clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The unfortunate second coming of Gordon Beckham

The 'savior' tag didn't suit the second baseman three years ago, and it doesn't suit him now, but he can still help

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

After going hitless in three at-bats during the White Sox's 2-0 loss to Oakland on Sunday, Tyler Greene was unceremoniously designated for assignment in order to make room for the returning Gordon Beckham.

There are a handful of other guys who might deserve the same fate, but Greene is the only guy occupying the spot of a proven ballplayer, so he's the first domino to fall. At least we'll always have this:

Rick Hahn, while interviewed on the 670 The Score's "Hit and Run" program, suggested more could topple if the Sox keep plummeting:

“It has led to individual meetings with certain players held by Robin and his staff — a couple of which I have been involved in, a couple of which the coaching staff as handled — to send a very clear message about what our expectations are of these individuals and if we don’t see improvement in the near future that some guys who were counting on spending their summers in Chicago very likely won’t be,” Hahn said.

For now, Beckham's comeback will allow the Sox to recalibrate any hopes, and at least one guy is reading a lot into his return.

Beckham last played for the Sox on April 9, when he broke a hamate bone while swinging during his first and only at-bat in a loss to Washington. The Sox fell to 4-3, and that was the last time they were over .500.

Today, Beckham will rejoin a team with a 24-30 record and mired in a six-game losing streak, and it's fascinating to see what his impending return represents in the mind of Hawk Harrelson. At first, the Sox's sloppy play during Beckham's absence was a boon for his stock. But as the offense sinks to the bottom of the ocean -- they've been shut out three times over the last six games -- Harrelson is treating Beckham's response as a cure-all. Not only is he going to provide the league's best glove at second, Harrelson says, but he's going to cure the Sox's energy and leadership void, too!

Sox management must agree with some of this, because Beckham, who is battling hand soreness during his otherwise successful rehab stint, was originally slated to return to the Sox when they returned to Chicago on Thursday.

His return should improve the Sox, if only because he's a clear-cut big leaguer, and the Sox have a talent shortage. Even if his hand isn't quite ready for everyday play, Robin Ventura should be able to develop a workable rotation with Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger (who seems to have figured it out). That's a bounty of options not available to Ventura anywhere else on the roster, and the freedom should be refreshing there.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, because history says there's no reason to believe that Beckham can wear the burden of an entire team.

Yes, the defense should improve by virtue of having that kind of range at second in place of Keppinger's. Yet as a team, the Sox committed seven errors over the six full games Beckham played (including one by Beckham himself). He'll bring some much needed awareness to the field, but the small sample from this season suggests that his gravitational pull isn't all that strong. The recurring problems of today don't involve his territory. For instance, he's not going to help Dayan Viciedo find the wall, cure Alejandro De Aza's fumbilitis or push Tyler Flowers down to block pitches.

Plus, scoring runs remains the much more pressing problem, and that hasn't been Beckham's strong suit. He entered the season as a .245/.312/.382 hitter in need of reinvention, and while he got off to an encouraging start (6-for-19), that's not nearly enough to change the conversation. Now throw a hand injury on top of it, and can anybody really expect Beckham to meet his formerly immense potential? That's the kind of performance that would be needed in order to start turning around the offense for good, but this hasn't been a great season for the best-case scenario.

Lest this post read like a complete cold shower, it's far from impossible for Beckham's return to coincide with a turnaround. He showed that nice opposite-field line-drive swing both during his first six games, and also during his rehab stint, and it's a sorely needed reason to watch. He possesses tremendous on-field know-how, which has been in short supply. Beyond Beckham, there's some positive regression to be had -- perhaps in the form of lineup changes -- and the still-flimsy schedule (Oakland aside) should allow it to happen ... if it's going to.

Beckham just can't be expected to be a fulcrum -- not just because his track record and the rules of the game don't encourage it, but because he's internalized those expectations to unhealthy degrees before. Some guys feast on pressure, but Beckham has let pressure eat him. He couldn't fill the 'savior' shoes before, and he's not equipped to fill them now, knowing what we know.

Gentler optimism is welcome. He's too young and talented to write off the impact potential completely, and he certainly can't be criticized for not wanting it enough. He's a Rubik's Cube -- you can account for all the pieces and understand how it can look like the picture on the box, but it's been a real bitch getting all the sides to line up. As frustrating as that is, the lesson of his absence is that he's valuable for what he can do, and that previous expectations shouldn't cloud what he offers in his current state.

Maybe he's a different guy and on the verge of figuring it out, but he has to prove he can cover his own jurisdiction before he can attempt to right a league-worst offense and frustrating defense. For now, he can really only help those who help themselves.