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White Sox have questions, options at second base

Tyler Saladino stepped up when Brett Lawrie went down, and now Carlos Sanchez is doing the same with Saladino out

Tyler Saladino and Carlos Sanchez are hugging buddies ... FOR NOW.
Tyler Saladino and Carlos Sanchez are hugging buddies ... FOR NOW.
David Banks/Getty Images

I suppose it wouldn’t be right for the 2016 season to end without one more White Sox suffering a mysterious injury that does not respond well to treatment.

Tyler Saladino benefited from such an ailment at one point. He took over second base when Brett Lawrie’s leg betrayed him in late July and thrived in his second shot at an everyday role. Now Saladino’s on the other end of the deal, sidelined with a back problem. He hasn’t played since Sept. 22, and Robin Ventura said his season is over with a series remaining:

"His back hasn’t necessarily responded as well as we’d like,’’ Ventura said. "He definitely would have been a DL if it were during the year. We’ve got to figure out a way to get him right before he heads home.’’

Saladino’s injury is a major inconvenience to him, but it leaves us with a sample that's evenly divided for easy observation between bench work and starting.

April-July 54 160 38 5 0 5 6 37 .255 .294 .389
Aug.-Sept. 39 159 46 9 0 3 7 25 .309 .338 .430

While Saladino wore down in regular appearances at third base last year, he showed no signs of slowing in September. His command of the strike zone might have been the most encouraging development. He cut it down from 23 percent to 16 percent, and even that latter number is front-loaded, because he struck out just 14 times over 122 plate appearances in his final 30 games (11 percent).

The timing of the injury sucks for both parties involved, because Saladino presented himself as a decent in-house option at second base if the White Sox wanted to allocate the $6 million needed to retain Brett Lawrie elsewhere. Back problems are not to be taken lightly, though, especially since this is the second consecutive month in which Saladino has battled the issue.

The good news is that Carlos Sanchez has come out of nowhere to entertain us. You still can’t look at his season line with any confidence (.217/.247/.378), but it was a lot worse before he started playing regularly this month. You can carve up September in any way and it still looks good, albeit with one chief flaw:

  • September: .313/.329/.612 over 71 PA
  • Regular PT: .294/.315/.627 over 54 PA
  • Saladino out: .360/.370/.720 over 27 PA

It’s hard to take this brand of success seriously -- you know, the kind where Sanchez throws down a .300 ISO while striking out 20 times per walk, even if this is the time to be an undersized power source. He’s calmed that part down a little bit, striking out just five times over his last seven games after a clump of 10 K’s over four games, and it’d be nice to see him further follow Saladino’s course to contact.

However sketchy Sanchez’s hot streak is, it’s a reminder that he’s still only 24 years old and not without talent, especially since his glove has always played. I wouldn’t want to pencil him in as the starter, but he’s provided one more reason to give him an extended look if one presented itself, like the situation he finds himself in now.

While both infielders needed to seize the means of production before they found a groove, it’s possible that they could eventually find comfort in a time-share agreement. Sanchez and Saladino complement each other with handedness and versatility — Sanchez handles righties better than lefties, Saladino hits lefties better than righties, and they both can handle the left side of the infield if the need arose.

Platoons aren’t as useful in the White Sox’ position since the AL Central has been so righty-heavy. That means Saladino would get the short shrift naturally, but they could make him the starter out of the gate and wait to see how his back holds up. Despite all the turnover over the last two months, the Sox are hitting .297/.314/.475 from their second basemen since the start of August, which is better production than they’re getting out of several other positions.

If the White Sox wanted to put second base on the backburner over the winter and address the more crucial positions first, they probably could (and if they're rebuilding, it doesn't matter). Second base has proven to be the most capitalist of positions over the last two months, but there’s probably a collectivist solution in here somewhere.