Avisail Garcia was once believed to be out for the year after tearing the labrum in his shoulder the second week of the season.
However, the timetable for his return keeps accelerating. Garcia is currently 10 for 19 with a home run in five games on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte, and White Sox manager Robin Ventura has said the 23-year-old could return to the major leagues before the end of the month if he avoids setbacks.
If Garcia stays on track, he'll be back with the White Sox before the Sept. 1 roster expansion, so that means somebody on the current 25-man roster will have to go.
A lot of times in these situations, the club will just tell its backup outfielder to hit the bricks. But for the Sox, it's not that simple in this case. Fourth outfielder Moises Sierra is out of options and cannot be sent back to the minors without first clearing waivers.
It would be a mistake for the Sox to expose Sierra to waivers. There's a good chance he'd be claimed. He has posted a respectable .295./.318/.448 slash line in a reserve role. Defensively, he's the best corner outfielder on the 25-man roster, and he's still only 25 years old.
If you're the White Sox and you're five games below .500 the first week of August, it's time to start thinking about what your team might look like next season. Sierra has shown enough this year that the club should consider bringing him back in 2015 in some capacity, even if it is just in the part-time role he has filled capably this year.
But, if the Sox are going to hold on to Sierra, that means one of three players -- Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza or Dayan Viciedo -- has to go when Garcia comes off the DL. Ideally, general manager Rick Hahn would be able to swing a waiver-wire deal to move one of those three players.
Unfortunately, hopes for trading Dunn are getting less and less by the day. The left-handed slugger is mired in an 0-for-15 skid. He did not reach base a single time on the Sox' most recent homestand, and he is hitting just .129 with two home runs over the past two weeks. Jose Abreu is starting to see fewer pitches to hit, because opposing pitchers know Dunn is an automatic out behind him right now.
If Dunn were swinging the bat well, a contender would be able to use him for the last 40 or so games of the season. Unfortunately, that's not the case, and Dunn might stuck playing out the string in Chicago.
Viciedo is the player who benefited most when Garcia went down. The Sox seemed ready to move on from him as an everyday guy coming into the year, but Garcia's injury created a second chance for him to play on a daily basis. He has failed to capitalize. Viciedo is a poor defender, so he needs to hit to justify his roster spot. Despite 14 home runs, his .238/.286/.400 slash has impressed nobody, and in fact, his batting average and slugging percentage are both below his career norms.
Like Sierra, Viciedo has age on his side. He's only 25, but he doesn't seem to be making progress as a hitter. His previous perceived strength -- hitting left-handed pitching -- hasn't been much of a factor. His platoon splits show him as being only slightly better against lefties than he is against righties:
vs. RHP: .236/.276/.398
vs. LHP: .247/.317/.409
Hahn will only be able to move Viciedo if there is another GM who thinks the outfielder might benefit from a change of scenery. There's nothing about Viciedo's game right now that suggests he could help a contender.
That brings us to De Aza, who like Dunn almost certainly will be somewhere other than Chicago when the 2015 season begins. De Aza cannot hit lefties at all this year (.091/.155/.136), but he still gets on base at a respectable clip against right-handed pitching (.283/.349/.416).
And, De Aza has been trending in the right direction over the past two months. He was awful in April and May (.173/.240/.250), but since Sierra was added to the roster, Ventura has been able to limit De Aza's exposure to left-handed pitching.
As a result, De Aza has posted a .327/.375/.455 slash line since June 1.
Yeah, you read that right: De Aza has been almost a .330 hitter for a full one-third of the season.
If there's a team that could use a left-handed bat to help against right-handed pitching, De Aza is a fit. He represents Hahn's best chance to make a waiver-wire deal before Garcia comes off the disabled list.