Let’s construct a White Sox postseason roster


Those who have logged time in the White Sox content mines are no stranger to the team’s penchant for releasing rosters at the last possible minute. Even if you weren’t aware, you probably have noticed that you’re reading a minor-league season preview two days into the season. Thank you for your forgiveness.

Anyway, it’s no surprise that Rick Hahn said the White Sox will apprise everybody of the 26-man roster for the American League Divisional Series against the Houston Astros after the deadline for submitting rosters at 10 a.m. Thursday. It’s probably part gamesmanship, part uncertainty over the status of Carlos Rodón, and maybe a little bit of leftover spite for those in the White Sox blogosphere.

With Rodón the only fixture whose status is a question, most of the 26-man roster is settled. There’s room on the margins, but it’s hard to say the last spots on the roster are worthy of strenuous debate. The 26th man on a roster is usually fungible during the regular season. If he becomes more than that, it’s usually a development that takes place over the course of weeks, whether it’s due to an injury above him, or just surprising production that fails to relent. In a five-game series with two off days built in, there may only be a chance for 20 players to get involved. That level of depth is already entrenched here.

This is my attempt to help you negotiate what could be a painful situation with one roster spot in particular. Now let’s argue about those marginal additions.

CATCHERS (2)

Any debate for the backup job behind Grandal was pretty much settled when the White Sox chose Collins over Seby Zavala for the final week of the season. Collins is the better bet for a homer or walk from the bench if a game or inning is down to its last gasp, and that’s really all that’s going to be asked from the job. If Grandal gets knocked out, the options are between a guy who can’t receive and a guy who struggles to catch.

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INFIELDERS (5)

The only question here is whether you classify García as an infielder or outfielder. Based on the way he played right field in the season finale, infield’s probably the way to go. Plus, he’s the only guy who has proven himself capable of covering the three leftmost infield positions.

OUTFIELDERS (6)

Sheets’ primary position is first base, but he somehow has looked better in right field during his time with the White Sox, which isn’t a compliment about his outfield play. At any rate, he seems to have the best case for locking down half of the DH equation, and if Adam Engel is up for it, I’d rather see him start every game in right field versus any of the other ideas. Andrew Vaughn’s bat isn’t doing it right now, but maybe there’s hope against a lefty. You know exactly what Hamilton is supposed to provide and when.

STARTING PITCHERS (4)

Hahn left the Game 1 starter an open-ended question, and Rodón isn’t a given, but unless he’s like an early electric car that’s losing 20 percent of its range with every charge, it seems like he’s going to be going through the Houston lineup at least once.

PERTINENT: What’s your White Sox postseason rotation?

RELIEVERS (6)

With Tepera pitching a perfect inning and striking out two, just about every one of these relievers has shown Sox fans what they wanted to see. Kimbrel is the only one who hasn’t done his job routinely enough for the leverage he’s expected to inherit.

THE OTHER THREE SPOTS

With this series going 2-2-1, I’d be comfortable with the White Sox carrying only seven relievers, but the relative stability of the White Sox defensive alignment means that there aren’t going to be all that many pinch-hitting assignments, so they may as well carry eight relievers in the event that La Russa has the opportunity to spare all his high-leverage guys. I mean, in the good way, where a Hendriks type can be saved for more aggressive deployment in subsequent games and rounds. Not the bad way, where the White Sox get blown out early and the later pitchers simply don’t matter.

My picks:

López is the guy who would provide bulk innings, with a greater chance of them being surprisingly effective, which is upside Dallas Keuchel doesn’t really offer.

I initially had José Ruiz on this list because he spent the whole year with the White Sox, and carrying him never struck me as a burden at any point in the season. His season numbers are fine, and his best two pitches often pass the eye test. He helped his career a lot this year.

Except: We know that the Peter Principle hates Ruiz and wants him to live in the sewer for the rest of his playing days. His leverage-based splits are incredible.

LeveragePAAVGOBPSLG
High24.421.478.579
Medium35.290.343.710
Low212.176.250.290

A pitcher like Ruiz engenders some goodwill over the course of a 162-game season, because you’re always grateful for a guy who can throw a simple inning when the game just needs to be over with.

Those situations are rare and/or meaningless in the postseason. Enter Burr, who rolls into October on a streak of 10 consecutive scoreless appearances. They probably shouldn’t be scoreless, because he’s allowed 10 hits and six walks over this time. On the other hand, nine of those 10 hits are singles, the other one’s a double, and he’s induced three double plays. Burr gets grounders 57 percent of the time, second only to Bummer. There’s a reason why you’d put him in the game, even if he’s your fifth choice. I don’t get that sense with Ruiz.

González is kind of a lark, but looking at a White Sox bench with Collins, Vaughn, García and Hamilton, I can see a situation where you might want a right-handed bat against a Brooks Raley or Blake Taylor without sacrificing defensive coverage. I think it’s dire if it gets to González, but picture González replacing Hamilton after he entered as a pinch runner/defensive replacement in a game that’s now tied. Remember the times you saw Danny Mendick in high-leverage situations? Those are the kinds of times where González’s presence might be welcome.

La Russa’s potential picks:

  • José Ruiz
  • Reynaldo López
  • Dallas Keuchel

Thirteen pitchers feels excessive for a five-game series, but this is Tony La Russa in the Year 2021 we’re talking about, and science fiction about to become science fact. In a world where Lynn is battling a knee issue and Rodón is an inning-to-inning proposition, La Russa may prefer being thoroughly stocked for early-inning switches, whereas you really have to concoct specific situations for somebody like González to be remotely preferable.

So you have López for the bulk innings in a right-handed complement for Rodón, and you have Ruiz there because Ruiz has been there all year, and he’s easier to watch than most when the stakes are low.

That leaves Keuchel, and while he bombed in his first attempt at standard relief work with the White Sox on Saturday, Vinnie Duber interpreted La Russa’s comments before and after the game as though this wasn’t an audition.

“I thought the ball was coming out of his hand good, he had stuff,” La Russa said. “He looked healthy to me.”

So it seems Keuchel is likely to be part of the relief corps when the ALDS starts next week in Texas. The White Sox see his experience — he’s got a World Series ring on his finger from his days pitching for the Houston Astros — as a valuable attribute that can help them in the pitching-change-happy world of postseason baseball.

“I actually have no doubt that he could handle it,” La Russa said before the game. “Just look at his experience. Who’s more experienced in what we’re going to go through (in the playoffs) than Dallas?

“He’s taken the role as a starter with all the heat that you could possibly want. … There won’t be a situation that you would bring him into that he’ll be intimidated. … I have no doubts that he’ll be ready to compete whenever he’s asked.”

I don’t buy the reasoning, especially since Keuchel hasn’t even succeeded against lefties this year. He’s giving up an .827 OPS no matter what kind of hitter he’s facing, and so I don’t know what need he’d fit. If you need a grounder, you’d go for Bummer (or Burr). If you need a lefty, you’d go to Bummer or Crochet. If you need length, you’d to for López. It’s hard to imagine a game getting to Keuchel in winnable condition.

It’s similarly hard to imagine Keuchel being left off a 26-man roster that already has a few players who shouldn’t appear in games. Baseball is only a meritocracy to a point, and Keuchel has a lot of the markings that help override a system that doesn’t work in his favor. I’m not sure if it helps to say that his presence is much less likely to factor into a five-game series than a seven-game set, but the Sox are only guaranteed the former. If Keuchel makes the cut against Houston and we have to refresh this conversation for an ALCS matchup, rejoice in the fact that it’s necessary.

(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)