Over in Cleveland, the Indians faced a roster jam with Nick Swisher coming back from the disabled list on Thursday. It was a good problem, because Lonnie Chisenhall graduated from a strict platoon to worth an everyday shot. But that meant that Carlos Santana's rotation between third, first and DH was a little harder to pull off.
Also complicating matters, the Indians carried Jason Giambi. Giambi's not really expected to play -- and the Indians' flexibility with multi-position players and switch-hitters -- made it a lot easier to stash a player-coach at the end of the bench. But even he was testing out just how little he could produce this season:
- 2014: .128/.212/.277
Combine his lack of production with a lack of defensive utility, and he had only appeared in 15 of the team's first 66 games as a result.
With Swisher coming off the DL, the Indians could have returned to the status quo. In this case, it would be designating George Kottaras for assignment and using Santana as the backup catcher/active corner infielder role. But ... Santana hasn't really taken to the hybrid role, and the well-traveled Kottaras did all he could in three games (.500/.583/1.625 over 13 PA) to prove he's worth keeping around as a true backup to Yan Gomes, relieving Santana of catching duties for the time being.
And so when Swisher returned to the roster, Giambi replaced Swisher on the disabled list with what Let's Go Tribe called a "convenient" case of knee inflammation.
You probably know why I'm bringing this up.
Paul Konerko hasn't quite sunk to Giambi's limitations -- and Konerko has meant a lot more to his current franchise -- but there are enough similarities when comparing him to the rest of the roster. He's hitting just .191/.235/.340, and hasn't been over the Mendoza Line since May 17. It doesn't seem like he'll be getting a lot of opportunities to climb over it, either, because he's been relegated to six plate appearances (one single, one walk) over 10 days since Jose Abreu returned. Half of those were pinch-hitting appearances in a National League park.
By this time, the Konerko divide is entrenched and both sides are talking past each other. That's why it's useful to bring the Indians into this, because they provide a variable against a constant without sentimentality fogging the view.
If you look at Giambi as the last player on the bench, you might shrug and say, "Big deal." But if you look at the shift as a team optimizing its 25-man roster, that seems to carry more weight.
The AL Central is tighter than anybody expected, and tight divisions magnify individual decisions like these, while the long view gets shorter by the day. The rest of the schedule is basically a 100-game season at this point. That's not quite a sprint, but it's not a marathon, either, and the first team that puts it all together for a couple weeks could be set up beautifully for the second half.
David Haugh directly compared Chris Sale's contract negotiations to Max Scherzer's without mentioning years of team control remaining, which is a huge fundamental flaw. Funny thing is, if you applied this rationale retroactively to past White Sox seasons, you could paint John Danks as "greedy" and Gavin Floyd as a team player. But nope, Danks' self-confidence was seen as a major asset, and Floyd lacked faith in his ability to make the most out of his talent or something.
One of the ways the Sox could optimize their 25-man roster? Adding an outfielder who gives you more confidence in the field than Alejandro De Aza, whose repeated run-ins with Alexei Ramirez make them a less entertaining, more dangerous version of Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus.
Al Leiter gives a detailed explanation of how teams might be game-planning against Abreu, and what the next step in his game has to be.