Monday, August 4, 2008

Struggles and Overcrowding for the White Sox

I’ve been trying to work The Rivalries in my daily team updates, but what is happening in the Sox clubhouse seems to be more than just a paragraph’s worth of writing. It seems that what started as pre-season preparation is turning into mid-season confusion. It’s well-known that the Sox OF was envisioned to be something else for opening day. After hard work, on-field battles, injuries, trades, and some difficult choices, the Sox found themselves with Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez, and Jermaine Dye in the outfield. Eventually, things settled down and Nick Swisher parked himself permanently in CF. But, as Murphy’s law always holds true, things never go as planned. And the unrest does not stop there. As the past few days have shown, almost every player seems to be expandable and every position seems to be up for grabs at any time. In the last two starts, only 2 of the original fielding (plus DH) positions had remained as they were originally set up.

Kenny Williams spoke about his trade to acquire Ken Griffey Jr. as having been done to give Guillen more options. In truth, we’ve proved to have too many options. I’ve touched upon the subject before, but all the shuffling in the field seems to be begging me to revisit it. I’ve griped during Konerko’s time on the D.L. that Anderson may be superior to Swish in CF and Anderson has responded to my suspicions by bumping his average to a career-high .238 (that’s higher than Swish, Uribe, and Konerko’s at this time), and this year is a clear improvement from 2006 (when he had the most playing time), having hit almost as many home runs in less than half the at-bats, and about a third as many K’s. At the very least, I said that constantly alternating between Wise and Anderson wasn’t giving them time to settle in and see how they would perform in the long run, under normal situations. Well, I assumed any debate about whether Wise or Anderson deserved to be the true 4th outfielder seemed old news upon acquiring Griffey. You know what happens when you assume… It turns out that this decision was the first step of a bigger and better (?) mess. Anderson and Wise continued to hold their positions as the 4th and 5th infielder, while a new rivalry sparked at first base.

There were many that said center fielder Swisher was adequate enough to play first base until Konerko got himself together again, but not many thought the managers would really act on these opinions. Once again, a wrong assumption. In fact, every change possible has been tried in an attempt to get Konerko back to his successful self. (Short of changing his place in the batting order, unfortunately) Now, it is up for Swisher or Konerko respectively to prove himself as the worthier first baseman. It originally seemed that their time would be split between right handed and left handed pitchers, but this turned out to be a guideline more than a rule, as Swisher made another appearance in CF on his day to have custody of 1B. The web gets more twisted, as Griffey is proving himself to be a defensive downgrade from Swisher. His place in the lineup is more credited to his batting, and the most adequate position for him would be as DH. As you see, now we’ve added Jim Thome in the mix.

In a different part of the field, at 3B, Joe Crede is out of the picture for the time being due to his time on the D.L. This brings Josh Fields. His defense is nothing compared to Crede’s, and pales in comparison even to Pablo Ozuna. However, he proved himself to be alright at bat last year. In fact, he believed himself to be more than alright- good enough to be Crede’s permanent replacement. And while he felt insulted to have been passed over for Crede, when asked to put his proverbial money where his mouth was (as in, actually take over Crede’s spot), he proved that Kenny and Ozzie were right in their decision to let his potential grow more on the farm before harvesting him for good in the big leagues. He should have considered himself lucky to have been traded while he was still in Charlotte, because after making a poor showing among the big boys, any trade value he had previously was whittled down to nearly nothing. But, what else can we do? If not Booger, then who? Well, Uribe. After being benched for Alexei in June, Uribe seemed to be the most expandable player on the trade market. Since Fields’s arrival, however, he’s proven himself nearly indispensable, showing range where Fields didn’t and having raised his average from a dismal .198 (before going on the DL) to an improved .225. Sure, he still swings at high fast balls with 2 strikes, but he may be too old for that to change. Although we need him in case of emergency, Fields only seems good enough to be a back-up for the back-up utility infielder. Hopefully, this situation will remain temporary, and Crede will be back from the DL soon. (I’m sure that no matter how much he was struggling in July, he will be welcomed back with open arms after testing the waters with Fields only to find them polluted with nuclear waste and shark-infested.)

As I mentioned, on two consecutive occasions, we have seen games that have ended with all but two fielding positions occupied by someone other than the original player. Is this a period of adjustment or a glimpse of a turbulent future? Is Ozzie looking for the ideal lineup or “throwing talent against the wall,” in an attempt to try everything until something- anything, be it Toby Hall as DH or Dewayne Wise batting for TCQ- works? With the players on our roster, is there even such thing as the “ideal lineup?” Well, surely, it can’t be healthy for players to be forced into making adjustments from day to day and even from inning to inning to accommodate the overcrowding occurring in the outfield and infield. Have we entered an era in which the fielders’ playing time is as flexible as the bullpen’s, moving to the bench when enough damage is done? Or were the past two days just an aberration due to bad pitching days, big leads by the other team, and the sweltering Missouri heat?

I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but one thing is certain: some decisions need to be made if the Sox want to have a strong finish to the season and regain their lead over the AL Central Division. Feel free to comment with your own opinions on the matter. In your ideal team, who is in the starting lineup in every position?

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