CHICAGO, IL - JULY 03: Adam Dunn # 32 of the Chicago White Sox waits to bat against the Chicago Cubs on July 3, 2011 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the White Sox 3-1. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
If you're looking for a turning point in the roster construction of the 2011 White Sox, Tuesday evening may have provided one, for Ozzie Guillen chose to remain ambiguous about his future plans for Adam Dunn:
"I don't know yet. I don't know yet," Guillen said. "It depends. Tormorrow we play, the next day is off, I’ll figure it out. We’ll see how we work today. I want those guys to get some at-bats. It depends on how we do today — then we’ll figure out tomorrow."
By "those guys," Guillen refers to subs Brent Lillibridge, starting in right field on Tuesday (regular RF Carlos Quentin moves to DH) as well as Brent Morel, starting at third base for the first time of the second half. By Guillen’s word, if Lilli and/or Morel have a strong game — or even Tyler Flowers, starting at catcher tonight but available to DH — Dunn could sit until their bats run cold.
As far as the other guys go:
*Lillibridge didn't help his cause on Tuesday, going 0-for-3 with two poorly timed strikeouts. Since peaking on June 3 by homering in his second straight game, Lillibridge is hitting 10-for-55 (all singles) with six 22 strikeouts in 63 plate appearances, and he's been even worse of late. He hasn't even been able to wrestle playing time away from Alex Rios, much less fill a DH role.
(At least he's finally capitalizing on his pinch-running abilities, with six straight successful steal attempts.)
*Morel has gone a month without an extra-base hit.
*Flowers ... nope.
And meanwhile, back at the Trib, Mark Gonzales notes that, hey, Omar Vizquel hasn't played much.
Prior to Dunn's benching, Ozzie Guillen played the same lineup for five straight games, which is a season high for him. If you allow for a weekly A.J. Pierzynski day of rest, it's been seven straight, as Ramon Castro took his spot in the order on July 9.
Later in the article, Guillen says that Dunn has "everything in his favor," which is another way to note a lack of excuses. Given the lack of options to replace Dunn, and the fruitless lineup permutations to keep him in the fold, this seems like a muted cry for help. If it feels like it's taken forever, it absolutely has.
It took until the trade deadline, when Kenny Williams acquired Ken Griffey Jr. to give Guillen some flexibility. First, General Soreness was Konerko insurance, in the event that he couldn't shake his season-long slump and nagging injuries. Only after Konerko righted the barge could Guillen address the Nick Swisher problem, and that took place in the second half of the season in spectacularly blunt fashion.
As much as it sucks, there's a reason for the waiting: Guillen's contending clubs have been veteran ones, and they generally like to be left alone. And this part of the season is as in-between as Dunn, just after the All-Star break, but before the reality of the stretch run forces changes of perspective.
Guillen can pull a one-off move like pulling Alex Rios from the middle of the game, but repeated power plays often get managers fired. It's OK to carry a sulking player for a few weeks (Swisher) or a month and change (Jermaine Dye), but with more than two months remaining, that's a lot of time for a rotten clubhouse dynamics to fester.
That's why the Sox would be better starting off small with Brent Morel. He has no grounds for complaint, no track record, room for fundamental improvement, and, best of all, options. Swapping him with Dayan Viciedo or Alejandro De Aza would at least give the bench a pulse and Guillen some lineup flexiblity. That would buy a couple weeks to see if Williams could be a buddy and remove a headache or force an issue with a deadline move. In seasons past, Guillen could make unpopular playing time moves because hey, he was given one veteran too many.
If the deadline passes and Guillen still has the same lineup -- my best guess, unless Mark Teahen can tempt a third-baseman-starved team like Milwaukee into taking a payroll hit -- then it's all on Guillen to play Hurt-Feelings Whac-A-Mole. Guillen's response to the Dunn question above seems like the first step in preparing for that future.
I still think the Sox have been way too lax in addressing the issue, because De Aza or Viciedo could've slipped onto this team weeks ago and contributed without upsetting the depth chart order. Alas, even their conservative approach is reaching a dead end, and Dunn edges closer to the margins.