Like any prestige drama, the White Sox made sure to include a plot shift in a finale episode. In this case, with the first half of the season coming to a close, they introduced a new character and put him in the center of the action.
The premise was simple: With the All-Star break arriving after a series in a National League park, the Sox didn't need a full complement of pitchers. So they called up Tyler Saladino to give Robin Ventura a few more options for position-player substitutions -- pinch-hitting, pinch-running, double-switching and whatnot.
Judging from words alone, Ventura's expectations were reasonable:
"You’re infusing a guy in there who you know who can play over there," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "Offensively you see what happens."
The responsibilities Ventura gave to Saladino didn't exactly align with said expectations, though. On his first day as a member of any 25-man roster, Saladino started at third base and batted second in the opener of a very important series.
Then he did it again in the second game.
And then he did it again in the third game.
The aggressive placement in the order was controversial around these parts, and normally I'd be on the side of those complaining. I'd advocated for Abreu to hit second because the offense didn't need a below-average hitter getting in the way of him and Adam Eaton, and the offense functioned better with the new arrangement. As the saying goes, if it's less broke than it was before, fix the parts that look more broken than others.
Yet I didn't really care about Saladino in the No. 2 spot over the course of the weekend. The novelty aspect had some appeal, and Saladino didn't look overmatched. At the plate, he went 2-for-10, including a key triple in the second game. In the field, he made all the plays at third, including a couple of successful tags that are unique to the position. He seemed to appreciate everything about the experience, whether at the ballpark:
"It’s the first thing I can actually say I’m speechless about," Saladino said. "I can’t really put it into words. The whole thing, you know, Lester, triple, first hit, RBI, it’s about as cool as it gets."
The surprise call-up from the minor leagues when the series began, Saladino has been taking the train to and from the ballpark this weekend, embracing not only life in the city but also soaking in all he can during his debut weekend in the majors.
Beyond the neat stories, I rather enjoyed it for all the theory fodder it provided. You can take this decision and build on it, and it takes a while before it gets crazy.
Ventura likes Saladino: This we know, since Ventura promoted Saladino from minor league camp late in spring training of 2012 to let him run among the big boys for a bit. That surprise move didn't put Saladino on a course for stardom -- in fact, he ended up having a down year, so the premature exposure might have been detrimental to his immediate progress. Nevertheless, here he is.
There's also this:
Very excited about the news that Tyler Saladino was promoted by @whitesox. Dude's a grinder, versatile, competes, easy to root for.— John Manuel (@johnmanuelba) July 10, 2015
Ventura wanted to get an idea of Saladino's abilities: If Saladino's only up for a weekend but might factor into future plans, it makes some sense to lock in as many looks as possible, even if it results in a suboptimal batting order.
The Sox wanted to fire a warning shot at the incumbents: Conor Gillaspie's defense has degenerated this year, and his bat isn't an asset, either. Gordon Beckham's defense is fine, but he's hitting worse than ever, and his hitting has always been the issue.
Combined, their production is such a problem that Ventura and the Sox thought it was a better option to take a Triple-A shortstop and start him at third for all three games of an important series. Maybe that wasn't entirely the right call, but it's problematic that it wasn't entirely wrong.
The Sox are getting ready to jettison a veteran: There isn't one widely reported idea of the plan from here, but the prevailing thought has Saladino on the roster for the first game of the day-night doubleheader against Kansas City on Friday, after which he'll be replaced by Matt Albers. Then again, Albers was the prevailing idea for Scott Carroll's roster spot before Saladino came out of nowhere.
Saladino doesn't have anything else to prove at Triple-A when it comes to qualifying for a chance at a big-league utility role, so it's only a matter of when. This being the case, maybe Albers will come up on Friday, but maybe to take the the spot that Emilio Bonifacio or Gillaspie occupied.
The Sox are preparing to trade for a third baseman: At this point, we depart the Saladinoverse and enter a truly speculative realm where the Beckham/Gillaspie platoon is being phased out, but for a third baseman who isn't in the organization. (Matt Davidson is in another one of his ruts, with three hat tricks over his last five games.)
If this season is a TV serial, then I guess that makes Saladino the White Sox' Bob Benson -- a young, eager-to-please sort who shows up in the middle of the run, skips the "peripheral character" stage and immediately grabs a significant amount of air time, thus triggering a bunch of theories trying to explain the incongruity between his sudden prominence and hitherto unremarkable existence.
If that analogy is any good, then none of our predictions for Saladino's future will pan out and we're all wasting our time like rubes.
On the other hand, if that analogy is any good, then imagine how Gillaspie and Beckham must feel right now.