White Sox center field situation in flux regardless of Bryce Harper

White Sox center field situation in flux regardless of Bryce Harper

As mentioned a few days ago, the correct answer to “Manny Machado or Bryce Harper?” is “either.”

But one reason I’m drawn to Harper is that his acquisition makes center field upgrades more or less an afterthought. Harper doesn’t solve that position directly, at least not unless the White Sox want another Nick Swisher or Alex Rios situation. However, such a tremendous splash in right almost turns Adam Engel into a reasonable Plan B in center, if not a semi-acceptable primary idea.

Harper’s defense was abysmal in right field in 2018, which is likely attributable to a combination of a knee injury and a shortage of conviction on makeable plays. There’s probably a rebound in store for him, but one can’t count on it going back all the way to average and staying there.

If you pencil in acceptable-at-best defense in right for Harper …

… then reserve that label for Eloy Jimenez in left during the second half of April …

… all of a sudden, Engel is sitting in a decent position without doing a damned thing. Even the worst house can gain value when it’s sitting on the best block, and Engel can hang around when his lone strength might be able to counteract the starkest weaknesses.

Alas, the White Sox can’t count on landing Harper, which makes this needle a tough one to thread. Should gentrification never strike the White Sox outfield, the Sox would then have to figure out how to salvage the position, because the incumbent situation doesn’t stand on its own.

Besides Engel, Leury Garcia is the only player who can challenge Engel’s claim to center field, and we saw how that worked out last season. Garcia couldn’t make a run at the job for various reasons — Rick Renteria wanting to maintain Garcia’s infield skills, Garcia’s power taking a step back, and, of course, the injuries. The latter two suggest that even if Renteria wanted to make Garcia the most-time center fielder, Garcia couldn’t hold up as a credible option.

Behind Garcia are even less desirable options. Charlie Tilson couldn’t capitalize on his first extended run in the outfield, failing to merit a September call-up. Ryan Cordell did, but he went 4-for-37 with zero walks and 15 strikeouts in his first month in the majors. Tito Polo, who was acquired from the Yankees to fill this gap in the timeline for center fielder auditions, washed out of the system and recently signed a minor-league deal with Seattle.

That leaves a significant space between Engel, Garcia and Luis Basabe, who is the most advanced prospect but still should probably start the season in Birmingham. Doing nothing to address the gap would be a failure, but the Sox might not want to pursue all options until Harper finds a home.

This limbo state spurned a whole lot of diversity in the Offseason Plan Project. Engel won the plurality, but he was nowhere close to a majority, barely clearing a quarter of the 83 returns. Those who support Sox Machine on Patreon can read the Offseason Plan Project’s cheat sheet, but here’s the leaderboard for starting center fielder:

1. Adam Engel, 21 plans
2. A.J. Pollock, 10 plans
3. Leury Garcia, 4 plans
4(t). Six players, 3 plans
10(t). Seven players, 2 plans
17(t). Sixteen players, 1 plan

There’s such diversity in approaches because the open market offers no simple fixes. Pollock is by far the best center fielder available in free agency, but the combination of his health history and the qualifying offer have dragged down the speed of his market. Andrew McCutchen signed with Philadelphia as a corner outfielder, and Adam Jones and Denard Span had to accept position changes as well. As far as it goes for guys who could stand in center field multiple times a week, it’s basically Jon Jay and Cameron Maybin and that’s it.

So planners had to get creative, whether it was acquiring contractual misfires (Dexter Fowler, Jacoby Ellsbury), shooting for stars (Kevin Kiermaier, Starling Marte), angling for blocked prospects (Alex Verdugo, Andrew Toles, Raimel Tapia) or excess young outfielders (Manuel Margot, Keon Broxton, Travis Jankowski).

The most versatile track is the one where the Sox acquire an out-of-options casualty in February or March. That includes Tapia, along with guys like Aaron Altherr and Dalton Pompey. None of these players have shown themselves able to hold a starting job, but the Sox have the luxury to give such players a month of real time in the majors. All they have to do is stand taller than a guy who drew six walks against 95 strikeouts over the last four months of the season.

(Another name: Michael A. Taylor, who has an option left. He struggled to make contact in limited playing time last year, so he could be in the same boat.)

