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White Sox solve DH position at least helpful time

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Justin Morneau is a sight for sore eyes, but he's a free agent after season

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

An off day is supposed to allow players to heal up. Instead, Robin Ventura somehow lost the services of another player between Sunday and Tuesday, as Avisail Garcia hit the disabled list with a strained knee.

As 2016 White Sox injuries go, this one isn’t nearly as tragic. Matt Davidson didn’t even get to realize his shot at redemption, Charlie Tilson didn’t get a chance to start his career, and Kevan Smith couldn’t even get on the field. By comparison, Garcia, who has received 1,279 plate appearances with the White Sox over 3½ seasons, has both made it and it made.

That said, this one does pack a small punch, as Garcia hits the DL at the same time he was hitting. His hot streak was only a week old, but when the Sox lose him while he’s hitting, it generates some mystique that he can hit. Garcia kinda acknowledged this trend himself:

"Every time I start hitting again, something happens," Garcia said. "Something happens. Same, same, same. Was doing better, I feel really good, I hurt my hamstring for seven or eight days something like that and now again. I got more playing time in the outfield and now my knee. That’s something I don’t want to but you have to deal with it, it’s part of this game. You can be mad right. You can be mad later, the hurt is going to be there."

He probably is what he is — incredibly strong, mechanically limited — but given the pile of bodies outside U.S. Cellular Field and the White Sox’ mathematically improbable chances, giving him two months to put the issue to rest himself would’ve been the most productive use of this window. In the unprecedented event that he tied two good months in a row, more power to him, because depth is depth. Offense from Garcia is never a problem as long as the White Sox aren’t counting on receiving it.

Alas, this team’s timing has been off all season. Even the success stories are mildly frustrating. For instance, it looks like they finally found a 30something left-handed DH/first baseman who can hit, but he arrived to late to save a drowning team.

Justin Morneau went 4-for-5 on Tuesday, with a two-out single in the fifth and a big double in the 10th, raising his line to .300/.351/.500. His sample is small enough that a four-hit game can raise his average 38 points, but even the .262/.319/.462 line he carried into the game was adequate for expectations.

Hell, it would’ve been adequate for higher expectations. The Sox spent $68 million over the previous five seasons for a pair of below-replacement Adams who combined to hit .202/.316/.397. Morneau has provided the kind of competence seldom seen from this role, even though he’s making just $1 million as a 35-year-old coming off elbow surgery without the benefits of a proper spring training.

And, of course, he’s overachieving while the rest of the team is a combination of underachieving and underpowered.

It’s an awkward time to emerge like this, because his success doesn’t have any automatic meaning toward 2017, and that's what we as fans are looking for. I don’t see Morneau has having August trade value because he’s making six figures, so he’s not going to sneak through waivers unclaimed. He costs as much as any other call-up at this point. Any team needing a body has a reason to claim him, but teams low in the standings don’t have a reason to surrender actual talent for him.

If Morneau rides out the rest of the season in Chicago, he might be operating at cross purposes with the rest of the organization. A late surge from somebody like Garcia or Jose Abreu or Carlos Rodon might lead to wins that sink draft position, but if there’s meaningful development that enhances their chances for 2017, it’s a trade the Sox would be happy to accept. If Morneau keeps hitting, it merely makes it harder to retain him.

That’s assuming it’d be a good idea for the Sox to do so. We’ve watched the Sox cement their DH spot with Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche, and the lack of flexibility that results when things go awry. The Sox didn’t get a chance to take full advantage of LaRoche’s retirement, but we did see a glimpse of the possibilities. Before Austin Jackson got hurt, the Sox were able to play four outfielders with the best balance of plate appearances and defensive alignment.

That said, Jim Thome reminds us that the flexibility needs to have legit upside in order to pass on pure offense, and what Morneau is doing as the primary designated hitter exceeds what the situation looked like with Garcia and Jerry Sands there. It’d be nice to have a DH that hits like 2016 Morneau, assuming they could count on him to remain healthy. It’d be nice if the Sox could wait to make other moves before deciding what to do with that spot, but the Sox front office hasn’t excelled at bending the market to its terms.