-year-old switch-hitter spent 2020 with the San Diego Padres slashing .278/.343/.428, good for a 111 wRC+ while playing his home games in spacious Petco Park.
As I mentioned above, Profar has been able to stay on the field consistently since the start of the 2018 season and he has produced league average value offensively (in spite of his sub-par 2018 season playing in the Oakland Coliseum). Since the beginning of that season, his production looks like this:
Again, those aren’t world-beater numbers. But when you consider the home parks he has played in the last two seasons, I think these are respectable figures. Additionally, Profar has hit 47 homers the last three seasons while walking at an 8.9% clip and striking out at a mere 14.5% rate, a figure that would provide some much-needed bat-to-ball skills to the White Sox lineup.
Another plus to Profar is his ability to hit from both sides of the plate. Since the beginning of the 2018 season, Profar produced a 96 wRC+ from the right side (111 wRC+ in 2020) while putting up a solid 113 wRC+ against southpaws. This flexibility would give Tony La Russa the ability to utilize Profar against pitchers regardless of handedness.
On the defensive side of the ball, Profar’s days as a regular infielder are probably over. However, like Miller, Profar could potentially spell at various positions in emergencies. He has taken to the outfield well, which gives him an added layer of versatility to his game. His defensive metrics since 2018 look like this:
Admittedly, the infield numbers aren’t particularly pretty. Players like Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick would probably be leaned on over Profar at this point, but having an infielder’s glove could come in handy. He also hasn’t seen a significant amount of time in RF at this point, but his ability to handle a corner spot in larger parks like Oakland and San Diego gives me confidence that he could handle RF at the corner of 35th/Shields.
In the end, adding a player like Miller or Profar would be immensely valuable to the 2021 White Sox. Either player could be utilized in the DH spot until Andrew Vaughn is ready and they both have the ability to spell regulars across the diamond. Having players with this level of versatility comes in hand when you consider that at some point Eloy’s face will probably collide with a wall in LF and Moncada will probably come up grimacing after running to first base or sliding, necessitating an absence for a few days. Being able to plug a competent Major League player into the lineup in the absence of either is certainly a better alternative than relying on the likes of Blake Rutherford, Luis Gonzalez, or the ghost of Yolmer Sanchez.
The 2021 White Sox need to look to maximize their 26-man roster. Adding either player would certainly go a long way toward achieving that objective.