Kenny Williams is ready to unleash the Tank upon the American League. But Juan Pierre is standing in the way.
Dayan Viciedo has belted 10 home runs with an .886 OPS and improved plate discipline numbers with Triple-A Charlotte this season, doing everything in his power to force the hand of the White Sox to call him up. The home runs are nice, and so is the OPS, but it's Viciedo's increased walk rate and decreased strikeout rate that are the most encouraging developments for the 22-year-old Cuban. Well, that and his major league-ready defense.
Yes, a walk rate of 6 percent isn't too impressive. But for a player whose walk rates in Double-A, Triple-A and the majors in the last two seasons have been 4.3 percent, 3 percent and 1.9 percent, 6 percent is a step in the right direction. Plus, Viciedo's strikeout rate sits at 16.2 percent, down from over 20 percent between Charlotte and Chicago in 2010.
Viciedo's powerful bat would fit nicely in a White Sox lineup that has considerably less depth than expected. The 2-3-4 combination of Alexei Ramirez, Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko has been fantastic, but with A.J. Pierzynski/Alex Rios/Adam Dunn hitting fifth, the Sox have struggled to score beyond the cleanup spot.
Dunn and Rios have shown signs of life in the last few games, but Rios is statistically the worst hitter on the team and Dunn is the offensive equal of Pierzynski. Getting power into the No. 5 or No. 6 spot in the order could do wonders for the Sox.
But there are a few problems with calling up Viciedo to play right field (Quentin would shift to left) and hit in the middle of the lineup. The first, and most glaring, would be the hole left at the top of the order.
Or maybe there's been a hole in the top of the order to begin with.
Pierre had a fine month of May, posting a .365 OBP. He stole four bases in five attempts, showing he understood his aggressive tactics on the basepaths wouldn't fly after being caught seven times in 12 attempts during April.
June hasn't been as kind to Pierre, who has a .311 OBP for the month with one steal in two attempts. It's a small sample size, sure, and his walk-to-strikeout ratio of 3/1 is more in line with May (12/6) than April (6/13). But with Viciedo hitting so well in Charlotte, the onus is on Pierre to play well enough to fend him off.
But if Pierre is taken out of the starting lineup, somebody still has to lead off. The best option would be Ramirez, who has a .357 OBP with some halfway decent plate discipline numbers.
Ramirez, however, has been the ideal No. 2 hitter for the White Sox. He can't bunt, so Ozzie Guillen rarely feels the urge to waste an out with one of his better hitters at the plate. And he's hit pretty well, too, with a wOBA of .349 that puts him squarely in "above average" territory.
Moving him away from No. 2, though could actually have a positive effect on his offense. As the guy who hits ahead of Quentin and Konerko, Ramirez has seen the highest percentage of fastballs (55.8 percent) of his career. And he hasn't hit them well, according to FanGraphs' pitch type values.
In theory, Ramirez would see fewer fastballs and more breaking balls—against which he's been great—as a leadoff hitter. But Ramirez has started a game as a leadoff hitter just three times in his career. While he's been much more patient at the plate this season, there's no telling how he'd respond to having to be patient as the No. 1 hitter in the Sox lineup.
The best thing the Sox could do is move Ramirez to leadoff and tell him to absolutely nothing different. Better to have Ramirez hacking at the first pitch than forcing him to be patient. Ramirez forced patience in 2009—his walk and strikeout rates of that year are nearly identical to 2011—and had the worst offensive season of his career. In 2011, he's been able to strike a balance between patience and aggression, and the Sox shouldn't do anything to mess with that equilibrium.
Moving Ramirez to No. 1 would mean a hole would open up at No. 2. Gordon Beckham would be the most likely candidate to move there, as he's hit a Ramirez-like .282/.365/.418 since the start of May. Unfortunately, moving Beckham to No. 2 would probably result in a lot of bunting. Maybe if Beckham does as horrid a job of giving up outs as Ramirez did, the Sox will eventually stop asking him to sacrifice. That'd be nice.
So, if Pierre is replaced in favor of Viciedo, the lineup would ideally go as follows:
5. Dunn (hopefully)
I'd have to guess Rios would hit sixth and Viciedo eighth until Viciedo proves to Guillen he's better than Rios. And I also expect Pierzynski to be entrenched in the No. 5 spot until Dunn really starts hitting, which is a shame because as mentioned above, they're offensive equals. But Dunn has the much higher offensive ceiling.
The last issue the Sox would have to address would be Pierre's place with the club. Brent Lillibridge isn't going anywhere, the same goes for Omar Vizquel. Ramon Castro is safe as the backup catcher. The Sox won't dip below 12 pitchers, so dumping a reliever is out of the question.
To make room for Viciedo, that leaves Pierre and Mark Teahen as the potential odd man out. The Sox will have to eat salary either way—for Pierre, it'd be a pro-rated $3 million, for Teahen it'd be a pro-rated $4.75 million and then $5.5 million for 2012. Neither player is an enticing trade target, so designation for assignment is the route the Sox would probably take.
DFA'ing either player would probably result in a clearing of waivers and then a refusal of a minor league assignment, meaning the Sox would be on the hook for the remainder of either contract.
The Sox don't exactly have $7 million or so laying around, so Teahen isn't a viable option for dumping. Pierre would cost about $2 million for the Sox to get rid of, so he would have to be the odd man out in this scenario.
It'd be a tough pill to swallow for the Kenny Williams, Guillen and the entire White Sox organization which holds a high amount of respect for Pierre. But if it makes the team better—it would—and increases the Sox's chances of making a playoff run, there's no reason why the move shouldn't be made.