“They weren’t intended to shake the team up,” Pedro Grifol said of the 11 roster moves his team announced Tuesday. “They were just intended to make us better.”
It could certainly be argued that those two things are one in the same, but Grifol’s point about the White Sox’ lengthy list of roster moves spoke to how great the need is for the team to improve after a disastrous April that included a 10-game losing streak and concluded with an 8-21 record.
One screwball victory Sunday might have lifted a weight off the White Sox’ shoulders by stopping that miserable streak, but that all the same problems were present before they walked off the Rays with a seven-run bottom of the ninth means no sea change has happened quite yet for what has been, quite frankly, one of the worst teams in baseball.
However, change was the theme of the day Tuesday, with the White Sox welcoming Tim Anderson and Hanser Alberto back from the injured list, sending struggling rookie right fielder Oscar Colás to Triple-A, designating struggling veteran reliever Jake Diekman for assignment and welcoming old friends Billy Hamilton and Alexander Colomé back for second stints with the club, among other roster moves.
Wholesale changes don’t always mean a shake up was necessary, in the traditional sense, and it might not have been what Rick Hahn and the front office were going for with all the moves Tuesday. But wholesale changes are what the White Sox got. There’s more on the way, too, with Garrett Crochet in the middle of a rehab assignment and Liam Hendriks, whose face was a welcome sight Tuesday at Guaranteed Rate Field, likely to start his own rehab assignment this weekend.
As for the right now, there’s plenty to decipher from the litany of moves. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Oscar Colás wasn’t cutting it
Colás won the starting right-field job in spring training after being hyped as the most likely player to assume that position as far back as November. He did nothing to disprove the idea that he was ready for a big league test during the spring, but upon reaching the major leagues, he didn’t fare well, his .211/.265/.276 slash line and woeful 50 OPS-plus doing all the talking and indicating he wasn’t quite ready for primetime.
With the White Sox in dire need of offensive consistency right now, the guy Colás beat out for the gig during the spring, Gavin Sheets, was doing far better in that department, even if he’s better suited as a first baseman and designated hitter than he is for a spot in the outfield. Sheets will be mixed and matched with Eloy Jiménez and Adam Haseley — fresh off reaching base six times as the leadoff man in Sunday’s win — as Grifol plots the right-field portion of his daily lineups.
“This is going to be a nice window for Sheets to be able to show what he can do, and it’s just a good opportunity,” Grifol said. “He prepares really well, and I’ve always said this: Opportunity meets preparation at some point. This will be his opportunity.”
In further outfield news, Romy Gonzalez — whose most recent image in the minds of fans is of the fly ball he fumbled in left field Sunday — landed on the injured list Tuesday with an inflamed shoulder that’s apparently been bugging him for a while.
As for Colás, the White Sox believe more regular run, made increasingly impossible at the major league level by his lack of offensive production, will benefit the youngster in the minor leagues.
“He needs to go play,” Grifol said. “He’s gotten an opportunity to get some experience here in the big leagues, figure out what this is about, what the pitching’s about, the umpiring is about, what the actual big league game is about. And now he’s got some sort of a library to go down there and continue to develop and perform and get consistent at-bats. He wasn’t going to get those consistent at-bats here at this particular time.
“Him being the type of talent that he is, the prospect that he is for us, a big part of the future, he needs to go back down there and play.
“He wasn’t producing the way we anticipated, and that happens. This is a tough level to play at. Some guys get here and produce right away, some guys don’t. Some guys need to go back down and continue to develop.”
Colás’ numbers speak to a player who needs to get his bat right, but even the defensive upgrade he was supposed to provide in right field didn’t manifest as expected, with plenty of negative moments with the glove to go along with play that was obviously better than what players playing out of position provided a year ago.
“A little bit of everything,” Grifol said when asked what Colás needs to improve. “He needs to slow down the game a little bit. He’s a really good defender that (needs) to continue to develop out there in the outfield. His plate discipline wasn’t exactly matching the major league level at this particular time.
“The talent is there. He’s a big part of our future. But he needs to go down and continue to develop. Now that he’s got experience at the major league level, he can use this experience here when he goes down there to continue his development.”
Tim Anderson, Billy Hamilton and a team-wide energy boost
Anderson is the White Sox’ most important hitter, and after a freak knee injury suffered during a screwed-up rundown in Minneapolis sent him to the injured list, the team sputtered without him, posting a grotesque 3-15 record in his absence.
Anderson’s return should overwhelmingly help a lineup that often looked completely lost without him. But more than the bat, it’s the constant energy he brings. Even while jokingly refusing to provide reporters with a headline-worthy quote on the team’s struggles Tuesday, he voiced his consistent — and in this case, applicable — refrain about fun and positivity.
“I’m here and I’m ready to hopefully bring some positive energy back and continue to keep pushing,” Anderson said. “We’ve seen (how things have gone). We watched it. I watched it. You all watched it. You all wrote about it. You all talked about it. Hopefully we can start something new here today.
“I’m just one guy. I’m one guy, and I come to the ballpark every day to do my job. And if that happens to be (the spark that helps turn things around), then great.”