If the Sox go this route, it’ll be difficult to watch it unfold. I mean that in the technical sense, not the emotional sense. When the corners are Jimenez and Daniel Palka rather than Jimenez and Harper, one can still make the same defense-first argument for Engel. But this one comes with a rebuttal that settling in right led to settling in center, and the only time it stops looking like settling is the very moment the Sox find anybody else.

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denbum
Member

To my eyes, I believe Tim Anderson MAY be able to transform into a CF. I thought this in a “what-if” situation concerning Madrigal and a “what-if” concerning Machado. (And also a “what-if” with Tulo conversation). However, before I get ambushed, I think TA has developed quite nicely at SS and would prefer to see him stay right there and continue to grow.

Also, If for some odd reason the two highly rated catchers go 1-2 in the draft and are not there for the WSox to pick, that will leave SS’s B. Witt and CJ Abrams there for the taking. Eventually moving TA to center (or 3B).

Wasn’t L. Robert who was the’natural’CF prospect?

I like Engel’s glove in CF enough that I’ll accept his lack of offense. AE hit .235 last year. One more hit per week for the same number of at bats gets him up to the .270 range. That’s A. Rowand-Ken Berry-Jim Landis territory. Good enough for me.

Greg Nix
Editor

What in the world makes you think Adam Engel can hit .270? “One more hit a week” is not a small improvement.

denbum
Member

I am going under the Bull Durham reference of just one bloop, one seeing-eye roller, one Hawk Kansas City special, or especially for Engel – one bunt hit a week over 26 week season raises his avg 35 points. They play 6 games a week x 4 ab/g = 24 ab/wk. He currently gets 5.5 or so hits in those 24 ab, one more to 6.5 hits is not unimaginable. Anyway, Landis & Berry are two of the Sox more revered players and if I recall correctly, about half of their seasons were more near or below the .250 zone than not. It’s just my opinion. It happens. I think it more likely, Greg, that Engel helps offense simply by becoming a more dangerous and dependable base-stealer in the few opportunities that he’s on base. A lot of teams have succeeded with a weak-hitting defensive player in line-up, but that’s usually accompanied by 3 or 4 other positions hitting at high levels. If Sox carry Engel in CF and McCann at C, they’re going to need 2 or 3 or some combination of Abreu, Moncada, Anderson, Eloy, Sanchez, or RF hit nearer to .300. In any scenario, barring a transaction (Pillar?) or a fast-track of L Robert, it’s Engel for 2019.

zerobs
Member

That sounds like the Avi plan – the appearance of productivity because of unsustainable BABIP. What Engel really needs to do is strikeout a little bit less and walk a little bit more. Right now, if he has a two-strike count, he is out already. And unfortunately that is 80% of his plate appearances. He’s the Anti-Moncada: too aggressive at the plate, although that seems to be a problem throughout the organization.

denbum
Member

Right, zerobs….Avi was a .245 hitter that raised his avg 85-90 pts in one year….we all hoped that would become norm, instead it’s an anomoly. And unsustainable. If Engel is the 2019 regular CF, (even only as a stop-gap placeholder) it would be a pleasant surprise for him to contribute more productively offense-wise … no matter what factors get him there (walks, hits, whatever). Probably won’t happen for AE, but you can’t say it’s not possible, either.

roke1960
Member

Adding Harper and Eloy to the outfield would justify keeping Engel there. At least then we will get major production from 2/3 of the outfield and could use Engel’s gold glove in center.
However, most of Engel’s outs are “easy” outs- weak pop ups or strikeouts. He gets his average up to .235 with weak infield hits. Not likely a guy who could make a significant jump in BA. But there’s really not a short term option for CF before Basabe or Robert arrive. I would like to see them give Leury more of a shot, until he likely breaks down somewhere during the season. Then we’ll know more where the season is headed and can probably return to Engel. No need to play Leury in the infield. We have Yolmer and/or Rendon for utility infield work (provided we add a 3rd baseman).

Trooper Galactus
Member

Good god, stop with the Timmay to CF stuff. He’s fine where he is and shouldn’t be hitting the reset button at this point. Besides, we have CF help on the horizon, whereas SS is a lot murkier and with a lot less upside.

knoxfire30
Member

2019 problems really aren’t problems since the sox have made it very clear its another tank year.

By 2020 several prospects will be nearing the bigs and even more will be in the upper minors. CF might be the most well stocked single position in the sox system and there still exists the possibility of Moncada or less likely Anderson being pushed to CF duty if Madrigal is the real deal.

