Injuries always play a role in determining the success or failure of a team in a given season. Even a team like the White Sox that has a solid history of keeping their players healthy is affected in one way or another by players lost to injury.
This is, of course, the reason why trades such as the one that netted Todd Frazier are not without risk. Don't get me wrong, the Frazier trade was a good deal for the White Sox in every way. The risk was not that the likes of Trayce Thompson, Micah Johnson or Frankie Montas could become stars, it's that all three provided valuable depth to the organization. Still, it was a risk worth taking to acquire an All-Star-caliber player at a position of need.
As Spring Training begins in earnest, the White Sox roster is, for the most part, set. But let's take a look at where the team stands in the event that any of their projected starters miss time because of injury or otherwise.
The starters: Dioner Navarro, Alex Avila
The backups: N/A
In case of emergency: Rob Brantly, Kevan Smith
Other guys in camp: Omar Narvaez, Hector Sanchez
The White Sox wanted to upgrade catcher offensively this season, and may have sacrificed some defense in jettisoning Tyler Flowers for the platoon of Navarro and Avila. But what they also may have sacrificed is durability. Flowers played at least 112 games in each of the last two seasons, and Geovany Soto was a fine backup a year ago (at least offensively). The platoon is a fine plan, but the risk here is that if either gets hurt, the idea of either guy being a full-time starter is a wary proposition.
The problem that could arise with the catching situation isn't necessarily because of their "in case of emergency" options — The bar for backup catchers isn't exactly high — and Brantly and to a lesser extent Smith could likely fulfill those duties, but because asking either Navarro or Avila to catch full-time is not an ideal scenario.
The starters: Jose Abreu, Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino or Jimmy Rollins, Todd Frazier, Adam LaRoche
The backups: Carlos Sanchez, whoever doesn't start between Saladino and Rollins.
In case of emergency: Leury Garcia, Mike Olt
Other guys in camp: Travis Ishikawa, Steve Lombardozzi, Andy Parrino
Not in 2016, please: Tim Anderson
While the shortstop position remains a big question mark for the White Sox entering the season, if Rollins proves worthy of starting it, at the very least, provides the White Sox with more flexibility and another body between the starters and the emergency options. If Rollins is the starter, the White Sox will have a pair of capable backups in Saladino and Sanchez, both of whom can fill in at third base, shortstop or second base in a pinch (Saladino even played one inning at first base last season, and 10 games there at Triple-A Charlotte in 2014).
That's a good thing. Because while both of them have proved unlikely to ever have a bat worthy of being a big league regular, both are, at worst, respectable and at best, an upgrade on defense compared to the starters at those respective positions. Garcia, who was the lone return when the White Sox send Alex Rios to Texas in 2013 (but hey, at least they saved some money), only provides value in his versatility, as he won't murder you defensively at second base, third base, shortstop, or in any of the outfield positions.
Still, if he's seeing anything more than emergency action you're likely in trouble, as his offense was somewhere between unplayable and oh god, cover your eyes, during his 224 plate appearances in Chicago.
Olt, a one-time top prospect in Texas, has also moved even further down the depth chart by virtue of the Rollins signing. With Saladino and Sanchez capable of playing third base, the only likely scenario where you'll see him getting time in the big league roster is if something were to happen to Abreu, forcing LaRoche to spend more time at first base. And even if that were to happen, I think you'd be more likely to see Avisail Garcia move to DH than Olt on the roster.
The starters: Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia
The backups: J.B. Shuck and/or Jerry Sands
In case of emergency: Umm… Leury Garcia? What the hell is a Daniel Fields?
Other guys in camp: Jason Coats, Adam Engel, Courtney Hawkins, Jacob May
The White Sox outfield depth was severely hindered when Trayce Thompson was sent to Los Angeles and the team failed to sign a free agent. After the first five guys listed above, the only other outfielder on the 40-man roster is Fields, a 25-year-old who was waived three different times last year alone and has a grand total of three plate appearances (all with Detroit last season).
Leury Garcia, of course, has seen time there in the past. But the fact that the Sox are only one injury away from him seeing action is a precarious situation.
Prospects such as Engel, May or Coats are options (I'm not going to include Hawkins as an option), but it's unlikely the White Sox are ready to give them major league action at this point.
With the likes of Austin Jackson, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Raburn and, yep, Alex Rios still looking for work, one would think the White Sox would add to their outfield depth at some point during the month between now and Opening Day. But at this point, who really knows?
The starters: Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, John Danks, Mat Latos, Erik Johnson
In case of emergency: Chris Beck, Scott Carroll, Jacob Turner … Carson Fulmer?
You'll notice I listed six guys among the starters. That's because, for the purposes of this exercise, I'm operating under the assumption that those are the first six who will get an opportunity to start. Even if Latos begins the season in the rotation, we can pretty much assume that if someone goes down because of injury or ineffectiveness, Johnson will get the call.
In Beck, Carroll and Turner, the White Sox could do a lot worse. Your expectations shouldn't be very high when it comes to a team's No. 6, 7 or 8 starting pitcher (or any of the emergency options, really), and all three have proven that, at the very least, they can make a spot start and not get flat-out embarrassed. And over the course of a 162-game season, that's valuable depth.
As for Fulmer, the question of when he's ready to contribute at the major league level will be discussed throughout 2016, but it's highly unlikely we see him in the rotation anytime soon.
The first options: David Robertson, Zach Duke, Zack Putnam, Jake Petricka, Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Nate Jones, Tommy Kahnle
Other guys on the 40-man roster: Zach Phillips, Daniel Webb, Michael Ynoa, Brandon Brennan, all of the starting pitcher options mentioned above
Other guys in camp: Phillippe Aumont, Tyler Danish, Jordan Guerrero, Colin Kleven, Will Lamb, Matt Lollis, Matt Purke, Peter Tago, Nik Turley, Josh Wall
Carson Fulmer: Carson Fulmer
Bullpens are eternally unpredictable, but the White Sox have a pretty solid group of eight arms that you wouldn't expect to blow up. But the likelihood of any of those guys missing time with a random injury or, I dunno, breaking their finger in a bench-clearing brawl, means there's a very good chance you see at least cameos from some of the other pitchers on the roster.
Webb is the name you're likely most familiar with. He's shown flashes of promise but given mostly erratic results (68 walks in 109 professional innings) during parts of the last three seasons.
Ynoa was a one-time hot prospect (BP Top 100 in both 2009 and 2010), acquiring along with Jeff Samardzija who is still just 24 but has yet to live up to his promise and spent last season in Winston-Salem.
Phillips is 29, had a cup of coffee with the Marlins and Orioles early in his career, and spent all of last season in Charlotte, and Brennan was a fourth-round pick in 2012 who has yet to pitch above High-A.
Fulmer, again, is the wild card, as many predict he'll see time in the White Sox bullpen at some point this season. But between the first eight relief options, as well as Beck, Carroll, Turner and Johnson, one should hope the Sox don't have to dip into any of their emergency reliever options in 2016.