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White Sox bench provides options for those who lack them

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Brett Lawrie’s release makes enough room to accommodate all position players on fringe

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MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Chicago White Sox Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For a team that is rebuilding, the White Sox don’t have a whole lot of out-and-out positional battles.

One kinda opened up while I was curling this weekend. The Sox cut Brett Lawrie to create an opportunity for Tyler Saladino and Yolmer Sanchez, but “and” is the operative word. Before the Sox cut Lawrie, Saladino had the inside track to the utility job, but he would’ve been stuck behind four established infielders, and Sanchez faced out-of-options limbo. Instead, Saladino will ostensibly get more opportunities to play while Sanchez gets what might be his last best chance to stick in Chicago. One will play second base more than the other, but it’s still an upgrade over their previous immediate futures.

The White Sox probably anticipated more roster chaos, but since the Sox have only traded — or been able to trade — Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, other pecking orders have yet to be outright uprooted. And before we leave Sale/Eaton, over at The Athletic, Rick Hahn gave Jon Greenberg his most thorough answer to the idea that the Sox’ rebuilding is a guise to get rid of their biggest problem children:

“How about that?” Hahn said. “How about that conspiracy theory? You know, I think I first brought back from the 1930s and then wore out the word ‘druthers’ during the offseason by repeatedly saying ‘If we had our druthers, we would do four more of these things right away.’ And as I first mildly, inadvertently shared, but now I own, we did have two deals that fell apart involving two different players with two different clubs at the other clubs’ ownership level. That happens.

“The fact that only two of these have taken place so far is not a result of our druthers, it’s not our preference and we were close to having more. So I don’t even know how to respond to the conspiracy, except if there was a conspiracy going I’ve wasted a lot of time on the phones with other GMs trying to put deals together over the last few months.”

Until Hahn and MLB can get the Rube Goldberg device working to dismantle the rest of the roster, the White Sox still have a fairly set depth chart. A full rotation. A bullpen hierarchy. A mostly veteran infield.

The uncertainty that exists mostly lies under the surface; bench jobs for those who are out of options. With almost a full month still remaining in the preseason, there’s no reason to rush to judgment, but here’s a look at what the Sox might have to juggle the position-player vacancies that exist.

Center field

A stress reaction in his foot knocked Charlie Tilson out of the early part of camp. His original schedule had him sitting out for 10 days, but now it’s closer to 20 and the headlines he’s creating remain short of thrilling:

One of the ramifications of Lawrie’s release is another opening on the 40-man roster. The White Sox (probably) already needed one for Geovany Soto, but now they have another one in case Peter Bourjos is the most respectable option in center field.

Bourjos has been making a case with his play, hitting .375/.375/.688 with two triples and a stolen base over 16 plate appearances. Among in-house options on the roster, Leury Garcia isn’t far behind, as he’s running at .333/.364/.476 with only two strikeouts in 22 chances.

(Of the potential second-half call-ups, Jacob May is outpacing Adam Engel considerably, although both have struck out enough in their small samples to say “BABIP?” and move along. They’re all rather meaningless samples, of course.)

The situation between Bourjos and Garcia almost mimics the one between Saladino and Sanchez. While one might get more playing time in one position, the other is sitting in OK position for a bench job.

Fourth outfielder

When it comes to spring performances, there’s a rather large gulf between Bourjos/Garcia/May and the rest of the competition.

Rymer Liriano has struck out (seven) or walked (four) 11 times in 15 plate appearances. His slow start isn’t particularly concerning considering he’s coming back from a concussion-ravaged 2016, and an ugly spring could actually benefit the White Sox since both Liriano and Garcia are out of options.

Should Garcia continue to play well through spring training, it’ll probably be hard to sneak through waivers a guy who is 1) that versatile and 2) has had Triple-A success. Liriano, though, might not be ready to immediately contribute at the MLB level. If the rest of the league sees the same thing, the Sox might be able to get him regular work in Charlotte.

Should both Garcia and Liriano be too good for waivers at the end of the month, there is a little bit of playing time at ...

Designated hitter

... although he may have to share playing time with Matt Davidson, who is also out of options. Davidson’s among the sluggish starters, hitting .167/.318/.222 with eight strikeouts over 22 plate appearances, but he earned a look at part-time corner look last season, so the Sox might take these numbers in stride.

The lack of an established DH gives the Sox a National League-like bench, so they might be able to accommodate all of the deserving out-of-options guys without a savage game of musical chairs. One potential variation in a Tilsonless world:

  • Backup catcher: Soto
  • Middle infielder: Sanchez
  • Corner infielder: Davidson
  • Fourth outfielder: Liriano
  • All-purpose: Garcia

The thing that’s missing in this group is a left-handed bat, which makes spring miracle stories like Danny Hayes easier to envision than usual. Until the roster teardown takes place, though, my guess is that the Sox will prioritize the out-of-options types in an effort to preserve all depth in the ranks under the assumption that it’ll eventually become exposed.