In classic White Sox fashion, just as the roster really seemed to be coming together to form as one of the top teams in the league, disaster struck the South Side once again. It would sting slightly less if it wasn’t so very predictable and completely self-inflicted, but nevertheless, Eloy Jimenez hurt himself yet again pretending to play left field. And now the White Sox find themselves missing a stalwart in the middle of the lineup and a potential 40-plus home run hitter for the majority of the season, if not the entire campaign.
Calling Eloy’s play in left field a problem would be unfair to problems. It is well-documented that he has no business playing the outfield and has no position defensively. This clearly causes a roster construction problem and puts the team in a box, where they really had no choice but to hope Jimenez could stay healthy in the field.
After this latest injury, it has to be painfully obvious that this setup will not work. It is difficult to say what the answer is to how you fit Jose Abreu, Andrew Vaughn, and Jimenez all in the same lineup when none can play anywhere besides 1B or DH, but that is an issue the team will have to deal with down the line. Jimenez’s bat is simply too valuable to continue putting the White Sox in this position.
As we look forward to what the team can do next, we have to understand there is no replacing Eloy Jimenez in the lineup. The obvious internal options are more playing time in left field for both Adam Engel and Leury Garcia. Perhaps Gavin Sheets could even get an opportunity, considering he learned how to play the outfield over the past year.
If the team were to look outside the organization, Yoenis Cespedes makes a lot of sense. The White Sox attended his private workout earlier in the spring, recently signed his younger half-brother, and have the strong Cuban connection in the clubhouse. Cespedes was reportedly waiting on a major-league deal to surface but was only getting minor-league offers.
In his press conference on Thursday, Rick Hahn clearly seemed to prefer the internal route before looking at external options. He even floated one potential idea that could make some sense. That idea was to try Andrew Vaughn out in left field, and Tony La Russa even confirmed they will be playing Vaughn in left field over the course of the next week to see if this scenario could work.
I have a few thoughts on this: first, it seems like a very knee-jerk reaction that is not completely thought through. Prior to the injury, Vaughn was a luxury in the lineup and anything he produced above 2020 Edwin Encarnacion levels figured to be an upgrade for the White Sox. After the Jimenez injury, Vaughn’s bat is critical to this lineup, and he will be counted on to produce.
So after seeing one dynamic bat go down to injury in the outfield, throwing another potential dynamic bat that is being relied upon out there with no outfield experience seems like a huge gamble. The absolute best-case scenario is if Vaughn can take the Carlos Lee approach and simply play the balls hit right to him to not risk injury, something Eloy could never do.
Second, if management ever believed that Vaughn could potentially play left field, why was he not there in the first place? Eloy’s recurring injury problems were never a secret, and at the very least, Vaughn should have been getting reps in the outfield to prepare for this exact situation.
And lastly on a more positive note, if this is the route the team decides to go down, it opens a door for a better offensive lineup. Specifically, this would allow the team to start Zack Collins at DH. Through 17 Spring Training games, Collins is hitting .352 with two home runs and looks to be serious about earning a roster spot.
Collins appeared to have no room in the organization just a few short weeks ago when the DH role was locked up for Vaughn and Jonathan Lucroy was a clear favorite for the backup catcher role. But Collins did not bow down to the pressure. He has done nothing but tear it up the past few weeks and is clearly on a mission to prove that he belongs. Perhaps his play in Spring Training has forced the White Sox’ hand, where they have no choice but to consider him for regular playing time in the aftermath of Jimenez’s latest injury. It is fair to say that the team would not be entertaining the idea of Vaughn in left field if Collins were not showing what he has thus far in Spring Training.
Collins has certainly earned his shot based on his recent play. If he is able to produce anywhere near his potential from the left side as a former tenth overall draft pick, that would be a huge boost for the White Sox lineup and ease some of the pain of losing Jimenez.
In my mind, the best option for the team at this point (assuming Vaughn is just serviceable in left field) is to have Collins DH against righties with Vaughn in left field and play Adam Engel in left field with Vaughn DHing against lefties. This would put both Engel and Collins in positions to succeed against pitchers that they can handle, while not over-exposing either of them.
But the main question here remains whether or not Andrew Vaughn can play a serviceable left field and not hurt himself or the team. If so, Zack Collins is the one player who stands to benefit the most from an ugly situation, and sorting out the mess on the back end in terms of who plays where when everybody is healthy will hopefully be a good problem to have down the line.