Flowers: What to do about the gaping hole in the outfield?

With two-thirds of the White Sox outfield gone for the bulk of the season, there's a massive void to fill.

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First, it was Eloy Jimenez, gone for the majority of the season after rupturing his left pectoral tendon while hanging on the wall after attempting (generous adjective) to rob a home run in a Cactus League game in late March.

Now it is Luis Robert, lost for at least three to four months with a complete tear of his right hip flexor after pulling up hobbling while trying to beat out a hit on Sunday afternoon.

Both freak(ish) injuries, but both devastating to the White Sox October dreams nonetheless.

The White Sox now have to figure out how to replace, at least partially, two elite hitters who were expected to supply their lineup with 40-60 (or more) home runs this season. Not to mention the loss of a Gold Glove center fielder and speed demon on the basepaths in Luis Robert.

Tony La Russa said that “the team is deep enough to cover during his absence and rehab” on Sunday after the Cleveland game, which isn’t true in my estimation. It sounded like La Russa wasn’t expecting Robert to miss the majority of the season when he said that, but either way, they’re, in fact, not deep enough to cover his absence no matter what La Russa meant.

So, what’s the fix?

On the Roster (and the Mend)

Adam Engel

Wouldn’t it be nice if Adam Engel was on his way back from his hamstring injury suffered in Spring Training?

It would, but according to Scott Merkin of MLB.com, the 29-year-old outfielder suffered a setback in his rehab process and is now at least three weeks away from beginning a rehab assignment.

Save for an outside addition to the roster, Engel will be the primary everyday centerfielder in Robert’s absence this season, but don’t expect to see Engel anytime before the end of May or beginning of June.

Photo: NBC Sports Chicago

Leury Garcia

Until Adam Engel is ready in late May/early June, or the club makes an outside addition, expect a healthy dose of Leury Garcia in center field when Tony La Russa draws up his lineup card each day.

Garcia, a traditionally streaky player, has looked better in his last seven games but has struggled mightily for much of April.

2020 Leury Garcia can work for a few weeks until Adam Engel gets back to Chicago if he can stay on the mediocre pace he has been on the last seven games. Still, Garcia has never been an above-replacement level player for an extended duration at any point in his nine-year career.

Billy Hamilton

Billy Hamilton picked up a few base hits in the first week of the season and did some fun things on the basepaths, enough to make fans think he might be onto some resurgence. Still, he’s hitless in seven trips to the plate since returning from the hamstring tweak he suffered in Seattle, and he’s nothing more than a defensive/baserunning insert off the bench at this stage in his career.

In the System

The White Sox announced their affiliate rosters on Monday afternoon, giving us an idea of the outfielders we might see on the roster at some point.

Luis Gonzalez

Gonzalez is the most likely candidate to make his way to Chicago in the immediate future. He’s on the 40-man roster, and he has already made his major league debut for the White Sox but has only two plate appearances in three games between 2020 and today.

Gonzalez is a 25-year-old outfielder who the White Sox selected in the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft under former scouting director Nick Hostetler.

In 126 games with Double-A Birmingham in 2019, Gonzalez slashed .247/.316/.359 with nine home runs, 59 RBI, and 63 runs for the Barons. Gonzalez also swiped 17 bases with the Barons in 2019.

Gonzalez can play all three outfield spots and hits left-handed, which could earn him about 5,000 plate appearances in Tony La Russa’s super liberal use of handedness matchups. Kidding… sort of.

Nick Williams

Designated for assignment after going 0-for-13 in four games in early April while Billy Hamilton dealt with a hamstring injury, Nick Williams is not on the 40-man roster as of today and (hopefully) probably won’t see his way back to Chicago.

Mikie Mahtook

After posting a respectable 107 wRC+ in 109 games for the Detroit Tigers in 2017, Mahtook has been pretty awful. He was limited to just nine games with the Tigers in 2019 and didn’t play in 2020.

Things will have gone off the rails if we see Mahtook in a White Sox jersey.

Going Shopping

As you can see from the four-pack of names above, relying on the names within the system doesn’t quite move the needle. So, what about the open market?

Do you remember when you were a kid, and your local elementary school would hold a Christmas Market where students could buy random useless gifts for their parents and family members for just a few bucks?

Well, that’s what the free-agent market looks like when it comes to outfielders looking for work right now.