Anderson also joked that fans might be tired of hearing him say “the same old shit,” but this time, the White Sox could sure use some of that positivity, could sure use some fun and could sure use some energy to bring a pulse back to a to-this-point lifeless season.
And that’s why Hamilton is here, too. He was part of that group that seemed to be having plenty of fun en route to a runaway AL Central title in 2021. The White Sox brought him back for spring training, and though he didn’t make the Opening Day roster, here he is trying to restore some of that long-gone mojo.
“I’m excited to be a part of it now and get the boys going, just bring some energy around here,” Hamilton said. “It always helps to have a good presence around the clubhouse. When one person is down, everybody’s down. So my job is to keep everybody above being down.”
Hamilton isn’t just here to be a cheerleader, of course. He’s one of the game’s most legendary speedsters. Though he says the new rules intended to increase the number of stolen bases hasn’t done much to change his aggressive approach, he knows he’s here in part to give the White Sox an edge late in games as a threat on the base paths. His experience playing for Grifol in Kansas City provides some familiarity, as well, and some assurance that Hamilton’s energy is the kind this team needs right now.
“(The energy Hamilton brings is) really important,” Grifol said. “Him and Alberto and TA, we feel the energy needs to be here on a daily basis.
Alexander Colomé in, Jake Diekman out of shaky bullpen
The White Sox’ bullpen woke up Tuesday with a 6.86 ERA that was the highest in the majors, as clear a sign as any of the unit’s struggles this season.
Diekman became a fan-favorite target for frustration after Hahn made him the team’s lone acquisition at last summer’s trade deadline, and his performance did nothing to change hearts and minds. He finished his White Sox tenure with a gigantic 7.04 ERA, including a 7.94 mark during the first month of this season. A career-high 10.3 walks per nine innings was glaringly bad, though the White Sox did not rid themselves of their team-wide walk problem just by designating Diekman for assignment Tuesday.
Though described as a leader in the White Sox’ bullpen, Diekman obviously wasn’t getting the job done.
Joe Kelly, who impressed by striking out the side in what was just his fifth appearance of the season Sunday, will be gone from the team for a few days, placed on the paternity list Tuesday. The bullpen will also be without Reynaldo López for a little bit, per Grifol, after the de facto closer was removed from Sunday’s game with bicep fatigue.
So it’s a whirlwind of change for the relief corps, one that’s not expected to cease anytime soon, what with Crochet and Hendriks nearing their returns to a big league mound. To replace Diekman and the temporarily absent Kelly, the White Sox called on old friend Colomé, as well as Sammy Peralta.
Peralta turned in a 3.52 ERA in his 15.1 Triple-A innings, but Colomé, who had a 2.25 ERA in eight innings, will be of greater interest to those who watched him do a more-than-competent job as the White Sox’ closer in 2019 and 2020. The team obviously upgraded with Hendriks before the 2021 season, but Colomé saved 42 games and had a 2.27 ERA — including a microscopic 0.81 mark during the shortened 2020 campaign — as a South Sider.
Back after a two-year sojourn through Minnesota and Colorado that featured far less impressive results, he likely won’t be expected to be a part of the team’s struggling back-end group. But considering the sky-high ERAs of high-leverage guys like López (8.76), Kelly (7.71), Aaron Bummer (9.64), Jimmy Lambert (6.92) and Kendall Graveman (5.56), it would seem any solution would be welcome.
“There’s nothing more that I would love (than) to have our starters go six or seven and (use) only two relievers and then go home, and then get up and do it again the next day,” Grifol said. “That’s not the way this game goes.
“April wasn’t a good month for us as a team. It certainly was a taxing month for the bullpen. But they continue to work, they know what their job is. They’re professionals, they’ve done it before. I’m certain they’re going to fix things and do their job and perform.”
Lenyn Sosa wasn’t the immediate answer at second base
Second base continues to be a trouble spot in the White Sox’ lineup, likely spurring fans to reactions along the lines of, “What else is new?”
Sosa’s time as the regular at the position was always going to be limited to Anderson’s stay on the injured list, and with Anderson returning, the original alignment of Anderson at shortstop and Elvis Andrus at second base will return.
With Andrus off to a poor start — he came into Tuesday night batting .206 — there was hope by some fans that Sosa would impress enough to usurp the everyday role. As unlikely as that might have been, considering Andrus’ veteran status, that he was the team’s offseason addition to play the position and his role as a clubhouse leader, Sosa didn’t do anything to force the issue, and he returns to Triple-A after posting an abysmal slash line of .151/.167/.245 in a handful of games. A few notable defensive miscues probably didn’t make the decision to send him back any tougher.
“He just needs to recalibrate his game and do what he did two days ago, right? Which was he put the ball in play, get on base any way he can, run the bases the way you’re supposed to run them and then score runs,” Grifol said. “That’s his job: play defense and score runs. If you simplify to that right there, there’s a lot of things that fall under those two umbrellas.
“He’s young, he’s talented. Just go do those things down there and continue to develop.”