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White Sox mailbag: Injuries, prospects, offseason plans and what I eat at Guaranteed Rate Field

Vinnie Duber Avatar
August 29, 2022

I figured there doesn’t need to be a lengthy introduction to this question-and-answer session, mostly because one of our members summed up the state of the White Sox in one query:

Is there any reason to watch the remaining games at this point?
– sung_hyun86

Yes, it’s that bad right now.

After dropping nine of their last 11 contests, the White Sox are two games below .500 with just two games left to play in the month of August, meaning they can enter the regular season’s final month no better than a .500 team. And what a definitive standing that would be after a season full of middling play and general mediocrity, a far cry from what was expected from a supposed championship contender in the preseason.

That’s got fans all sorts of mad, and whether it’s the “Fire Tony” chants that have been happening for some time now, the loud booing that followed three straight defeats at the hands of the lowly Diamondbacks this weekend or the Jerry Reinsdorf-directed “SELL THE TEAM” banner unfurled by a few fans Saturday at Guaranteed Rate Field, folks have not been shy about voicing their displeasure with far more losing than they bargained for.

But to answer the question, of course there’s a reason to watch the remaining games. Aside from the fact that, presumably, you enjoy watching baseball, the White Sox are still in the running for a playoff spot. It might seem a laughable suggestion that they’d reach October after watching the last five months, but at five games behind the Guardians for first place in the AL Central, they’re a long way from being truly and mathematically eliminated.

Does that mean you should tune in expecting the switch to finally flip? Until proven otherwise, the White Sox have shown us who they are. There’s no reason to expect a long-awaited turnaround.

But it could technically happen.

Would the White Sox still be in the playoff conversation if they hadn’t signed Johnny Cueto?
– @JJStankevitz

The obvious answer is no, considering just how terrific Cueto has been. Just about every time out, he’s put the White Sox in a position to win thanks to longevity and run prevention. Only twice this season has he failed to go six innings. He’s gone eight innings in four of his last nine starts. With Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn struggling to find themselves this season, Cueto has provided a stability in the starting rotation that no one could have imagined, with him arriving on the South Side on a minor league deal and the previous fifth spot on the staff soaked up by the shaky Dallas Keuchel.

But in Cueto’s starts this year, the White Sox are merely 9-10.

That’s thanks in large part to things that have nothing to do with Cueto, chiefly the meager amount of scoring the White Sox’ offense has done for the majority of the season. About half the games they’ve won when Cueto’s pitched have been blowouts with high run totals, the other half the White Sox squeaking by with a low-scoring victory.

If it wasn’t Cueto and say Keuchel making those starts, would the White Sox be in a vastly different place, record-wise? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s no fault of Cueto’s, though, who’s been the team’s second best starting pitcher in 2022.

When is Luis Robert going to play?
– @madler1023

This is a really tough question to answer, as Robert’s bruised wrist has led to one of the stranger things I’ve seen on a baseball field: a right-handed hitter swinging with only his right hand.

It seems the White Sox are unsure on a daily basis of whether Robert will be good to go, and they’ve kept him off the injured list to use as a pinch-runner and defensive option even while he’s started in just five of the team’s last 15 games (he’s appeared as a pinch-runner in two others).

After Robert’s clear struggles swinging the bat during the team’s recent series in Baltimore, he didn’t take any in-game swings this weekend against the Diamondbacks, the White Sox resting him up in hopes his wrist will feel better. According to Tony La Russa, Robert’s not terribly bothered when he makes good contact, and he cited well struck balls during that Orioles series as a reason to keep him in the lineup. But when Robert swings and misses – something he does rather often – it bothers him.

“He’s improving,” La Russa said Sunday. “He’s impatient, has to be convinced that it’s in his best interest, whether it’s right now or career-wise. He is impatient to play, but until he can take a swing normally – even if it’s with some soreness it’s OK, but right now he can’t. His grip strength is getting stronger, which is a good sign that it’s healing.