I know there’s a strange group of people on White Sox Twitter that have been clamoring for Yasiel Puig for what seems like 10 years now, but that’s just not happening, so please don’t start that up again.

Potential Trade Targets

Rick Hahn said that the White Sox would explore the trade market but also cautioned that they would “figure out what the options are before deciding if the juice is worth the squeeze.” Basically, don’t expect them to move players that might jeopardize their contention window to fill the void, at least not at the moment.

Pipe Dreams

Kris Bryant

Bryant looks like the MVP in 2016 through April, slashing .323/.405/.708 with nine home runs, 22 RBI, 1.8 fWAR, and a wRC+ of 193 through 26 games.

The Cubs are desperate for a splashy trade to kick-start their impending rebuild, and the price for Bryant, who becomes a free agent after this season, will be far too rich for the White Sox blood.

Forget about it. The Cubs played this one right by holding onto Bryant this offseason instead of selling low. They’re going to demand a king’s ransom for the 29-year-old.

David Peralta

Peralta is a left-handed bat that’s having a fantastic start to the 2021 season, with Arizona slashing .300/.358/.510 with three home runs, 22 RBI, and a minuscule 12.8% strikeout rate.

Photo: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The downside is, his performance this season and his overall pretty strong track record in Arizona will price him into a range that the White Sox likely won’t be willing to go to for a player who becomes a free agent after next season.

Arizona is winning, and they know the White Sox are desperate so that the price will be high. Like with Bryant, don’t even think of coming up with any package that doesn’t include one — or two — players on the major league roster as a headliner.

Mitch Haniger

Haniger is slashing .268/.309/.563 with eight home runs, 23 RBI, and a wRC+ of 143. While Haniger might be the most attainable of the three in this largely unattainable group, I still don’t see the White Sox getting away with a package that doesn’t cost them a major league player or two.

Realistic Scenarios

Tommy Pham

Pham hasn’t been great at the plate this season, but he is walking at a 13.2% clip and only striking out 19.8% of the time. He can play all three outfield positions and is only two seasons removed from a three-year run in which he amassed 13.7 fWAR while hitting 65 home runs in 410 games with the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays.

Pham could be cheap and could be a more viable solution than Leury Garcia as a fourth outfielder when Adam Engel steps into the starting job in center field.

Starling Marte

Starling Marte is a name that would excite Sox fans more than Tommy Pham, as he would be the starting center fielder over Adam Engel, and he is slashing .310/.414/.483 with a 151 wRC+ this season for the Miami Marlins.

Marte is 33-years-old and will be a free agent following the conclusion of this season, so he’s purely a fix for the present void in the White Sox outfield, and like Pham, he could probably be had at a price that wouldn’t involve anyone on the current major league roster.

Raimel Tapia

The Colorado Rockies are always in the business of trading their arbitration-eligible assets away for prospects with more cost-control, and they have an interim general manager, Bill Schmidt after former GM Jeff Bridich was ousted last month.

Tapia, 27, is slashing .320/.368/.433 with three home runs, 13 RBI, and a 107 wRC+ in 27 games this year.

Photo: MLB.com

The left-handed-hitting Tapia will be a free agent following the 2023 season, so he’s a player that can help fill the current void this season and then replace Adam Eaton after this season with two more years of club control remaining.

For that reason, Tapia might cost slightly more than the previous pair of names suggested, but he’s also a move that helps the White Sox more long-term than the aforementioned.

Or…

The White Sox ride it out with Leury Garcia in center field until Adam Engel comes back, and then Engel becomes the everyday center fielder moving forward.

Maybe Luis Robert comes back in late August or early September. Maybe not. It’s too early to tell.

But, the White Sox could conceivably survive with Engel playing above-average-to-great defense in center field while being just ok at the dish, so long as a couple of other things happen.

Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal need to come around and help Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, and the rest of the regulars out. The pitching will need to be as good — if not better — than it has been thus far.

Is this asking a lot?

Probably.

Is this asking the impossible?

Not at all.

Even if the White Sox don’t make an external addition to fill the void left by Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert in the outfield, they can still win a very winnable division in the American League Central if the rest of the stars on this team play to their potential.

On Monday morning, Fangraphs gave the White Sox a 65 percent chance of making the playoffs. There’s no way I believe that the Luis Robert injury knocks them out of postseason contention.

However, if they stick with what they have internally, they’re now in a place where absolutely nothing else can go wrong if they hope to make a return to October baseball this year.

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