While we all wait for this lockout to end, trying to project players becomes increasingly difficult when nobody knows when the season will start or how long it will end up being. While we are all hopeful for a full 162 game schedule that may not be the case in 2022 if Major League Baseball and the players union do not reach an agreement quickly. With the start of spring training already being pushed back to at least March 5th, the players union and major league baseball will meet several times this coming week to attempt to get a deal done. There are pieces of the collective bargaining agreement that seem to have been settled already including the universal designated hitter for both the American League and the National League. This move alone changes how the White Sox and the rest of baseball will address their lineups.
The White Sox have had the designated hitter in their lineup since 1973 in the positional birth-year. While they have had some serious pop from the position in short spurts, a long-time fix is needed at the position. Many White Sox fans suggest moving Eloy Jimenez into the role but there would be major pushback from a move like that from the slugger himself. Jiminez let the club know he is not comfortable in that particular role saying quote “F***k that.”
The last thing the White Sox need is a disgruntled hitter in Jimenez as he is a key contributor to what should be a very potent lineup. Upon returning to the lineup from his pectoral injury in 2021 Jimenez was in the lineup as the designated hitter three of his first four games going 0-for-11 and in the sole game Jimenez spent in left field, he was 2-for-4 with a home run and three runs batted in. Extending this for the 2021 season Eloy played a total of 18 games at the designated hitter position and the Sox went 8-10 in those games. In games where Eloy started in left field, the White Sox were 23-11 over those 34 games.
Possible In-House Soutions
Some in-house possible solutions do exist for the White Sox to fill the designated hitter role but with some limitations or at least some unknowns. Andrew Vaughn seems like the first baseman of the future for the Sox but with Jose Abreu still going strong at first and Vaughn seemingly ready to hit at the major league level, a home needs to be found for Vaughn in the lineup. While this sounds great, Vaughn being ready to hit at the major league level is somewhat of a stretch. Vaughn slashed .235 /.309 /.396 with 15 home runs and 48 runs batted in over 127 games during 2021. Vaughn flashed some of his premiere hitting skills early on upon his arrival on the southside, but tapered off late in 2021 and seemed tired. Maybe some time spent in triple-A could do Vaughn some good as he does have options left but he probably starts the season on the major league roster.
Gavin Sheets does give the White Sox a left-handed power bat option for designated hitter but can he hit left-handed pitching? A quick look at rotowire.com and you will see his splits against left-handed pitchers are less than desirable. While you can platoon this position to take care of splits finding a left-handed bat that can hit right or left-handed pitching would be a major plus. While both Vaughn and Sheets are probably serious contenders for the position considering who they play for, they would be less than ideal for a true world series contender. No disrespect meant to these two young players finding their respective roles but at this point in their careers, this doesn’t seem to be the best way forward.
Free Agent Solutions
The Sox have been trying to find a consistent power hitter from the left side of the plate for what seems like forever. While many solutions have been thrown out by Sox fans abroad, adding Micahel Conforto to play right field seems the most likely. While the idea of adding Conforto to the fold seems enticing and would excite many Sox fans it does nothing to solve the designated hitter spot in the lineup. Conforto would likely play right field every day and only DH when he needed a day of rest from the field.
Another potential target for the White Sox is free agent slugger Kyle Schwarber. While Schwarber spent time in Washington and Boston last year, he was an absolute stud. Schwarber slugged 32 home runs and had 72 runs batted in, over a mere 113 games. Schwarber will likely seek a contract north of three years and 60 million dollars. This actually seems quite reasonable for Schwarber’s services especially if you consider his slash line in 2021 of .266/.374/.554 with 32 home runs. The problem with the White Sox actually landing Schwarber would lie in the new collective bargaining agreement which will include a universal designated hitter for both the American and National leagues. While this is a huge plus for free agent sluggers like Schwarber making them essentially more valuable to more teams, it becomes a problem for teams like the White Sox who simply do not engage in bidding wars. More teams bidding for the services of Schwarber likely puts the White Sox out of contention if they were ever actually in on Schwarber in the first place.
While the services of Schwarber may cost too much for the White Sox, Jorge Soler could provide power and an above-average walk rate for the Sox. A few problems with Soler would show up when you get to the swing and miss concerns. The slugger struck out 142 times in 2021 and only hit .223. However, Soler, the 2021 World Series MVP does bring postseason experience and success, something the Sox have openly coveted. That being said, with the new universal designated hitter rule in effect in 2022, the market may drive up the cost from the ten to fifteen million per year Soler was expected to get on a short-term one to two-year deal. Besides the cost, Soler is a right-handed slugger, something the Sox feel they have plenty of so he may not fit their desired team acquisitions.
Of the three players discussed, Schwarber makes the most sense. While the Conforto signing seems to have the most traction, it really does not fit the team needs at designated hitter at this point. The White Sox would still need to add pitching depth and a true everyday second baseman to become a serious World Series contender. Once the lockout ends, it should be hysteria on the free-agent market and you will see players move quickly.
The White Sox will sign Michael Conforto to play right field and fill the designated hitter role with in-house solutions like Vaughn and Sheets. The second base self-inflicted predicament is probably solved via trade involving Craig Kimbrel as Rick Hahn scrambles to band-aid what looks like a horrible trade on paper to the hated Cubs on the north side of town. If the Sox really want to make a splash on the southside, sign Schwarber and Conforto and let Schwarber do what he does best, hit without concerning himself with defense. While the prediction is probably way off and the White Sox go in an entirely different direction, a fan can dream!!
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