“A bruise is a bruise, and at some point, it figures that you’ll solve it, unless you keep irritating it. It kept irritating, he got a little inflammation in there. The telltale (sign) is just look at his swing. … Until his swing feels normal, it’s hard to play him.

“If he makes contact on a pitch in the strike zone, the ball is jumping. But the nastier the stuff is, the more likely you’re going to be checking your swing or fighting stuff off. At this point, it was inflammation in there and he had to stop. Now he’s feeling better, so we’d love to have him back Tuesday. But there are ways to test it to see if that’s smart or not.”

Given the off day Monday, perhaps Robert could be back in the lineup Tuesday for the start of a series against the Royals. But it will likely depend on how he feels when he takes swings during batting practice that day.

Is there any merit in calling up folks from the farm system versus playing very clearly injured players, considering a postseason appearance seems unlikely? Leury García clearly isn’t anywhere near 100 percent, as an example.
– Stephen Gawrit

The White Sox haven’t been able to shed the miserable injury luck that’s plagued them all season, and talk of waiting for the day when everybody’s healthy is now talking about a day that will never come for the 2022 club. Currently, Tim Anderson, Michael Kopech, Yasmani Grandal and Yoán Moncada are on the injured list, while García, Robert, Eloy Jiménez and Andrew Vaughn are all playing at either less than 100 percent and/or with instruction to not risk further injury.

We just talked about Robert’s swing issues. Jiménez has had to get used to running on his surgically repaired knee, leading to some soreness that causes him to miss games (like he did Sunday). And García went to the injured list after playing with noticeable problems, only to be called back from his rehab stint early when Moncada went on his own IL stay.

White Sox fans have complained about the team’s IL management all season, wondering why players dealing with soreness or an injury that costs them multiple games don’t just go to the IL rather than soak up a roster spot the team could fill with a healthy player. La Russa has actually cited the same reason for the opposite opinion, not wanting to put Robert, for example, on the IL and forcing the team to play “a man short” – specifically in reference to Robert – if he doesn’t need to miss 10 games.

Whether that’s an organization-wide opinion or not, the idea is that having Robert (or whichever starting player) in games he can play in is not worth sacrificing for making sure Adam Haseley, for example, is available off the bench in case two other outfielders also get hurt with Robert unavailable for a few days.

Agree or disagree, that’s the logic. And it’s easy to agree when the Triple-A level is not rife with confidence-inspiring players outside of Jake Burger, who’s also currently injured. This question is perhaps less about the White Sox’ philosophy of big league injury management and more about the lack of depth at the top of the farm system.

Will the Sox ever consider sitting Grandal on days when he isn’t catching? Surely it’s become clear that Gavin Sheets, Vaughn or Eloy would be a better use of the DH position on any day when Seby Zavala is catching. Who could argue otherwise?
– @JimVorel

Who could argue otherwise? The White Sox, it seems. Because Grandal’s playing time has not been dramatically affected by his woeful offensive season.

Grandal’s currently on his way back from the injured list, and you can expect to see the same amount of him when he returns, despite the offensive struggles he’s had all year. Not providing much of the on-base or power skills that made his hilariously low batting average meaningless in 2021, it’s easy to see why folks are frustrated with seeing him in the lineup. But the White Sox know how impactful he can be, and phasing out a member of their core – the guy who still has the highest priced free-agent contract in club history – isn’t a likely outcome because they’re still hoping for him to turn it on.

I’ll go back to a pre-trade deadline comment from Rick Hahn, who pointed to right field and second base as positions that might have gotten a midseason upgrade because of the lack of offensive production (of course, nothing happened at the deadline for the White Sox outside of Jake Diekman). I asked why third base and catcher didn’t apply, with Moncada and Grandal in the middle of horrendous seasons, from a production standpoint.

“Moncada being Moncada and Yaz being Yaz are kind of part of what makes this team go. So you’re not switching that out,” Hahn said in July. “You’re going to try to make that work, if they’re healthy, the best you can with those players because of what they’re capable of doing when they’re right.

