Was Sunday the last time we'll see Tyler Flowers? Did his last swing result in a massive, Monster-clearing homer? If so, can we call him a mirror-image Ted Williams?
To answer the first two: Probably, at least if the White Sox can help it. Regarding the third: Sure, go nuts.
That's not to say the any of Flowers' bosses are holding his shoulder injury against him. Robin Ventura is the only one to speak of the matter so far, and he agreed the exploratory surgery was necessary:
"It’s been there for a while," Ventura said. "He’s been suffering through it for at least a month or two. Again, you get to the point and I think he’s at the point where he feels like he needs to get something done."
He also left the door open for next year:
"I think he can [be a No. 1 catcher],’’ Ventura said. "Defensively, he’s been what you wanted and calls a great game. Offensively, it’s been a down year. He’s going to have to fight his way back offensively to be that guy. His potential is there to do it.’’
It's quite possible he'll remain in the organization. If the Sox had a glut of catching prospects in the upper minors, it might be difficult to justify trying to restore Flowers' major-league skill set. But with Mike Blanke posting a sub-.600 OPS at Birmingham, nobody is knocking down the door for the starting job at Charlotte.
That said, the circumstances surrounding the injury bring Brent Morel to mind. Morel opened the season as the starting third baseman in 2012 based on a similar chain of decisions -- he showed enough improvement in certain areas to provide a shot at decent value for the price, and going cheaper and younger at that position freed up money to be allocated elsewhere.
You know how it went: Morel's back stiffened up on him in spring training, and he couldn't shake it. It forced him to the DL in mid-May, and he has yet to return to his old form. The Sox didn't wait for him, signing Jeff Keppinger and trading for Conor Gillaspie.
Morel is still in the White Sox organization, and he made a couple of cameos this season when Gillaspie went on paternity leave and Paul Konerko went on the DL, but he's out of the Sox's plans (he hasn't even been called up yet). He played in Charlotte like he needs a change of scenery, or maybe that's his true talent level after the injury, but everybody's counting down the days either way.
For fringe major leaguers like Flowers and Morel, they usually only get one good shot. That's why Flowers held off on surgery for as long as he could:
"The starting job was definitely a driving force to exhaust every option I could," Flowers said by phone. "I’ve waited a long time for this opportunity and did everything to avoid missing out. … It’s something that has to be done. I could continue, but couldn’t perform at the level required by myself, my team or my teammates."
The good news for Flowers is that adequate catchers are in short supply. Look no further than the 2013 White Sox as a chief example. With Flowers out, Josh Phegley will get September to stand alone. But right now, he owns a lower OBP and slugging percentage than a one-armed Flowers, and Flowers regained the defensive edge after a rocky start.
(Phegley's arm strength is evident, but it's often rendered moot by problems finding the seams on the transfer. I can't help but think of the comment the Phillies' radio analyst made after Phegley took a foul tip to his hand: "The index finger on his right hand looks like the size of a bratwurst ... now that I look at his hand on a close-up on that replay, ALL his fingers look like bratwursts.")
I imagine the Sox will try to find one catcher from the outside this offseason, with Phegley with the inside track to an active backup role. However, Phegley's final month goes like his first two, all bets are off. It's not a ringing endorsement when an offense-first catcher can't outhit an injured defense-first one.
At least Phegley controls his destiny. Flowers is now subject to layers of outside forces. He has to have surgery. Then he has to see if Phegley earns a larger role. Then he has to survive the offseason roster churn. Then he has to show that a surgically repaired shoulder has repaired his game. I assume that one of these obstacles will relegate him to an afterthought, but the catching picture is so murky that you can make out a blurry, large, bald figure in the background if you want to see it.