It's quite possible -- even likely -- that Rick Hahn was merely posturing when he tossed around the idea of platooning Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo in left field after trading for Adam Eaton. Eaton may have rendered De Aza redundant, but it doesn't make sense for Hahn to admit it.
In the past, Hahn expressed a strong aversion to relegating Viciedo to platoon status while some concept of potential remains. Viciedo made the idea more tempting after a forgettable 2013, but I'm guessing the front office wants to give Todd Steverson a chance to wring elite hitting talent from that elite bat speed. Jeff Manto couldn't get the leg kick to stick in spring training, but a disappointing season and a hitting coach casualty may force Viciedo to reconsider changing his starting mechanism, which remains his biggest flaw.
Should something finally click and stick with Viciedo, you can see a roster path with him. Maybe the White Sox have to endure his misadventures in left field for one more season, but after the designated hitter logjam gives way, Viciedo will give the Sox some flexibility as a DH who can look like a decent left fielder for isolated games. De Aza's the better pick for winning this year, but his own roster crossroads will arrive before the Sox can really count on contending with him. That also assumes that De Aza will be healthy at 32, and his style of play suggests nobody should count on that.
De Aza should have his suitors as an affordable left-handed hitter who isn't intimidated by batting first, so if I had to bet, I'd go with Hahn finding an offer to his liking before spring training rolls around.
That said, it wouldn't be the worst thing if the Robin Ventura had a left-field platoon at his disposal. As Steve noted in his review of Ventura's managerial record in The Bill James Handbook 2014, Ventura's lineups featured the lowest platoon advantage percentage, and by a rather large margin.
|John Farrell||Red Sox||68|
|John Gibbons||Blue Jays||63|
|Robin Ventura||White Sox||47|
Ventura didn't have many appealing options -- especially since they wanted Viciedo to handle everyday hitting and Gordon Beckham's hamate injury blew up the idea of a platoon at third base. But through two seasons, we've seen that Ventura isn't comfortable shaking up the lineup. He used the fewest lineups of any AL manager in his first year, and even with the league's worst offense and a few prolonged injury absences in 2013, he still checked in with a below-average number of batting orders.
This year could be different, because the current roster configuration creates the opportunity for three strict platoons:
- Left field: De Aza and Viciedo
- Third base: Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger
- Designated hitter: Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn
Ventura's conservative approach to the lineup card makes him difficult to assess in a rebuilding year, especially one that coincides with the final year of his contract. I'd like to see him given legitimate tandem options and see how he plays around with them, and whether he's able to maximize his guys' abilities to succeed. Who knows? Installing three toggle switches on the lineup card might make Ventura feel like a real wild man. "Riverboat Robin" does have a ring to it.
This is really the only reason why I'm potentially optimistic about the return of Konerko. It's still hard to muster enthusiasm. He's saying all the right things and I'm going to do my best to filter it fairly, but my initial inclination remains the same: Everybody's going to say he's a wonderful presence even if his attempts at outward, active mentorship are roughly as effective as the average New Year's resolution. The Sox will remain tethered to this status quo that few other teams would aspire to.
Even if Konerko continues to dampen sparks instead of igniting them, it's possible his presence could rattle the roster-construction philosophy down the road. After his disastrous 2013, he can only be counted upon to bring one thing to the table -- hitting lefties so Dunn doesn't have to. Should Konerko and Dunn combine to produce like an actual DH, perhaps this will inspire the Sox to platoon elsewhere.
The White Sox hampered themselves over the last few years by refusing to reduce an established player's everyday role. Retaining Konerko isn't a step in the right direction when it comes to acceding to a veteran's wishes, but the resulting Donkey Kong DH might show the Sox what can be achieved when they choose to hide a player's flaws. That would come in handy when they have to decide on a role for Viciedo in 2015 ... if he's around to see it.