White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton is set to return from the disabled list in time for Tuesday's game against the Cleveland Indians. This is good news for everyone associated with the Sox organization.
Well, it's good news for everyone except Jordan Danks, who was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte for the umpteenth time in the past three years to make room for Eaton on the 25-man roster.
Danks' demotion is not based upon poor performance. He has done everything he has been asked to do. He has started 11 of the past 13 Sox games in Eaton's place, and has caught every ball you would expect a center fielder to catch. Offensively, his .289/.317/.368 slash line over that same span is plenty good enough for a player who was providing above-average defense at an up-the-middle position.
This isn't the first time Danks has been demoted for reasons other than performance. He batted .333 with five home runs during spring training this year. He did everything possible to snag a major league roster spot as an extra outfielder. But in March, as he is now, Danks was caught in a numbers game.
There are two reasons for his demotions: 1) He's considered the fifth outfielder on a team that only wants to carry four outfielders, and 2) He has an option remaining. Fairly or not, players who have an option(s) remaining are more likely to lose their roster spot than those who do not.
Eaton and Avisail Garcia are healthy at the same time for the first time since the second week of April. Those two outfielders are part of the Sox' present and future. If they are available, they are going to play. The third outfield spot remains a question mark. At least until the Sept. 1 roster expansion, when Danks will be recalled and Moises Sierra will come off the disabled list, the Sox appear to be going back to the left field plan they started the season with: a platoon with Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo.
The thing that's interesting about all this is that the coaching staff plays Danks frequently when he's available to them.
Garcia has been back from his four-month stint on the disabled list for eight games, and the most common outfield combination we've seen during that stretch is De Aza in left field, Danks in center field and Garcia in right field.
Manager Robin Ventura had the option of going with Viciedo in left, De Aza in center and Garcia in right, but he only used that combination just one time in those eight games. Danks started the other seven games in center field. Viciedo started just three of those eight games.
With Garcia, Danks, Viciedo and De Aza all available, the coaching staff seemed most comfortable with Danks on the field and Viciedo on the bench. Yet when Eaton becomes available, the guy who has been sitting on the bench (Viciedo) hangs around, while the guy who is playing center field (Danks) is packing his bags for Triple-A.
It makes you wonder if there's somebody in the front office who doesn't want to give up just yet on Viciedo and his tantalizing offensive potential. As we've mentioned before, Garcia's injury gave Viciedo a second chance to prove himself as an everyday player this season. Viciedo has squandered it. We know he's a horrible defensive player. His outfield gaffe on Sunday in New York cost Sox ace Chris Sale and the team a win against the Yankees. He has to hit to justify his roster spot, and his .233/.279/.397 slash line doesn't make the grade.
Viciedo has had 1,705 plate appearances in a White Sox uniform, including at least 470 in each of the past three seasons. Of those three seasons, this is his worst of the three. Much like Gordon Beckham, he's regressed despite receiving ample opportunity to right the ship. Maybe the coaching staff has recognized this, and that's the reason Viciedo was the guy who lost playing time upon Garcia's return. At some point, a player goes from having tantalizing offensive potential to being a bust. The White Sox might be at that stage with Viciedo.
I don't think Danks is an everyday outfielder by any means. He's not a good enough hitter. However, I think he's more likely than Viciedo to stick in the majors as a reserve on the basis of his ability to effectively play all three outfield positions. That versatility is a quality you want in a backup player. Viciedo can't play effectively anywhere on the field, and despite his potential, his offensive results are too marginal to keep him around.
Next year, Danks will be out of options. They won't be able to put him on the Triple-A shuttle again. The next time the Sox are faced with a "Viciedo or Danks" decision, whether that comes in the offseason or next spring, would it be out of line to suggest they keep the player who can handle center field and catch the ball?