In a move some are telegraphing as a turn toward “National League play” under Tony La Russa for the White Sox, the team signed Billy Hamilton to a minor league deal.
Cleveland cut Hamilton on March 11, and the Sox sprung. Hamilton is already at Camelback Ranch with the club. Why, is another question.
The White Sox have a full 40-man roster — and that’s before having to shuffle at least one player off to accommodate Andrew Vaughn’s expected break north with the club at month’s end. Jonathan Lucroy is making a bid for the backup catcher spot, and he would force another 40-man move if he beats out Zack Collins for the active roster (or if the White Sox carry three catchers).
Short-listers for any eventual 40-man move (and remember, there’s almost certain to be at least one, with Vaughn’s anticipated addition) would be DFAs for José Ruiz or Jimmy Cordero. If Lucroy makes the club, it could well come at the expense of designating either Yermín Mercedes or Seby Zavala.
Hamilton went 1-for-10 with a triple, a walk and five strikeouts in four spring games for Cleveland. His speed is still elite, but as the adage goes, you can’t steal first base (Hamilton is projected by Marcels to have a .294 on-base percentage and 15 steals in half-time platoon play in 2021).
What makes this signing odd (if not for mere depth purposes, including Hamilton being willing to play at the alternate site and/or Charlotte in 2021 as an emergency option) is the presence of Adam Engel. Engel at worst brings the same value as Hamilton, with a career OPS+ of 68 to Hamilton’s 67.
Yes, Hamilton walks more, and steals far better. However, Engel brings power, and arguably can be regarded as a player still growing (he had a relatively phenomenal .811 OPS in 35 games in 2020 and flashed a right-field worthy arm).
There isn’t room for both players, and it’s impossible to imagine that the White Sox value Hamilton’s ability to bunt and steal bases as superior to Engel’s value. Leury García’s capacity for outfield play makes it even harder to see a fit for Hamilton.
Hopefully, it’s already been made clear to Engel that this signing is pure insurance.
And if it isn’t? Sigh.