There's a good chance that the White Sox won't miss Lastings Milledge in one way or another, so I hesitate to make too big a deal out of their strange decision to designate him for assignment on Thursday morning. At the same time, it's really hard to figure out why it happened, regardless of whether Milledge is only AAAA-talented, so we can pretend he's a little bit better than he actually is for this exercise.
There. Now I feel better.
The DFA was the latest turn in the peculiar path chosen by the Sox, starting at the end of spring training. The first thought I had was that Milledge had rubbed Ozzie Guillen the wrong way, but that's not the case.
"Personally, it was very hard for me—that’s the hardest thing you can do," Guillen said, who admitted that he was having trouble looking Milledge in the eyes as he talked with him. "When you send someone down [and it] has nothing to do with [his performance], that’s something. I was on the plane thinking all flight how I was going to handle it."
If Milledge were truly posing problems with the Sox, Guillen wouldn't have said any of this. He's not afraid to point out young players' flaws to the media, and even if it were personal, he probably would have played it straight, and the Sox would have leaked the discontent otherwise. We can probably rule out the easiest explanation, so we're still left with the big question:
Why was he on the 25-man roster in the first place?
One of my rules of thumb is that if I can foresee a complication and it comes true, it's probably a case of noteworthy mismanagement. Obviously, I watch roster machinations closely, but at the end of the day, I'm still self-trained and have no inside knowledge.
Re-reading my post regarding the ramifications of an 11-man pitching staff, here are the bullet points:
- The White Sox's starters are basically set, meaning that it would be even harder than usual to find the last bench player regular at-bats.
- A Carlos Quentin injury would be the only way to get Milledge anything resembling regular playing time.
- Six relievers could mean a lot of full innings out of Will Ohman, which won't end well.
- Guillen would try to get a 12th pitcher as soon as he could.
All of that happened, and I was far from the only person to see it coming. Now Milledge, who said he would happily report to Charlotte during the spring, might be with a different organization over the next couple of days. That wouldn't be the end of the world, but it would leave the depth-averse Sox unnecessarily thin in the event of an injury.
It's not so much a talent thing. Dayan Viciedo can do many of the same things as Milledge - hit lefties, struggle against solid-or-better righties, be a liability in the outfield (Viciedo looked good enough in the spring, but that's a dangerous assumption) and not add value on the basepaths. But in the event of a two-to-three-week vacancy due to injury, it's nice to have a guy like Milledge to use as roster fodder before having to consider burning a Viciedo option (correction: his last option is already being used this season).
It's possible that Milledge could end up in Charlotte. He might have improved his stock somewhat with a productive spring on the straight and narrow, but remember - he was cut by the Pirates. It's just a roster maneuver that was eminently avoidable if Kenny Williams weren't so impulsive, and I don't like it when I can't understand the reasoning.
And for what? Low-leverage innings from Jeff Gray. Don Cooper explained why, and quality was job three:
"[There’s a] need for a pitcher because of the extra-inning games and some of the other things that have been going on," said pitching coach Don Cooper. "We need another guy, and he was the guy chosen. He had a sideline two days ago, so he's ready to go … He threw the ball well and he had good stuff in spring training. He can give us innings."
Like Milledge, Gray was a non-roster invitee who got a long look during the spring. Unlike Milledge, I was wrong, because I figured Brian Bruney would be the guy to get an emergency nod when the NRIs were announced.
There's nothing about Gray that's particularly exciting. He walks fewer batters than the average journeyman reliever, but he has a track record of being hittable, as he doesn't seem to get many swings and misses. He's probably a better option than Ohman for your average full inning, but that's not saying much. Everything we know about him says he should be pitching when the game is out of reach in either direction, which makes exposing a more useful talent in Milledge all the more silly.