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As Mike Moustakas joins old Royals friends, how many roster spots are up for grabs at White Sox spring training?

Vinnie Duber Avatar
February 15, 2024
Mike Moustakas

PHOENIX — Soon, the Moose will be loose at Camelback Ranch.

The White Sox don’t need to worry about having animal control on speed dial. But they’ve got some work ahead of them when it comes to figuring out how a 35-year-old Mike Moustakas could fit onto this roster.

Moustakas’ addition to the large and ever-growing number of players at White Sox camp made plenty of sense when it was announced Tuesday night. The team’s brain trust is heavy on former Royals employees, be it general manager Chris Getz, manager Pedro Grifol or other new front-office additions like Jin Wong and Gene Watson. Moustakas, of course, was a key part of teams that won back-to-back pennants and a World Series title in Kansas City in 2014 and 2015.

Those days are a decade old, obviously, and Moustakas’ offensive effectiveness is a mystery as he makes his way to White Sox camp looking for a path to a big league gig. He’s launched 20 or more homers in five different seasons, 35 or more in two, but health has limited him to just a handful of games, and therefore a handful of home runs, over the last four years.

That didn’t stop his old teammate from deciding that giving him a chance was the right thing to do.

“Knowing Mike, when he has something to truly prove, he wants to prove that he can still go out there and be a productive major league player. Knowing that he has that baked into his mindset right now, I felt like this was a good idea,” Getz said Thursday. “It’s a minor league deal, he’s got to show us what he’s capable of doing. But to have someone of his pedigree — he’s been to two World Series, he’s won a World Series, he’s been an All Star — so to have him come in here and be around the guys and compete for a spot, it seemed like a very obvious move to make. Excited to have him be part of this group.”

Since an All-Star season with the Brewers in 2019, Moustakas has played in only 296 games and hit 33 home runs while playing for the Reds, Angels and Rockies. Last year, he posted an OPS-plus of 81, making him a well below-average hitter.

It’s Moustakas reversing that trend that Getz hopes to see, pointing out that the White Sox brought Moustakas in primarily to get a look at his bat rather than to address any specific positional need. Moustakas has mostly been a third baseman throughout his big league career, also playing first base and some second base a few years ago.

“I want him to come in here and we’ll see how he looks offensively,” Getz said. “It’s really about the bat.”

But even if Moustakas can impress at the necessary level to make the White Sox want him as part of their lineup, it’s a wonder how the puzzle pieces could fit together to get him onto the roster.

Moustakas wouldn’t figure to take any starts away from Yoán Moncada at third base or Andrew Vaughn at first or Eloy Jiménez at DH. So the most logical job he’d be competing for is the one that currently belongs to Gavin Sheets, as a left-handed power hitter off the bench. And given that Sheets hasn’t been overly impressive the last couple seasons, that job could certainly be up for grabs.

Moustakas, though, is just one of many non-roster invitees populating the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, the White Sox taking fliers on plenty of veterans ahead of the spring, which isn’t an altogether uncommon occurrence across the sport. But the White Sox might have more opportunity than most teams considering their status at the outset of another rebuilding effort.

“You’re looking for competitive advantages, and I think one of the competitive advantages we had this offseason was the opportunities,” Getz said. “I think that has shown with some of the players that have been willing to come here, whether it be minor league deals or even major league deals. There’s a long list of players that can offer a lot to a major league club, and we’re going to take advantage of that.”

Whether any of those veterans on minor league deals wind up on the Opening Day roster depends on plenty, chiefly whether they can discover the old magic that once made them major league regulars and not guys looking to squeeze onto a roster.

It’s pretty early for roster projections, considering the White Sox’ first full-squad workout is still days away. But a glance could illuminate exactly which jobs are up for grabs and which of these non-roster guys could find a home on the South Side this summer.

The position-player side of things is probably the easiest to figure out, with every starting job pretty much spoken for. Martín Maldonado and Max Stassi will be the team’s two catchers, barring injury. Vaughn, Nicky Lopez, Paul DeJong and Moncada figure to be the starters, right to left, on the infield. Andrew Benintendi and Luis Robert Jr. are locked in as the starting left and center fielders, respectively. And it seems Dominic Fletcher will be at least part of the plan in right field if not the everyday guy. Jiménez can be Sharpie’d in as the DH.

So that’s 10, leaving just three bench spots left.

The White Sox would figure to need someone with some versatility on the infield and some versatility in the outfield, though starters like Lopez or Fletcher could move around as needed. Former White Sox infielder Danny Mendick, who looked capable of sticking prior to tearing his ACL two summers ago, is a potential choice for that reserve-infielder gig. The outfield has a lot more veterans to choose from, like Kevin Pillar, Rafael Ortega and Brett Phillips. Pillar, a right-handed hitter with the sort of defensive reputation the White Sox valued all winter, perhaps makes the most sense of that group.

And then there’s the possible spot for a power bat that Moustakas could step into.

On the pitching side, there are a ton of question marks. Who knows how many of the apparently 14 or 15 guys the White Sox are stretching out have an actual shot at a spot in the starting rotation; it would seem at least four of the five spots are easily assigned to Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Erik Fedde and Chris Flexen. But there are a host of players competing for a job there or in the bullpen, and the relief corps might have far more opportunity for these veteran types on minor league deals.

The 40-year-old Jesse Chavez was excellent for the Braves last season. Corey Knebel is a former All Star. Dominic Leone has history with White Sox pitching czar Brian Bannister. Chad Kuhl, Jake Woodford, Jake Cousins, Justin Anderson and Joe Barlow all have big league experience, too. With really only major league signings John Brebbia and Tim Hill looking like locks in the ‘pen, there could be as many as five or six spots open for relievers.

Now, none of this is to suggest that the White Sox will be spending the spring choosing from only these types of players. There are a lot of other guys in camp who don’t fit that mold, young minor leaguers or guys already on the 40-man roster after seeing some big league time last season.

But for a team like the White Sox, not expected to win much in 2024 and with roster spots to spare as they begin a new rebuilding cycle, there’s opportunity where there might not have been in recent years.

And these guys know it.

“I think there’s a lot of guys in this clubhouse that are fighting for careers,” Mike Soroka said Thursday. “I think there’s a lot of guys out there who feel they have more to give. I think there’s some guys who have had some down years and know they have more in them, including myself. Competing with those guys is always fun, that’s what brings out the best in you.”

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