I think their options boil down to living with Engel/Garcia situation or hoping pollocks value tanks so much he takes a big 1 year prove it deal and the sox try to spin him at the deadline (something that seems a big gamble given that the 1 year deal would be for a lot of money and his injury history).

This organization has way bigger fish to fry all over the diamond then to put resources into CF just cause its going to be weak in 2019.

35Shields
Member

I still don’t think Pollock would be worth it on a one-year deal. Like you said, the Sox are probably punting on 2019, so it’s not a great use of money.

Not to mention the loss of draft pick. And although the value of a second round pick is pretty low and shouldn’t deter this team from signing any player that fits into the big picture, I think it’s worth more than signing a guy to a pillow-deal in a year that they don’t care about.

Otter
Member

Harper, Machado, Grandal, and probably Keuchel are the only FAs with QO the Sox should sign (that remain).

karkovice squad
Member

Machado didn’t receive a QO because he changed teams mid-season.

Otter
Member

Forgot that, thanks.

asinwreck
Member

The Blue Jays are rebuilding and Kevin Pillar is going into his walk year. Adam Engel has both a good glove and team control for a while. Might an Engel-for-Pillar trade cover the Sox’ needs in 2019 and give the Sox’ prospects a year to mature?

As Cirensica
Member

I was gonna bring over Pillar’s name who will be a huge upgrade over Engel. OBP is still Pillar’s problem, but his bat is far superior than Engel, left hand hitter, runs decently, Pillar hit 40 doubles last year. The Jay’s are definitively shopping him. He shouldn’t cost a lot to get.

roke1960
Member

Pillar would be a nice pickup. He had a 2.5 WAR and an OPS 100 points higher than Engel, while playing similar defense.

zerobs
Member

His WAR is trending down though. Would he have as many doubles on grass? I could see Pillar for Tilson or Cordell and throw in Viera. No reason to trade someone like Engel who we can still use when we have enough guys we can’t use.

Otter
Member

Pillar will be 30 and then a UFA who most likely won’t get a QO. Sure I’ll take him on the 2019 Sox if they can get him for a prospects like they gave up for Nova, but that’s probably unlikely.

As Cirensica
Member

Sorry… I said Pillar hit left hand, he does not. My mistake.

zerobs
Member

I don’t see the point. Pillar costs more, is older, slower, and produces almost as little. Engel is still young enough to have upside, Pillar has hit his ceiling.

Amar
Member

Who else would you throw in for Pillar?

dongutteridge
Member

1. I haven’t watched Eloy’s defense in RF but Is he worse than Harper there right now? Not that I think there’s any chance that they’ll get Harper but I’m thinking if they did I’d probably stick Haroer in left for 2019. 

2.  I think Pollack would be a perfect fit for the Sox but he doesn’t seem to be in this years plan. Based on the acquisitions thus far I would guess that they’re gonna get Adam Jones. 

Looks like they’re willing to lose 95 games in 2019 they just don’t want to lose 105. 

ImmortalTimeTravelMan
Member

If Palka is our every day RF we will lose a lot more than 95 games.

BeefLoaf108
Member

At 799 PA and a career .260 OBP, how many more plate appearances do the White Sox need to see to realize Engel shouldn’t play everyday (unless that means in Charlotte). I understand if they want to punt 2019 also, but plate appearances are a commodity and should be given to someone / something with some potential upside.

35Shields
Member

Completely agree. There’s no reason for Engel to play. Either the Sox are trying to stay competitive in 2019 and Engel isn’t adequate enough for that or the Sox are punting on 2019 so who cares if he provides adequate CF defense.

I would’ve liked for them to use CF for a Rule 5 pick, but I’d be happy if they used it for an intriguing waiver claim.

Josh Nelson
Editor

I’m guessing 201 PA’s

Otter
Member

I think it’s time to move on from Engel considering his age, but at the same time, if (and it’s a HUGE IF) the bat improves a little bit in 2019, his defense makes him a borderline every day player assuming the offense is above average.

Otter
Member

This fits better under the Reds post from the 23rd, but that was a few days ago now and it’s related to Harper/Machado, so I’ll drop it here.

There’s a real opportunity cost for the Sox waiting around for Harper and Machado. It is likely they won’t land either one. Early signs point to Machado signing with the Yankees. And if it comes down to a bidding war between the Phillies, Dodgers, and Sox for Harper… we’ll we know who will finish in third.

