Early on in David Haugh's column about the veteran-infused White Sox roster, he used a strange adjective that foreshadowed rocky logic.
Center fielder Austin Jackson became the latest baseball mercenary to sign with the Sox, agreeing to a low-risk, potentially high-reward one-year, $5 million contract. Jackson immediately assumed the role as the Sox best defensive outfielder and, by the All-Star break, could emerge as their most complete overall. This week's discussion over where incumbent center fielder Adam Eaton plays was cute, and gave the highly quotable Eaton an opportunity to sound magnanimous in support of his new teammate, but Jackson represents an obvious upgrade.
There are two main things to discuss whenever a team acquires a player:
- What the new player brings to (or costs) the team
- The effect he has on the rest of the roster.
When the White Sox signed Mat Latos, I don't recall the discussion about Erik Johnson's future being considered anything close to "cute." That raised an eye, and when Haugh followed it with "opportunity to sound magnanimous" in the following clause, I wondered just where he was going with it.
Turns out: He thinks Eaton should be a fourth outfielder, and Jay Bruce could be just the guy to move him there:
The broader big-picture question involving Eaton should be what to do with him if the Sox acquire outfielder Jay Bruce, the left-handed power hitter the Reds reportedly want to trade. Several other teams remain interested in Bruce, scheduled to make $12.5 million in 2016, and WSCR-AM 670 reported two top Reds scouts have been regulars at Camelback Ranch. If Sox general manager Rick Hahn can pull it off, Bruce would join former Reds teammate Todd Frazier in the middle of an increasingly dangerous Sox lineup.
Trading for Bruce to play right field with Jackson in center and Melky Cabrera in left likely would make Eaton a fourth outfielder and part-time designated hitter — perhaps platooning with Avisail Garcia — Eaton's ideal role on a contending Sox team. It also would make Eaton's five-year, $23.5 million contract extension signed a year ago all the more baffling. Bruce offers 30 home-run potential, a capable glove and an expiring contract, which Hahn appears to be collecting.
This is essentially what he's advocating.
- Left fielder: .273/.314/.394, -0.3 fWAR
- Center fielder: .267/.311/.385, 2.3 fWAR
- Right fielder: .226/.294/.434, 0.1 fWAR
- Guy who shouldn't start: .287/.361/.431, 3.6 fWAR
Bruce doesn't hit lefties, Jackson stopped hitting righties, but Eaton -- who posted a .365 OBP against left-handed pitching over the last four months of 2015 -- is the one who needs his at-bats limited.
There's no way to make a credible case for this based on performance, and while I could dust off my blogger beanie from last decade and rail on the mainstream media for not understanding on-base percentage, I don't think it's about performance here. Between this column and the one Dan Bernstein wrote on The Score's site, there's an undercurrent with the coverage of Eaton that either isn't or can't be articulated. In Bernstein's case, he routinely gives sabermetric lectures himself, so he just resorted to "something seems to happen" with little elaboration.
The problem: Eaton is the team's best source of OBP, and nobody can be counted on to challenge him except Jose Abreu, who needs guys like Eaton to drive in. He may have started slow, but he had the ferocious rebound that Melky Cabrera never did. There isn't a way to dismiss Eaton's contributions for baseball reasons, yet they're forging ahead with that premise, cutting it with vague allusions. They're trying to say something without saying something, but I don't know what they're saying, except that it smacks of either backwards baseball logic or water-carrying.
Eaton does have a history of annoying people. That's one of the reasons the Diamondbacks made him available in the first place (and part of the reason the Sox said they acquired the "dirtbag"). But even if that history is repeating somehow, there's one big difference: Eaton became a good player in the interim. The Sox still don't have many of those, so nobody can justifiably be that picky about the ones in the fold, at least without actually stating the reason.
- Chris Sale and David Robertson believe in 'back-field' White Sox strategy - Chicago Tribune
- Latos sticking to Cooper's plan | Chicago Sun-Times
- White Sox spring pitching philosophy makes double duty for Alex Avila - Chicago Tribune
With the White Sox shielding certain pitchers from opponents on the back fields, Alex Avila has multiple stops in his spring-training program, since he needs to both know his pitchers and face live pitching himself.
Speaking of Avila, Tyler Kepner starts a story about the catcher with a tremendous lede:
Sometime around Christmas, Chicago White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn called his new catcher, Alex Avila, to ask about a player Hahn was interested in signing.
"Where are you?" Hahn asked.
"Oh, I’m with my folks," Avila replied.
"All right," Hahn said, laughing nervously. "Could you go into another room?"
Hyun Soo Kim, the outfielder who hit .326/.438/.541 in the KBO last year, has started his first spring training 0-for-21.
Todd Frazier is trying to connect with Jose Abreu by signing the one Spanish song he knows ("Una Palabra" from "Man on Fire"). Abreu says it's the thought that counts.
"I like his personality, and it's good for us as a team. Especially for us, as Latins, it's good to see one of the guys trying to hang around with us."
So is Frazier a decent singer?
"He tries," he replied.
Now this better qualifies as "cute."