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White Sox inch closer to Opening Day roster, releasing Mike Moustakas and Kevin Pillar, adding Robbie Grossman

Vinnie Duber Avatar
March 22, 2024
Mike Moustakas

The White Sox still have a lot of players in camp, especially with just a few days remaining in spring training.

But the team’s most intriguing cuts have started, with Mike Moustakas and Kevin Pillar, a pair of veterans on minor league deals, released Friday evening.

Though we’re still far from achieving clarity on what the Opening Day roster will look like, we know it will be without those two, who were assumed to have pretty decent chances of making the team.

Moustakas arrived early in camp well removed from his heyday as an All-Star player, a time spent in part with the Royals, where he played on the same infield as current White Sox general manager Chris Getz and where current White Sox manager Pedro Grifol was among his coaches. All that familiarity, along with Getz’s quest to infuse the clubhouse with as many high-character types as possible, seemed to set up nicely for Moustakas to make the team as a positive, veteran presence and a lefty-hitting bat off the bench.

The only other competitor for that spot was Gavin Sheets, the former second-round pick who failed to impress offensively while playing out of position as an outfielder in recent seasons. With Getz focusing on improving the White Sox’ defense, Sheets’ days as an outfielder are over, and with Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jiménez soaking up most of the playing time at first base and DH, respectively, the bench-bat role seemed the only way for Sheets to make the team.

Well, Sheets impressed this spring, entering Friday with three homers and a .928 OPS in 21 Cactus League games. Moustakas’ departure clears the way for Sheets to assume that lefty bench-bat position and attempt to carry his big spring over to the regular season.

It’s the latest example that the White Sox are, to some degree, delivering on Grifol’s promise that jobs will go to top performers at the end of a camp he’s touted as being chock full of competition. The team was quick to end Michael Kopech’s time as a starting pitcher after continued struggles, and it awarded Garrett Crochet not only a spot in the five-man rotation but the title of Opening Day starter after his string of sensational outings this spring.

Pillar’s exit, meanwhile, does less to un-muddy the waters when it comes to figuring out who will be the White Sox’ fourth outfielder.

Pillar figured to have as good a chance as anyone to win that spot given his strong defensive reputation and veteran experience, most recently playing on a winning Braves team a year ago. Pillar’s never been overly impressive offensively, but he at least swings a right-handed bat, providing a different look from Dominic Fletcher, the pre-spring trade acquisition who, based on Getz’s forecasting, is expected to receive the bulk of the playing time in right field.

Fletcher’s own springtime struggles — juxtaposed wildly by the homer he hit Friday — had some folks guessing if that lion’s share of the playing time might decrease, and Pillar received plenty of run during Cactus League games, pointing to him as a logical choice to perhaps eat into it.

Obviously, after Friday’s moves, it won’t be Pillar.

But unlike the situation with Moustakas and Sheets, there are plenty of candidates left to earn the roster spot as the team’s reserve outfielder. In fact, the number of them didn’t even decrease Friday, as the White Sox announced a minor league deal and major league camp invite for Robbie Grossman prior to announcing they released Pillar.

The switch-hitting Grossman suddenly looks like a good choice to back up Fletcher, Luis Robert Jr. and Andrew Benintendi, though Brett Phillips, Rafael Ortega and Mark Payton are all still in camp, too.

Grossman has plenty of major league action under his belt, most recently playing for the world-champion Rangers last season. He was a league average hitter but excelled against left-handers, slashing .309/.416/.536. He has plenty of experience playing in the AL Central, having suited up for the Twins and Tigers during his 11-year big league career.

But joining camp just as it’s about to end — mere days before the season-opener — we’ll see if the White Sox are comfortable giving him a roster spot so quickly or if they’ll wait to call on him for a little while.

Elsewhere on the roster, there’s still mystery, which should be solved soon, but it’s notable considering the team departs Arizona with its Opening Day roster Monday.

The team’s full starting rotation has yet to be announced, though Nick Nastrini could wind up joining Crochet, Michael Soroka, Erick Fedde and Chris Flexen. And it’s anyone’s guess how the bullpen will shake out past seeming locks John Brebbia, Tim Hill, Steven Wilson and Kopech.

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