By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) As the White Sox continue to hang around mediocrity, White Sox fans are naturally looking for answers and starting to wonder if the team will be buyers or sellers later this summer.
Here’s this week’s mailbag (as always, all questions are left unedited):
I’ve been hearing some promising things about Jared Mitchell. Could he be starting for the Sox as early as Opening Day 2013? – @gknuter711
I first mentioned Mitchell’s hot start a few weeks ago when he was leading the Southern League in average, OBP and OPS. Unfortunately, he’s cooled off a lot recently and he’s fallen out of the Top 10 in all three categories. In fact, his batting average is now down to .266.
That said, he’s still enjoying a resurgent season after finally fully recovering from his ankle injury in 2010. I wouldn’t rule out Mitchell joining the team in 2013, but the problem is that they will have to open up a spot in the outfield for him. Alex Rios still appears unmovable and Dayan Viciedo won’t be going anywhere. Alejandro De Aza would likely be the odd man out, but has emerged as a reliable leadoff man. Mitchell projects as the future center fielder for the White Sox, but I’m not entirely sure if they consider him their future leadoff man. He certainly has the speed and gets on base enough to leadoff (also walks a lot, but strikes out a ton too), but he usually bats sixth or seventh for the Birmingham Barons.
Unless the White Sox give up on Brent Morel and want to make the horribly dangerous attempt to move Viciedo back to third (don’t count on it), someone is going to have to be moved for Mitchell to join the team in 2013.
This team is not ready to win the Central. What changes would you make this year to get the White Sox in the race? – Jon in Downers
I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t thought about the prospect of Jared Mitchell coming up and batting second in the order immediately. That scenario is likely both a pipe dream and nearly impossible this year (for the reasons I gave above).
But I can see why the fans are frustrated. The White Sox appear to be in baseball hell — not good enough to make the playoffs, but too good to fall completely out of it. One day they look like a team worthy of the playoffs and the next, they look like an even worse version of the 2011 team.
Reality tells me there are way too many holes on the roster for the White Sox to win this year. They don’t have a two-hitter, the bottom of the order is terrible and the bullpen is starting to show some serious red flags.
But to answer your question, if I had to make changes to win right away, the first thing I would do is add a reliable two-hitter. I know I’ve beaten this issue into the ground, but the situation is way worse than I even expected when I started writing about it in spring training. White Sox two-hitters have a combined .395 OPS, by far the worst in baseball. To put that in perspective, the next lowest OPS in the lineup is the No. 9 spot with a .538 OPS. You can’t win a division when you have 159 plate appearances with a combined OPS of .395.
So who can the White Sox bring in? Honestly, there aren’t many obvious options. Jason Bartlett or Orlando Hudson might be available in San Diego and both have team options for next year, but both are really struggling. They might come cheap, but the White Sox can’t afford to give up many more prospects. Kevin Youkilis was suddenly a hot name today after the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers pitched the idea of trading Matt Thornton for him. To me, Youkilis is not ideal because he can’t bat second. He’s just an old, regressing player that only fits in the middle of the order and will clog the basepaths. That’s not what the White Sox need. Plus, he’s making $12 million this season, which is not exactly in the White Sox’s budget. His $13 million team option certainly doesn’t make sense for next year so the White Sox would also be on the hook for the $1 million buyout. Not to mention that if the White Sox are contending, they are going to need Thornton.
Are you starting to see how difficult it is for the White Sox to add anyone?
Honestly, I think the White Sox will try to fix this problem from within. They can’t add payroll right now. Kenny Williams took a flier on Conor Jackson at the end of spring training, but he’s only hitting .200 in Charlotte and is currently on the DL. Plus, if you go get help in the two-spot, you’re likely replacing Brent Morel or Gordon Beckham, and Jackson isn’t much of a third-baseman anymore.
To me, the short term answer is Dan Johnson, who has an OPS of 1.044 in Charlotte right now and has probably been the Knights’ best player. He is currently playing first base for the Knights, but has played third in the past.
Can you play third base? #cantbeworse – @2Rudys
Actually, yes, I can play third base. I can’t hit a single major league pitch though so I would move Viciedo back to third before I would sign myself. That, and try every other infielder in the system first too. Might as well try the outfielders too. Pitchers too.
How much longer are the Sox going to hold onto Matt Thorton’s contract? – @tomdmaloney
This is a very interesting question. Thornton is in the first year of a two-year contract extension that includes a $6 million team option in 2014. He’s owed $5.5 million each of the next two seasons and there’s a $1 million buyout if his option isn’t picked up.
Unfortunately, that kind of contract for a non-closer is tough to move — especially if Thornton is no longer on his game like he has been since he joined the White Sox. If he’s still pitching like the best setup man in baseball, then he would be an obvious trade target for a lot of contending teams if the White Sox fall out of the race. But if he continues to struggle, his value will decrease and there won’t be many teams eager to take on the rest of that contract.
Let’s not forget that Thornton is 35 years old. He agreed to the extension in March of 2011, but if he continues to struggle, you won’t be the only one asking questions about his contract.
Have you ever heard of a 2 game road trip to the west coast? – Shawn P.
I’m sure it has happened sometime in the history of baseball, but it certainly doesn’t happen a lot. The two-game series in Anaheim is technically part of a five-game “road trip” (with three games at Wrigley), but five-game road trips are rare to begin with.
The trip is so short that Philip Humber, who will start Friday against the Cubs, won’t even make the trip to California.
I’ll leave it to someone else to research the shortest road-trips in the history of baseball, but I imagine a 45-hour trip to Anaheim is among the shortest. Special scenarios involving a 163rd game or weird weather events may have created impromptu one-day trips, but has there ever been a shorter road trip scheduled by Major League Baseball before the season began?
Now I’m asking questions in my own mailbag.
Send your White Sox questions to Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to him at @AdamHogeCBS.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.