Saturday Stew: Who could have seen this coming?

After rupturing his left pectoral tendon while trying to make a play on a home run ball that flew over the left-field fence on Wednesday against Oakland, Eloy Jimenez will be sidelined for most of — if not all of — the 2021 season.

Who could have seen this coming?

Oh, yeah — just about every White Sox fan and pundit under the sun.

Remember all that, “bitching and whining,” that most sensible Sox followers were doing this winter about the troubling lack of competent depth on this roster? Yeah, this is exactly why. The White Sox staked their World Series aspirations on the idea that their roster would remain largely healthy for the majority of the season, and that’s a risky proposition that almost never works out.

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It’s comical that Rick Hahn while delivering the gut-punch news about Jimenez’s impending surgery and recovery that will jeopardize his entire 2021 campaign, decided to credit Eloy for “trying to make a play,” on a ball that he had zero shot at making a play on in reality. Jimenez was never catching that ball, and Eloy vs. The Wall is a battle we’ve seen before, with Jimenez coming up on the losing end multiple times. In fact, this stint to the injured list will be the 24-year-old’s third trip to the IL with an injury sustained playing defense.

I dubbed my fantasy baseball team “Eloy’s Outfield Adventure’s” in jest last month, but it’s really a true description of what it’s like watching Jimenez play defense in the outfield.

Jimenez hit 31 homers in his first year in the majors in 2019, and he batted .296 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs in 55 games during the pandemic-shortened season. I’ve been adamant that 2021 was going to be a season in which Jimenez flirted with 50 home runs if he could stay healthy. That’s a huge hole in the middle of the lineup for a team looking to compete for a World Series this season, and while the White Sox will sorely miss Jimenez’s production, the focus now has to be on who will fill the void with just five days until Opening Day.

“As a team, you look at what you have, not what you don’t have. We don’t have him, but we have other guys. It’s not going to be an open spot. Somebody’s going to play there.”

White Sox manager Tony La Russa on a Zoom call on Thursday afternoon.

Andrew Vaughn was in the lineup in left field on Friday afternoon against the Brewers and White Sox skipper Tony La Russa said in his media availability on Thursday that they will work Vaughn there as much as they can in the final four games of the Cactus League schedule in an effort to evaluate whether or not he can be an option for them in left field this season.

Vaughn was all but a lock to make the Opening Day roster as the everyday designated hitter before the Jimenez injury, and despite the fact that he has never played a game in left field at the professional or collegiate level, the White Sox contend that he has taken plenty of reps in the outfield on the backfields during camp and at the alternate site last summer.

Photo: San Francisco Chronicle

If it’s not Vaughn in left field, the White Sox are left with slim pickings to replace Eloy’s production, at least offensively, in left field.

Adam Engel would be the first option, but he too will begin the season on the IL as he works his way back from a hamstring injury. That leaves Tony La Russa with Leury Garcia, Billy Hamilton, and Nick Williams as the remaining options who would be considered outfielders. If you’re in the “sign a free agent,” camp, don’t hold your breath on that. This problem will be handled with internal options for the time being, and probably in general.

If Vaughn gets a shot in left field — and he really can’t be any worse than Jimenez is — then Zack Collins figures to open the season as the team’s primary designated hitter, which would give the White Sox another left-handed bat in the lineup. Collins has really left no doubt this spring at the dish that he deserves to be on the Opening Day roster, so this might actually be a viable solution if Vaughn and Collins can parlay their spring success into the regular season.

Whether it’s Vaughn in left field and Collins at DH, or some hodgepodge of Adam Engel, Leury Garcia, and Billy Hamilton in the outfield spot vacated by Jimenez with Vaughn at DH, one thing is for sure — the White Sox need to figure out a long-term plan for Eloy because this just isn’t going to work.

The solution isn’t as easy as snapping your fingers and making Jimenez a full-time DH as he probably should be, because you have a log jam there now. Andrew Vaughn and Jose Abreu will be on the roster in 2022, and one will be the first baseman, while the other is the DH. Unless of course the Andrew Vaughn experiment in left field actually works out, then you can play Vaughn in left field in 2022 and protect Eloy from himself in the DH spot.

If the Vaughn in the outfield thing doesn’t work, then the White Sox have a sticky situation on their hands at this time next year.

But, let’s worry about next year, next year. For now, the White Sox just lost a potential 40-50 home runs and 100-plus RBI, and now they’ll place an added amount of pressure on Andrew Vaughn, who has never played a game above A-Ball, to try to fill that void at the dish, and maybe even defensively. I don’t know if Vaughn is up to the task, but if he does rise to it, he’ll be a lock for AL Rookie of the Year.

Featured Image: AP Photo

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