Unnecessarily tight White Sox roster claims victims

Decision to carry three first basemen forces more useful pieces out of the picture

The White Sox's most recent batch of roster cuts was the first to require thorough explanations, but what's most interesting is what's gone unsaid.

Matt Davidson and Jordan Danks did what they could to make the decisions difficult. Davidson had to tackle a to-do list in forming new offensive and defensive habits. The Sox gave him favorable trades in both departments, and after a slow start, the results fell in his favor, too. He finished his major-league portion of spring training hitting .308/.341/.564, with seven strikeouts in 41 plate appearances.

Danks showed gradual improvement over his two partial seasons in a White Sox uniform, and he carried that trend into spring training, as he somehow became the Sox's best Cactus League power threat.

Both players have major-league skills. Both are the young, athletic types the Sox want to have on board as they rebuild the team. So this was the first time Rick Hahn had to answer questions like, "What gives?"

Reading the Sun-Times' story, Hahn gave the typical answer about a player in Davidson's position -- adjustments, refinements, habits, etc.

"We’re absolutely thrilled with where Matt Davidson is right now,’’ Hahn said. "He came into camp with a couple of things we wanted to adjust defensively and offensively. Almost immediately he took to the defensive adjustment, and in about the last 10 days, he made the offensive adjustment, which pertains to his timing mechanism.

"This decision is about him getting regular reps and being able to show us on a pitch-to-pitch basis that he’s able to maintain those adjustments. We view him as a long-term solution, someone who’s going to be part of a successful White Sox club for many years, and we really aren’t hung up about whether that starts March 31 or May 1 or Aug. 1.’’

But the Tribune's account has the quote that really tips off what drives the decision:

"I’m confident if we did need him at this point that he’d be fine at the big league level," Hahn said. "But it’s more about making sure he is totally equipped to succeed, and that’s probably not too far off in the offing."

Whoops. If Davidson would be "fine" right now, then that's pretty much all the reasoning the Sox need to put him on the 25-man roster. They're committed to enduring growing pains this year with an eye on the future, and Davidson's no different from Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia in this regard. They may as well have Davidson work closely with Todd Steverson and try to get it all out of the way as early as possible.

But of course, there's a non-baseball reason why the Sox wouldn't play Davidson when he would be "fine" at the big-league level, but nobody's asking Hahn about it, and he couldn't answer it truthfully, anyway. If Hahn could say it, it'd sound something like this:

"I’m confident if we did need him at this point that he’d be fine at the big league level," Hahn said. "But it’s more about making sure he hits free agency after 2020, not 2019, and that probably will be safe a week or two into June"

Star-divide

Hahn probably could have sidestepped the readiness question by hiding behind the numbers game. Davidson has options, Conor Gillaspie doesn't, and the roster ain't big enough for the two of them at the moment. Davidson might be the third baseman of the future, but Gillaspie could be a useful part of future teams -- or a useful trade piece -- if he can build upon his rookie year.

In Sunday's discussion, Ken already put Gillaspie in his crosshairs for taking Davidson's seat, but that's not Gillaspie's fault. He would still be a great fit for the roster even with Davidson starting, as he's left-handed and can handle both corner infield positions. He's not the source of the roster crunch -- Paul Konerko is.

The most recent cuts stem from the decision to retain a third first baseman based on latent talisman powers, but like the service-time question, that's another thing that won't really be discussed out loud. The Sox could readily carry an extra infielder or a fifth outfielder if Konerko didn't return, but instead, Davidson/Gillaspie becomes an either/or proposition, and a guy like Danks starts yet another season in Charlotte as he enters his prime, even though he's done all he can to be rosterable.

Both young players were portrayed as a sympathetic figures in the stories, and Hawk Harrelson lamented Danks' fate in particular during Sunday's broadcast, but nobody has an interest in connecting the dots to Konerko. Look at the way Doug Padilla warped the legitimate roster complications into a misguided debate about "selfishness," and you know that Konerko is beyond impartial roster calculations.

The tight roster is just something everybody has to endure until Konerko and Adam Dunn are phased out, but the answer isn't to start throwing out the able bodies. If your response to the Davidson delay is to get rid of Gillaspie, that's just what the pro-Konerkos want you to do, maaaaaaaaan.

(Hey, since we're already slagged as conspiracy theorists for acknowledging that service time is often used as a factor in roster decisions, we may as well embrace it.)

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