Rick Hahn spent November and December renovating the starting lineup, rotation and bullpen, which left depth as the only remaining area of necessary focus. Trading Marcus Semien brought back Jeff Samardzija, but it eliminated the one inside-track backup deserving of any trust.
With Monday's widely reported signing of Emilio Bonifacio, his job of building a better bench is now 25 percent complete.
Moreover, it's a fascinating place to start, because Bonifacio covers 1) both sides of the plate, 2) up to six positions, and 3) the pinch-running role to boot. That versatility frees up Hahn to explore a wider variety of players for the two bench spots that aren't catchers -- an extra corner outfielder or infielder if the bat makes sense, for instance.
With still a month and a half before pitchers and catchers report -- and the out-of-options trades that take place during spring training -- one (or more) of those bench spots may be occupied by a player who isn't yet in the organization. For those who are already employed by the White Sox, there are a lot of ways the next couple months can go.
Running down a number of the potentially affected parties...
Bad sign, Leury Garcia: Bonifacio is obviously Garcia's direct replacement, and boy howdy, did Garcia ever need to be directly replaced. Following up on our Baseball-Reference.com Play Index fun facts from the Zach Putnam post, here's a list of all the players in White Sox history who received at least 150 plate appearances and posted an on-base percentage -- not batting average, OBP -- below .200:
- Leury Garcia, .192 OBP over 155 PA in 2014
- Ed Walsh, .168 OBP over 156 PA in 1907
Walsh launched his Hall of Fame career in earnest in 1906, going 17-13 with a 1.88 ERA over 278 innings during the regular season, then winning both of his World Series starts for the Hitless Wonders against the Cubs, including a two-hit, 12-strikeout shutout in Game 3.
As for Garcia, well, he lost the only game in which he pitched.
Good sign, Robin Ventura: The Sox had to carry Garcia for the entire 2014 season because the Sox carried three first basemen. Had Bonifacio occupied the Garcia role, it would've lessened Ventura's in-game headaches, even while accommodating Paul Konerko's victory lap. But tha'ts in the past, and now Ventura has Bonifacio and zero sentimental obligations, so he should have more freedom to optimize.
Bad sign, Raul Fernandez: The 40-man roster is full, so when the White Sox announce the signing, somebody is going to have to come off to make room. Fernandez is the obvious candidate, if only because the other fringiest players entered the fray well after the Sox claimed Fernandez off waivers from Colorado back in July. He's 24 he hasn't pitched above High-A, and control seems to be the reason, although I admit I'm scouting off the stat line.
Good sign, Dayan Viciedo: If Bonifacio is the new Garcia, then it's possible that Viciedo could be the bench's new Paul Konerko, if Hahn can't find a taker or bear to DFA him. Problem is, Konerko was better against lefties than Viciedo last year.
Good sign, Matt Davidson: A similar rationale applies to Davidson. The Sox aren't making space for him, but if he's able to get his career back on track, he can work on a bench with Bonifacio. Right now, Bonifacio would theoretically give Conor Gillaspie some right-handed help, but if he's pressed into action elsewhere on the diamond, Davidson would have a way to crack the roster and seize a second chance.
Bad sign, Jordan Danks. Since Bonifacio can play center field, it makes it a little less important for the true fourth outfielder to do so. That's Danks' biggest selling point, and he has one option remaining, the poor guy.
Bad sign, Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson: Bonifacio loses a lot of his value if he's playing one position on an everyday basis, so it seems like Hahn and Ventura would want somebody else playing second. That said, the Sox will only need one rookie second baseman, and he won't probably won't be given the long leash that somebody like Brent Morel had.
Good sign, Sanchez and Tyler Saladino: Bonifacio has spent less time at shortstop than any of his positions as of late, with only 31 innings over the last three years. Alexei Ramirez has been durable enough to make a backup an afterthought, but assuming the Sox carry a true fourth outfielder on their bench, then shortstop is the next thinnest position on the depth chart, which makes any additional versatility from the existing starters beneficial.
Bad sign, Ben Zobrist fans: This signing doesn't eliminate the need for a player of Zobrist's quality, because Bonifacio isn't that. But Bonifacio does cover multiple gaps on the depth chart, which is a big chunk of Zobrist's appeal.
Bonifacio isn't a cheap player at $3 million, so Zobrist's $7.5 million (plus prospects) might be too steep a price for some redundant qualities, if the Sox can figure out alternative ways to further beef up their depth.