“We saw what Yaz did last year when he came off the IL. He damn near carried this team for a little while. So I think pivoting from four- or five-win players midstream is probably not the strategy you want to follow.”

That’s not to say the offseason couldn’t hold a different answer. But the White Sox have hitched their wagon to these struggling hitters for the remainder of 2022.

Will Kopech remain in the rotation or will he end up in the bullpen to limit his usage?
– @EddieNoNose

The White Sox have no plans to move Kopech back to the bullpen, where he pitched last season after missing two straight years. That was to dip his toes in the water of pitching in the big leagues again. This season is about getting him acclimated to being a big league starter, while also using his great talent to help with a postseason push.

That was the hope, at least, as an ongoing IL trip has thrown a wrench into things a little bit. A silver lining, should the injury not drag on for too long, could be that this is a way to get him some rest as he approaches a personal high in innings pitched as a pro.

But Kopech is a starting pitcher, and this year he’s proven to be a pretty darn good one.

With this year just as much about developing him for future seasons as it is about having him help the team win games, the White Sox would be crazy to alter that development by switching him back to a relief role. Spending the entire season as a starter helps prepare him for that assignment in 2023 and beyond.

How many home runs does Oscar Colás have to hit before he gets a shot?
– @josephbogdanNM

In 2022? He can hit as many as he likes, it doesn’t seem a major league promotion is in the cards.

Eighteen homers in the minor leagues this season is a power surge unlike anything the White Sox have seen at the big league level, of course, and given Colás’ limited professional experience, you’d like to believe he’s further along than most prospects who are in their first season in the organization.

But the White Sox have long operated under a similar process when it comes to promoting minor league prospects, and Colás has yet to see Triple-A, meaning he’s likely not ready to master the majors in the eyes of the team. Thirty four games at Double-A is not a lot, and the White Sox would surely like him to work on some more stuff against the minor leagues’ top pitching level before moving him up to Charlotte.

That doesn’t mean they’re not incredibly pleased with what they’ve seen in 2022.

“It’s certainly encouraging,” White Sox farm chief Chris Getz said recently. “He’s continuing to get better. He’s putting together quality at-bats. He’s hitting for power. He’s playing good defense. There’s still some things that we’re working on with pitch recognition. But for the most part, this is a player that has a chance to be a pretty productive major league player. He’s going to be an exciting piece of this organization moving forward.

“He’s got professional at-bats under his belt, more so than some of these other players. But oftentimes the player lets us know (when they’re ready to be promoted) based on the production that you get on a nightly basis. It’s been fun to watch him take on the next challenge at Double-A. … Oscar Colás has had a nice year.”

Could he arrive on the South Side next year? Maybe. The White Sox have had a tough time settling on a solution in right field not just this season but going back a few years now, and Colás would figure to be part of the discussion depending on how much he shows the team he can progress in the areas they’re looking at.

“Unclear on the timing of something like that (making the major leagues), but he’s shown us that he’s got the skills to impact the game in a lot of ways and it continues to get better throughout the season,” Getz said. “It’s certainly a great indication of being able to make quick adjustments and take on challenges.”

Is Hahn not as aggressive on an outfield signing due to upcoming talent in the minors? Can we expect two-plus outfielders getting their MLB debuts next season?
– @LilBoozyVirt

I don’t think Colás’ presence in the organization had any impact on Hahn’s offseason moves before the 2022 season began. The White Sox likely knew what they had in Colás, and given the way they’ve handled their prospects, they surely knew long before Opening Day that he wouldn’t be a factor for the 2022 team.

Hahn made the move to improve the outfield a lot of folks were begging for when he traded for AJ Pollock at the end of the spring. Pollock was coming off a career year with the Dodgers and figured to be an everyday presence out there. Then Jiménez got hurt, changing the outfield calculus for a second straight season. Then Pollock failed to live up to his career offensive numbers, something that can be said for most of the hitters on the team this season.

There was little, if anything, wrong with that move at the time. But of course, the White Sox will still go into this offseason in search of a solution in right field. Colás will almost certainly be part of that conversation, but don’t expect a need in right field to rush his development along.

