Like George Costanza trying to impress a mimbo, Elvis Andrus is totally down.
The White Sox’ shortstop will only be the White Sox’ shortstop for a little while longer, or at least that’s the hope, with Tim Anderson cleared to ramp his way up to a return to the lineup. The face of the franchise has been sidelined for more than a month while recovering from surgery on his finger, but if all goes well, it’s possible he’ll be back at his usual spot sometime next week, during a home stand that includes three critical games with the first-place Guardians.
And make no mistake, he’ll be at his usual spot.
“When Tim comes back, he will be put at shortstop,” Miguel Cairo said Tuesday. “That’s his position.”
Under most circumstances, it wouldn’t even be a question, of course. But while Anderson’s return will obviously be a welcome one, it raises concerns about what will become of Andrus, who has unexpectedly flourished as the fill-in at shortstop, providing a spark to a team that spent five months searching for the type of energy it’s now showing on a near-daily basis.
Joining the team in the wake of Anderson’s injury, Andrus went from the free-agent scrap heap to an integral member of this revitalized offensive attack. He came into Wednesday’s game against the Rockies slashing .305/.353/.526 as a South Sider and has instantly won over fans as the team has woken up from a months-long slumber, prompting the question of how the heck the White Sox will manage to play their All-Star shortstop and his replacement at the same time.
“It’s one of those good problems to have,” Rick Hahn said Tuesday.
Yes, the general manager finally has one of those “good problems” that he’s always talking about on his hands. But it’s not necessarily an easy one to solve, with neither Anderson nor Andrus ever logging a major league inning at a position other than shortstop. For a White Sox team that has failed to impress much defensively this season and has been peppered with near constant complaints from the fan base about first basemen playing the corner-outfield spots, it’s a conundrum.
Or at least it might be. It also might be the easiest thing in the world to solve.
No, neither guy has played off shortstop before. But also, who cares? If it means keeping a hot bat in the lineup and reinstalling the engine that can make this team go at the top of the order, just do it. Nike style. Heck, this team was built to be so offensively dangerous that defensive deficiencies wouldn’t loom so large. Now that it’s finally producing in such a fashion, why not let the bats overshadow the gloves?
Hey, Andrus is down.
“Tim, we all want him to get back, we know what he means for the team and how much impact he makes when he’s healthy,” Andrus told CHGO on Wednesday. “Whenever that comes, I expressed this already, if I have to move to any other position, I’m down for it. I’m all about winning and doing my part to win games and get to the playoffs. I have no problem doing that. It’s everything for the best of the team.
“We’re a team. And sometimes things are not going to go 100-percent the way you wanted. But at this point of the season and this point in my career, I just want to win, man. So whatever it takes. If it’s me at short, second, anywhere else, I’ll be down to do it.
“I’ve been in the World Series before, I’ve been on winning teams, and sometimes it gets tougher, sometimes it gets really hard to get back to that. So whatever it takes to get back to that, I’m 100-percent down.”
Though next week seems pretty soon, Hahn insisted the White Sox have some time to make this decision. Anderson’s targeted return, of course, hinges on his remaining rehab work going smoothly. Cairo explained that Anderson took ground balls Tuesday and even tried swinging and gripping the bat with the surgically repaired tendon in his finger. When it comes to truly determining Anderson’s readiness, the swing – fans should realize after watching Luis Robert struggle through a wrist injury – is the thing.
But even once Anderson’s ready to return – it’s undecided at this point whether that would be after a minor league rehab assignment or not – Hahn cautioned that the effects of such a long time on the shelf for Anderson might have an effect on how Andrus is deployed.
“Once we get a little closer to (Anderson’s return), we’ll come up with a plan for how we’re going to figure out how to incorporate both of them on a fairly regular basis going forward,” Hahn said. “Keep in mind, Tim’s going to have missed six-plus weeks, or at least six weeks at that point, so throwing him right back in there every day might not be the best call.
“It’s good to have some alternatives and, in both Elvis and TA, guys who are fundamentally looking to help the team win and somehow contribute to that. Knock on wood, if we get to the point where they’re both healthy and active and contributing, we’ll have one of those good problems about how to incorporate them both into the offense.”
For Cairo, the puzzle is perhaps a little less daunting. At the very least, there’s no doubt in Cairo’s mind that he’ll find a way to keep Andrus’ hot bat in the lineup.
“Of course,” he said when asked Tuesday.
But Cairo, too, is refusing to look ahead too far, refusing to jump on the hypothetical train and instead waiting for the day Anderson returns to make this decision on where to play Andrus. Though Romy Gonzalez has played well at second base, it would seem that letting Anderson resume his shortstop duties and Andrus moving over to second is the obvious fix.
We’ll see if that’s how it ends up playing out. And if it works.
But one thing’s for sure, Andrus sees something in this White Sox team.
When he signed, thinking about a playoff push raised eyebrows and sent disappointed fans into fits of laughter, if not anger. Now, chasing down the Guardians is a realistic outcome. Making the postseason is a realistic outcome. And though he’s more than a decade removed from back-to-back World Series trips in 2010 and 2011 (losing to Tony La Russa’s Cardinals in the latter), he sees something familiar when he looks around the South Side clubhouse.
“Oh my god, it is a lot of fun, man,” Andrus said. “It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun. And it’s all about winning. When you’re winning, you have a lot of fun. Since I got here, it’s been a lot of winning, and it’s motivated me to do the best I can in the field every single day.
“The level of talent, not only offensively, but pitching-wise, that we have is right there at the top with everybody else. It’s going to be a grind, but if we make it, we’re going to have everything in our corner to go all the way, all the way down to the World Series. First and foremost, we have to win the division, and that’s our first goal. After we accomplish that, then we can think about moving forward.
“There’s a lot of teams that probably don’t want us to get to the postseason.”
The Guardians, chief among them. And closing the gap will be no small task.
But the White Sox’ best chance to do so likely involves Anderson and Andrus in the lineup at the same time.
Good thing Andrus is down to make that happen.
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