In his typically inelegant fashion, Mark Teahen has grabbed control of third base from Brent Morel, thanks to a recent sorta-surge that has propelled his line all the way up to .228/.310/.347.
This is not the doomsday scenario it looked like it might be during spring training, because Teahen's defense has been quite acceptable. The fielding metrics give him a fairly wide range for the amount of playing time he's had -- Plus-Minus says he's just a tick under average (-1), while UZR pegs him at 1.4 runs above average -- but we can say he's shed the invisible sandwich board that plagued his defense last season.
His competition has plateaued. Morel had typical rookie problems early in the year (.475 OPS in April), followed by a better May (.686 OPS). Instead of progressing onwards and upwards, he's settled into the mid-.500s since.
That puts him in the same boat as Juan Pierre, where he's not the biggest problem on the team, but he is the easiest to solve. Ideally, you could steer a good-glove, soft-bat rookie through his first season by putting him on a course for 120 starts, with the rest of the team picking up his slack. But Alex Rios and Adam Dunn are really, really big bags of well-paid cement, which means Ozzie Guillen has to play up the margins and hope it adds up to something significant.
"I want to be in there, but I understand," Morel said. "For the way we were playing before the break and for us to play as well as we have the last couple of games, why would you switch anything up? I get it. I’m just rooting for those guys, and as long as we’re winning, why change anything? Teahen is playing well."
Unfortunately for Morel, really solving the problem would have the greatest adverse effect to him.
Aside from a mandatory backup catcher, it's hard to find room on a 25-man roster for a one-position bench player - at least when said roster is carrying 12 pitchers. It's even more difficult when Morel doesn't profile as a platoon bat.
He's hitting just .191/.214/.250 against lefties, which is surprisingly poor considering his minor-league track record. We can probably chalk some of it up to sample-size, but he hasn't shown much when he's had the chance. With the Sox facing two lefties this series (Danny Duffy and Bruce Chen), he might get a couple more cracks to right those numbers.
If Morel doesn't deliver and ends up as a kinda-platoon third baseman, he'll join Omar Vizquel and Brent Lillibridge, whose limitations have limited them to two July starts apiece. When the bench can't find playing time while the starters misfire this badly, well, that's a little bit of a personnel problem.
And now we're back to wondering why the Sox are sitting on their hands instead of promoting Dayan Viciedo (and maybe Alejandro De Aza, too), but that's well-worn territory. Keeping the focus on Morel is reason enough to refresh the discussion.
Demoting Morel wouldn't just be the easiest way to open a roster spot (he's the only guy with options), but it could very well be productive. His one flaw -- lack of selectivity at the plate -- never bit him in the minors, but it's undermining his game now. The Sox could send him down saying, "We know you can hit there, so we won't hold it against you if you strike out looking a few times."
That could very well be simplistic, but he can't be expected to hammer out a more professional plate approach sitting behind Teahen. And when the lineup has two gaping holes and three more players with an OPS+ below 90, having a bench with three glove-first guys makes even less sense.