With Tuesday's non-tender deadline firmly in the rear-view mirror, the reality has sunk in that barring a trade, the White Sox have effectively committed north of $4 million to Dayan Viciedo for 2015. Though it's not difficult to see the promise in the soon-to-be 26 year-old's bat, he has accumulated a disappointing 0.2 bWAR over nearly 1,800 big league plate appearances. That includes a 2014 season in which he was one of the very worst everyday players in the major leagues.
On Dec. 4, it's easy to pass judgment on the decision, but it's difficult to understand exactly what it means. The 2015 roster hasn't quite taken shape yet and there's still multiple possibilities for how Viciedo fits into the plan. Let's take a look at the options at the White Sox' disposal and some rationales for retaining him.
1. Deal him
Rick Hahn may know something we don't about the trade market for Viciedo. He may have already received enough interest in the still-young outfielder such that there was not much risk in committing a contract to him. If that's the case, it may make sense to watch the market for corner outfielders play out a bit and hold out for the best offer.
It's not shocking at all that other teams would want Viciedo. His bat speed and raw power make him quite the tantalizing gamble. As Jim mentioned on Tuesday, there'd be no shortage of suitors if the White Sox simply let him go. However, on a major league deal with a price tag that will likely exceed $4 million, the interest level must drop significantly. That's not an overwhelming monetary commitment, but it's not a rounding error either.
The best use of Viciedo for another team would be to give him the lion's share of playing time to see if he can harness his potential. That would require an opening at either corner outfield position or at designated hitter. Furthermore, it would most likely require a team that's somewhat removed from contention in this two-wild card era and can afford to risk playing him every day. Those two prerequisites severely limit the number of teams willing to use 500 plate appearances on Viciedo. Offhand, the Phillies or Padres might make sense, but it's still a tough sell.
2. Play him as the everyday left fielder
The White Sox might not see themselves as winning bidders for available left fielders such as Melky Cabrera and Nori Aoki. If they've done their due diligence and feel that trading for a new left fielder is unlikely, giving Viciedo another chance might be a cheap option that allows the White Sox to spend resources elsewhere. Also, it's unlikely that putting Viciedo in left field rather than some 2-WAR player will be the sole determinant of whether the White Sox will be in the wild card mix come July, so it's possible that Hahn is biding his time until it's clear that the Sox are serious contenders before pursuing a major upgrade.
The issue with this plan is that the White Sox have an excellent core of Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton. All four of those guys enter 2015 with very high expectations. They're under contract together through 2018, so writing off any of the next four seasons with a group like that in tow registers as a mistake. Settling for Viciedo as the starting left fielder does not help take advantage of this precious window.
Despite Viciedo's upside as a 26-year old with very good power, he's still looking for his first season with an OPS+ over 100 and his first season as at least a 1-win player by fWAR. He might be a late bloomer, but his ultimate potential is limited by his status as a bat-only player. We know that Viciedo's arm is good and that his glove and legs are not. Those three things are basically certainties to remain true throughout his career. That means his bat is the only variable tool, and it'll be dragged down by the rest of his game even if it breaks through. That's the difference between being patient with Viciedo and continuing to roll the dice on say, Carlos Gomez.
Speaking of dice-rolls, the White Sox are already employing a risky player in the other outfield corner in Avisail Garcia. Although Garcia's a much better bet than Viciedo, he doesn't have a full season of major league plate appearances under his belt yet and his limited sample has been a mixed bag. If left field isn't stabilized, there's a real chance that the White Sox outfield will be below-average despite the presence of Eaton. That's a dangerous notion for a team that wants to compete this year.
3. Use him as a platoon player or bench bat
Viciedo is an interesting idea as a pinch-hitter late in games, as he's a credible power threat that can potentially swing games in the White Sox's favor. In addition, Adam LaRoche's weakness against left-handed pitching provides an ideal situation for the White Sox to utilize a right-handed complement.
The problem with Viciedo as the right-handed complement to LaRoche is that you'd typically want a lefty-masher in that role. Not only have Viciedo's platoon splits eroded from his early days, but he's actually hit lefties slightly worse than righties each of the last two seasons. He's still probably a better option against portsiders than LaRoche, but so are a lot of guys.
If Viciedo is not directly part of a platoon, he's still a questionable fit as a generic bench player because bench players should have a specialty that can be frequently used by the manager. In addition to his vanishing ability to hit lefties, Viciedo shouldn't pinch run, isn't defensively versatile, shouldn't be used as a defensive replacement anywhere, and doesn't play shortstop or catcher. The only thing special about him as a bench bat is his ability to deliver a home run roughly 3.7 percent of the time he walks up to the plate, a skill that's dampened by his lack of on-base ability. That's arguably not worth the use of a roster spot, and certainly not worth paying someone $4 million.
Of the three options, it seems best to hold out hope for a trade. Failing that, it's unclear to the outside observer just why the White Sox would want to tender Dayan Viciedo a contract at his likely price. I can speculate that the coaching staff still expects more out of him, that he's an excellent fit in the clubhouse (which would be an odd reason to keep him in light of the Sox sending the cheaper Moises Sierra packing), or that maybe his presence is still beneficial to Jose Abreu in some way. Rick Hahn is not an irrational guy, so there must be a reason the organization is still high on Viciedo if a trade isn't forthcoming. Unfortunately, for outside observers, this decision remains a confusing one and we're left with no choice but to wait and watch the plan unfold.