The oft-posed question of “are you really going to go into the season with Tyler Saladino as starting shortstop?” has a murkier answer than it did last week. The White Sox have agreed to terms with Jimmy Rollins on a minor league deal and an invite to big league camp. According to Ken Rosenthal, Rollins turned down offers from other teams that involved more money and super utility roles for him. He sees the White Sox as his opportunity to win a starting job at SS.
Is this good for the Sox? Sure, it could be. On the narrative end, a former MVP, World Series champion middle infielder deemed by most as washed up has a chip on his shoulder and an opportunity to show the world he’s not done yet. From a statistical standpoint, the ask isn’t all that high to outperform Tyler Saladino, whose main asset is his youth and the hopes of unseen ceilings that it provides. In 254 plate appearances last season Saladino posted a .225/.267/.335 line, good for a wRC+ of 61. That is bad. Rollins spent his age 36 season in Los Angeles and produced a .224/.285/.358 line in 563 PA’s, translating to a wRC+ of 80. That is less bad. Without deep evaluation, you could expect Rollins to show a further decline despite being only a season removed from a roughly league average offensive campaign with the Phillies in 2014. Meanwhile Tyler Saladino is not highly regarded by evaluators, and isn’t a great bet to exceed his light expectations.
Whether you’re willing to accept what the defensive metrics say or not, I think that the career stages of these two players alone are enough to suggest Saladino would be the superior option with the glove. It’s the possibility of Rollins not being awful offensively, where poor Tyler almost certainly will be, that could create value in rostering and starting an over-the-hill SS.
Jimmy Rollins on a minor league deal is low risk, and receptiveness to this move mostly depends on how hard you’ve worked to convince yourself that Tyler Saladino could be a good everyday shortstop in 2016. I think it’s likely that veteran leadership might be enough to push Rollins on to the big league roster once camp starts, which opens up some additional questions about how the 25 man will shake out in terms of bench roles. This should, however, close the discussion on Ian Desmond, and one would hope that the cracked window that is the possibility of a Dexter Fowler signing is thrown open as a result.