No room on White Sox roster for Daniel Palka, at least for now
HOUSTON — When is Daniel Palka coming back?
This is far from the most pressing question regarding issues that matter in the White Sox rebuild, but Palka is one who eased the pain of the process last season by belting a team-leading 27 homers as a rookie, made exit velocity reading fun and emerged as a surprise fan- and sometimes national media favorite.
After a miserable 1-for-35 start to 2019, he disappeared to Class AAA Charlotte. But as you may have heard, Palka is tearing it up there, batting .299/.447/.619 with nine homers in 27 games. He was the most recent International League Player of the week.
“It’s good to see him back to where he was,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said. “Glad he’s putting that question back in people’s minds.”
Palka’s problem is he’s questionable defensively as a corner outfielder, and he’s not moving Eloy Jimenez out of left field. And Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell are doing well with the opportunities they’re getting in right.
Palka is a designated hitter, and first baseman Yonder Alonso has been getting most of the shared at-bats in that spot with Jose Abreu. But if Alonso, who has been used in the cleanup position 36 times in manager Rick Renteria’s lineups, doesn’t emerge from below the Mendoza line soon, space for Palka could be cleared.
Renteria has left Alonso in the middle of the lineup longer than he probably should have because he’s getting paid $8 million to produce runs, but on Thursday the manager, perhaps having seen enough, bumped him down to seventh.
“Maybe we just alleviate a little bit of the load,” Renteria said. “Give him an opportunity to get at-bats, find his way back to who Alonso is.”
It’s become conceivable that if Alonso, who has a $9 million team option for next season, doesn’t find his way, the Sox let him go and let someone like Palka, 27, see if he can pick up where he left off. Who knows, maybe he can figure out how to get on base more, too.
“As we’re configured now it’s tough to find AB’s [for Palka], but that said, we’ll see how the next few weeks and months unfold,” Hahn said. “If there was an injury he’d be towards the top of the list for guys to fill in. We’ll see what becomes of the roster in the coming weeks deciding how he gets used.”
Alonso, 32, was acquired in the offseason for minor league outfielder Alex Call in a deal viewed as something to entice free agent Manny Machado. Alonso and Machado are brothers-in-law. Jon Jay, a friend with Miami ties to both, was also acquired as a free agent in what sure looked another means of enticement. Viewed as a “why not?” move at the time, Alonso’s presence and Jay’s absence linger as reminders of a tough loss in the Machado sweepstakes that left fans fuming.
Two months later, the Padres have Machado because they offered more guaranteed money, Alonso was batting .178/.352/.491 with six homers and 20 RBI through Wednesday and Jay hasn’t played a game because of a groin injury.
Hahn’s offseason deals weren’t all bad. He signed catcher James McCann (.340/.381/.538) and got closer Alex Colome (1.83 ERA, nine for nine in saves) in a trade for Omar Narvaez. But the acquisitions of Kelvin Herrera (5.85 ERA), Ivan Nova (3-4, 6.96 ERA), Alonso and Jay tilts the scale in the wrong direction, and that goes without mentioning losing on Machado.
“No one questions the decision we make more than we do,” Hahn said. “We’re the ones putting the organization’s name and money on the line when we make an acquisition, trade or free agent. We look at the ones that went well and the ones that go poorly more closely to see what we could have avoided.”
When it’s time in the next offseason or two to add veterans to their young core, the Sox won’t be able to afford many more misses.