In what's becoming a sad tradition around these parts, we're left figuring out a strange decision the White Sox made at the non-tender deadline for the third straight year:
avisail garcia, chisox settle at $3M— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 2, 2016
This one feels eerily similar to the decision to tender Dayan Viciedo from a couple years ago. Yet again, the White Sox are choosing to retain a defensively-challenged player with an underwhelming bat who's seemingly fighting a never-ending battle with replacement level. Yet again, fans are stuck wondering why.
Garcia's racked up 1,551 frustrating major league plate appearances, most of which with the White Sox. That means we've gotten to know each other well enough to be blunt. Garcia's a bad baseball player and there's no sugarcoating it. We've seen absolutely nothing to suggest Garcia should be on a major league roster. He's a miserable defender. He's a bad hitter in aggregate, with a wRC+ of 84 and 86 over the last two years, respectively. He doesn't have a significant platoon split, so he's a poor fit as a bench bat. He doesn't run the bases well. Even realization of whatever "potential" some think remains in his bat would still be significantly offset by his other deficiencies. As far as I can tell, his three "skills" are throwing the ball from right field, having the physical appearance of a productive major league hitter, and getting acquired by the White Sox, thereby benefiting from the front office's stubborn refusal to just admit that three and a half years ago, they cashed in Jake Peavy for a guy who just didn't pan out. It's not a big deal for a team to be wrong on a guy; that happens all the time. It becomes a big deal when a team doesn't know when to quit and move on.
All that being said, today's decision doesn't mean that Garcia will be on the Opening Day roster or even that the White Sox are stuck paying the full $3 million. As was the case with Viciedo, the White Sox can still give him the boot at least two weeks before Opening Day and only have to pay about $500 thousand, plus whatever the union can get Garcia if and when they file a grievance. There's still a lot of time before Opening Day, and I'm guessing the White Sox just wanted to keep Garcia in tow until it's clear what their plans for the rest of the offseason have in store.
The question is, why?
The only reason to retain Garcia is if there's some scenario that would justify actually playing him; effectively guaranteeing him $500 thousand just to cut bait later serves no purpose. If the White Sox are trying to compete in 2017, counting on Garcia in any role would be ill-advised and the $3 million could be put to better use elsewhere, particularly for a team with a notoriously tight budget. If the White Sox are rebuilding, the money becomes a non-issue but there's still the problem of Garcia being a 26-year-old player with a boatload of major league experience that has shown zero ability to flourish in a part-time role or avert disaster in a full-time one. Surely, even a rebuilding team for which wins and losses don't matter could find more interesting players with whom to experiment using their 700 designated hitter plate appearances.
That's really the crux of whatever concern exists about the Sox giving Garcia a contract. The White Sox have a habit of giving precedence to familiar, uninspiring options over potentially intriguing ones. Viciedo, Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham, JB Shuck, and even Robin Ventura are all recent examples of the White Sox choosing tenured personnel for reasons other than merit. That they didn't cut ties with Garcia at the offseason's most natural point to do so instills some legitimate fear that the Sox would rather see this bland, tired movie again rather than something out of their comfort zone.
That's an issue because fans of the team have seen pretty much all there is to see with Garcia. He comes with neither the talent to support a successful team nor the novelty to attract consumer interest. He represents neither a commitment to winning nor entertainment, which is problematic for a fan base that's immediately thirsty for competing, change, or both. White Sox fans have heard the general manager utter the phrase "mired in mediocrity" and nothing contributes more to being mired in a given state than obstinate adherence to the status quo.
There's hope that a successful offseason will mean that Garcia will be nowhere to be seen at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 3, and should that happen, yesterday's decision will be practically harmless for both the White Sox and their fans. If Garcia's on the Opening Day roster, however, there will be an optics problem with the customers. White Sox fans that have stuck through the last several years of failure are currently coping with the potential of losing some great players like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, and Adam Eaton. If rebuilding means having to say goodbye to the bright spots of a failed era, why must the biggest disappointment of the last four seasons remain?