In the meantime, the offseason has slowly moved forward. Andrew McCutchen signed with the Phillies, Puig was traded to the Reds, Jurickson Profar to the A’s. All would have been solid/good fits for the Sox for 2019 (most likely for 2020 and 2021 for McCutchen; and possibly beyond if the Sox were to resign Puig; Profar wouldn’t have fit as well). All are now off the table.

So here we are, holding out hope that Machado or Harper signs with the Sox. And by waiting, legitimate options for 2019 and beyond are now on other teams. Which only puts more pressure on the farm system and next winter.

That’s because it’s unclear what Plan B is for the Sox this winter. I’m a bit surprised they’ve been this aggressive with Harper and Machado (not that I’m disappointed). And with each day that passes, and other teams making moves, that’s fewer options for whatever Plan B is. And it makes it more likely that the Sox will be really bad, again, in 2019. And the troops will only become more restless.

ForsterFTOG
Member

Maybe that was their plan all along. Claim they were willing to spend a lot and actually spend a little. Wouldn’t be the first time.

lil jimmy
Member

If the Sox miss on both, they turn to the D’backs and pick up Zack Greinke, and Jon Jay. The cost would be mostly their contracts. A true number #1 and a get me over outfielder would go a long way.

dongutteridge
Member

I love that idea. I just don’t think the Sox will do it. What they’ve shown so far is we’re gonna make small moves and also try to convince everyone that we’re really players for Harper and Machado but we’ll make sure that we don’t get them. 

I think it’s a play to keep the fan base interested and really to keep baseball thinking they’re gonna spend big.

But, I think that next year they really will spend big! They decided they need one more rebuild year after Kopech’s injury and others plus few prospects stepping up quickly. 

35Shields
Member

Jon Jay isn’t under contract and his projected 0.3 WAR isn’t going to get you over anything.

lil jimmy
Member

So he’s cheaper. .8 War this year. I’ll go with that. A player who is smart. Left handed, would take a one year deal. Who is better than our current options. Even if they sign someone better, he a fine 4th, or 5th OF. The point is get a true number #1.

karkovice squad
Member

If the Sox hit on both, it still makes sense. The Sox need a starter and Jay can play all 3 OF positions credibly.

Marty34
Member

I think the quickest path for the Sox to be one of the best teams in baseball would involve Moncada fulfilling his offensive potential while proving he can play an adequate CF. Would you take that path and risk his bat not developing?

ParisSox
Member

Every time I see Moncada and CF linked, I see major injury.  I don’t know why.  

MrStealYoBase
Member

More than a couple scouts pegged Moncada as a CF coming up. He’s got great range. I agree that it would probably be the ideal situation to have him there long term. Maybe it’s something that they think about going into 2020. You don’t want to push a new defensive position on top of offensive development if you can help it. Then again, you can’t expect an established player to be able to just pick up and play decently at a completely different position, no matter their physical skill set (see Gordon, Dee).

Trooper Galactus
Member

Dee Gordon is probably an excellent example of why “he’s really fast” doesn’t necessarily imply “should play center field”.

Marty34
Member

More logical than “he’s really fast let’s move him to third base.”

Soxfan2
Member

annnnd Domingo Santana was just traded for practically nothing. While he may not fix the CF, issue he is a legit MLB OF with 3 more years of control. He’s a year removed from a 3.3 Fwar season, and has one of the best hard hit profiles in the MLB. A perfect example of a guy with immense talent that a team like the Sox should have taken a look at. Kudos to Dipoto and the Mariners. 

karkovice squad
Member

The Brewers weren’t a fit if they were looking for major leaguers. They’re in short supply on the South Side still.

yolmers gatorade
Member

I am fine giving Engel time next year if they strike out on Machado and Harper. He isn’t blocking anyone, and if Basabe or Robert cannot take down Engel then something is definitely wrong. If Engel makes another .30 to .40 increase in batting average or OBP, then great. He can give value and be a 4th outfielder when the prospects come. If they sign one, then sign Jay or Maybin for some competition.

ImmortalTimeTravelMan
Member

There’s no way Engel increases either his BA or OBP 30 or 40 points….

ParisSox
Member

I take whatever TimeTravel Man predicts to be as gospel.

lil jimmy
Member

Time travel is tricky business. You go to March 1 -2020. You see everything is Hunky Dory. You come back, and say as much. March 2- 2020 everything goes to shit.
It happens to me every time.

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