When the White Sox agreed to bring back Paul Konerko on a "last hurrah" contract for 2014, one had to wonder how the roster would fare with three DH/1B types on the roster in Konerko, Adam Dunn and Jose Abreu. (Well, four if you count Dayan Viciedo).
Early-season injuries to Avisail Garcia, Conor Gillaspie and, now, Adam Eaton made that a conundrum earlier than most expected, and when the White Sox played their fourth of 10 games in National League parks Monday against the Cubs, the issue was further magnified.
While acknowledging the absurdity that Major League Baseball has its two leagues play by a different set of rules when teams from those leagues play multiple games against one another each year, that's a discussion for another day. After all, rules be rules.
But Monday's victory over the Cubs was an example of how difficult it's going to be for the White Sox to tread water with the current, injury-barren roster.
I know, I know. You can't blame injuries for a team's plight. At least, you can't blame injuries alone for said plight. Don't worry, I'm not doing that. The aforementioned injuries are unfortunate, but they're not forever. Even better, in Eaton and Gillaspie's cases, they're expected to be a lot less than forever.
The problem, of course, is that the players in those guys' stead aren't as good. The White Sox lucked out a couple of times. When Garcia went down for the season, it meant that Alejandro de Aza and Dayan Viciedo — both regulars last season who started the season in some sort of quasi-platoon — would both play every day. And Gillaspie's injury coincided with the Gordon Beckham's return, meaning Marcus Semien, who was previously manning second base every day, could easily slide into Gillaspie's position.
So far, so good as far as depth is concerned.
When Eaton landed on the 15-day DL last week is when the trouble started. Now, the White Sox were down two Opening Day outfielders and Jordan Danks, who is nothing more than a career fourth outfielder, would see more at-bats. Making matters worse, the lack of any other Major League-caliber outfielders in the minor leagues meant Moises Sierra, who the Toronto Blue Jays had apparently seen enough of after 314 career plate appearances, was added to the active roster.
Thankfully, these two games in a National League park means we SHOULDN'T see much of Sierra other than occasional pinch-running or defensive replacement situations, but Monday's game showed how inflexible the White Sox's roster is. Robin Ventura's decision to pinch-run for Abreu in the ninth inning with the game tied at 1 was debatable (we'll get to that later), but when the White Sox failed to grab the lead it meant that 1) Abreu's bat was no longer in the lineup and 2) Basically no more moves could be made.
With Sierra taking Dunn's place in left field and Dunn replacing Abeu at first base, the White Sox lost all defensive flexibility in later innings. That's where Konerko's inclusion on the roster becomes a problem. Subtracting Konerko and adding another utility-type player means you can shuffle pieces around if the White Sox want/need to pinch hit or double-switch later. In this situation, you're stuck with Sierra in left for however long the game goes because nobody else can play the outfield unless you shift De Aza from center field to left and put Leury Garcia in center, which Robin Ventura clearly didn't want to do when he opted for Sierra over Garcia in the pinch-running situation.
What's more, Ventura had to opt for Sunday's starting pitcher, Andre Rienzo, as a pinch runner after Konerko walked in the 11th inning in order to save Garcia and Adrian Nieto for any type of emergency that could hypothetically occur in later innings.
One can question Ventura's decision to use Sierra as a pinch runner in the 9th inning on Monday. Opting to take out your team's best hitter in the 9th inning is always a tough call. After all, if Viciedo doesn't ground into a double play and Sierra scores the winning run, all is forgotten. But Ventura having to make tough decisions like that are due, in part, to the roster's inflexibility.
The White Sox won Monday night's game, so most won't remember the frustrating elements that plagued the team on that night, but it just goes to show how difficult some of these games will be during the course of these injuries.
Come back soon, Gillaspie and Eaton.