Is Lenyn Sosa the future second baseman?
– @14Southsider

Sosa is perhaps a candidate to be the White Sox’ second baseman next season, but to me, it wouldn’t be a very good plan for the team to put all its eggs in that basket. While he’s had a very nice year against minor league pitching, he had few good moments with the brief major league opportunity he received this season.

The “future,” though, stretches on past 2023, and certainly Sosa could show enough to become the team’s regular second baseman at some point. But if you’re asking about the near future and who will be the everyday guy next season, I would not expect Sosa to be that guy. It should probably be an offseason focus for Hahn’s front office this winter.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, what are the top three things you would do with this team in the offseason?
– Anthony Schullo

Hahn says it all the time: “Ball go far, team go far.” And the White Sox have not hit the ball very far this season. That is the most glaring hole on this team and the biggest single reason (of course, there are many others) as to why they have failed to live up to preseason expectations.

The White Sox have to determine whether the outrageous lack of home runs was due to the outrageous number of injuries preventing anyone from getting in a groove at the plate, or whether there are bigger issues with either the messages the players are receiving from the coaching staff or their willingness to hear those messages.

But the No. 1 priority is fixing the power outage. And if that means making a change on the coaching staff, so be it. If that means adding more big bats to the lineup, so be it. If that means making a difficult decision on an existing core player to free up space, financial or otherwise, for a power bat or two, so be it.

After that, you can look at some specific positions, though as the team is currently constructed, there perhaps aren’t a ton of spots to add. The roster has a glut of first base/DH types and only so many spots to put them. While the White Sox got away with playing Vaughn in left field every day in 2021, that hasn’t worked out with the corner-outfield spots in 2022. Right field figures to be a focus. Second base figures to be a focus. And though I don’t believe Grandal is going anywhere, catcher should perhaps be a focus, too, as his health has kept him from doing what he was signed to do and being the team’s catcher four out of every five days.

Giolito, Lynn, Kopech and Dylan Cease should all be back for 2023, making the rotation less of a trouble spot. But there’s a fifth slot there, and whether it’s a new contract for Cueto or a new face altogether, the starting staff will need to be whole and should be another priority for Hahn & Co.

Given the girth of the White Sox payroll and necessary upcoming signings, do you think the White Sox will seek to trade someone like Giolito? Or, do you believe Hahn gets it done, re-signing Abreu, Cueto, extending Giolito, Cease, etc.? Where do you think the maximum spending threshold is for a team like the White Sox? Follow-up thought, any likelihood of the White Sox going after any premium FAs given the re-signings/extensions needed?
– Stephen Gawrit

There’s a lot there, and we’ll surely be talking about every element of that question once the offseason hits. Generally, I think the White Sox made a commitment to bulge the payroll with the contracts they’ve already handed out, ones that will only get more expensive as time goes on. They’re set to have seven players making north of $10 million next season and as many as six making more than that amount in 2024, including Moncada’s salary jumping to nearly $25 million.

That won’t preclude them from adding more, but it might not make things easy, either.

I find it hard to believe that Abreu would ever don another major league jersey, so if he wants to continue his career past the end of this season, it would figure to be with the White Sox.

I don’t think Hahn will take any potential moves off the table this winter in attempting to rectify what’s happened in 2022. That could mean a trade involving a core player. It could mean making some big free-agent additions. There’s likely a busy winter ahead in trying to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.

What is your favorite Guaranteed Rate Field snack?
– @DWC_78

I always recommend that folks looking for a meal at the ballpark head to the deli sandwich counter in the right-field corner. I always go for the turkey, though they’ve got corned beef down there, too. A ton of meat and some really good toppings on there, plus a heaping helping of potato chips. A rare concession-stand value item.

As far as snacks go, I’m a huge ballpark pretzel guy. They’ve got some pretty sizable ones on the club level.

Have your tried one of the pretzel-wrapped brats at the ballpark yet? Any good?
– @fluffsbanker

Sounds like I’ve got my assignment for the final month of the regular season.

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