, pub-3283090343984743, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 A Trio of White Sox Injuries Has Made a Bad Team Even Worse
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A Trio of White Sox Injuries Has Made a Bad Team Even Worse

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of a 101-loss season and a trade of Dylan Cease, it was quite apparent that the White Sox would be bad this year. So far, however, they’ve been even worse than that, losing 10 of their first 12 games to become the first AL team whose Playoff Odds have reached zero. Adding to that insult, they’ve already lost Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert Jr., and Yoán Moncada — the three players who projected to be their most valuable — to injuries, sadly an all-too-common occurrence when it comes to each of them. It’s going to be a long season on the South Side.

The most severe of the injuries is that of Moncada, and woof, it not only looked bad but it may mark the end of his run with the White Sox, one that has certainly contained its share of highs and lows. While running out a grounder in the second inning of Tuesday’s game against the Guardians, he suddenly started limping about halfway down the line, then stumbled and crumpled to the ground before reaching first base, writhing in agony before being tended to by head athletic trainer James Kruk. “When I was running down the line, it felt like something broke. Honestly, that was the worst pain I’ve felt in my career,” Moncada told reporters via an interpreter on Wednesday.

Moncada was diagnosed with a strained left adductor, one of the muscles of the inner thigh, and yes, this will be a recurring theme. You don’t have to believe in jinxes to cringe at the fact that in the pregame media session before Moncada’s injury, manager Pedro Grifol told reporters that the 28-year-old third baseman had been dealing with a nagging hip/adductor injury for three or four days, adding, “He’s doing a really good job maintaining it.” Thus a minor injury has become a major one; the team announced that Moncada’s estimated recovery time is three to six months. In a best-case scenario, that would place his return around the start of the second half, while in a worst-case one, he might not make it back onto the field again this season.

Moncada is already coming off a pair of injury-wracked seasons that took a significant toll on his performance. After hitting for a 120 wRC+ with 3.7 WAR in 144 games in 2021, he slipped to a 76 wRC+ and 0.8 WAR in 104 games in ’22, missing five weeks due to an oblique strain and then 10 days for strains in each hamstring. He rebounded slightly in 2023, hitting .260/.305/.425 (98 wRC+) with 1.1 WAR, but still played just 92 games, missing over 10 weeks due to a pair of IL stints for lower back inflammation. He was off to a good start this season, hitting .282/.364/.410 (127 wRC+) while showing improved plate discipline through his first 44 plate appearances.

He is now in the final guaranteed season of the five-year, $70 million extension he signed in March 2020, making $24 million this year with a $25 million club option and $5 million buyout for 2025. Given the trends of his performance and Chicago’s payroll — which declined from $193 million in 2022 to $177 million to ’23 to $148 million this season as both the old and new regimes have stripped the roster for parts — it’s unlikely the team would have picked up his option. More likely, general manager Chris Getz would have looked to trade him this summer in an effort to fortify a farm system that got a shot in the arm last year, rising from 27th in projected future value in the spring to 12th later in the season.

Grifol said the team will rotate among a trio of players to fill in for Moncada, with 29-year-old lefty Nicky Lopez, 26-year-old lefty Braden Shewmake, and 24-year-old righty Lenyn Sosa all in the mix. None of them has hit a lick at the major league level, with Lopez — who has started eight games at second base and one at shortstop so far this year — the best of the bunch with a career 72 wRC+ across more than 1,900 PA; Sosa owns a 43 wRC+ through 224 PA, while Shewmake has a 50 wRC+, but only 25 PA so far. Each of them is a huge step down from Moncada, to say the least.

Robert isn’t expected to be out as long as Moncada, but his absence is depriving the White Sox of their lone All-Star from last year and their most dynamic player. The 26-year-old center fielder left Chicago’s April 5 game after injuring himself running out a double, and was diagnosed with a Grade-2 flexor strain in his right hip, the same one in which he suffered a Grade-3 strain in 2021. He missed about three and a half months that time, but this time around he’s only anticipated to be out six to eight weeks, with “only” doing a lot of work here.

The shame of it is that Roberts is coming off the closest thing he’s had to a full season in a while. His 145 games played last year was the highest total of his four major league seasons, topping his 98 games from 2022, when he made trips to the IL for COVID-19, blurred vision, and a wrist sprain; the only other time he played at least 100 games in a season was 2019, when he tallied 122 while rocketing through three levels of the minors. Even as the team collapsed around him last season, he put together an outstanding campaign, hitting 38 homers and stealing 20 bases while hitting .264/.315/.542 (128 wRC+) with 4.9 WAR. His slugging percentage and home runs both placed third in the American League, his wRC+ and WAR, eighth.

Robert was hitting just .214/.241/.500 at the time of his injury, with a two-homer, three-hit, four-RBI game against the Tigers on March 30 accounting for the bulk of his contributions. Thus far in Robert’s absence, Grifol has shifted his right field platoon over to center. That pairing — 26-year-old lefty Dominic Fletcher and 35-year-old righty Kevin Pillar — along with various other players in smaller roles placed the White Sox 28th in the right field version of our preseason positional power rankings. Meanwhile, Robert drove their no. 5 ranking among center fielders, but with his playing time reduced, he and his replacements have dropped to 12th in our Depth Charts. Somebody ought to put up a warning sign: “Beware of Falling Projections.”

As for Jiménez, he didn’t even make it to April, or to a spot in the outfield, before getting hurt. In the season’s third game, on March 31, the 27-year-old slugger strained an adductor in his left leg while running out an infield grounder and left the game. This marks his fourth straight season with a trip to the IL; in 2021 he missed four months due to a torn pectoral tendon, in ’22 he lost two and a half months to a torn tendon in his right knee, and in ’23 he was shelved 10 days for a left hamstring strain, and then three weeks for an appendectomy. Jiménez still managed to play 120 games last year, his highest total since his 2019 rookie season, but through his first five years, he played in only about 62% of Chicago’s games.

In the wake of last year’s early-season injuries, the White Sox used Jiménez in right field in just 14 games and DHed him 105 times. Keeping him off the grass is probably preferable given not only his fragile state but his defensive metrics (-22 RAA, -18 DRS, -9.8 UZR in 2066.2 career innings). That said, a DH-only role places a lot more pressure on him to hit in order to be valuable, and last year’s .272/.317/.441 (104 wRC+) translated to just 0.5 WAR, which doesn’t cut it. The good news is that Jiménez is on the mend, and could possibly return this weekend. In his absence, Gavin Sheets has gotten hot, batting .333/.455/.704 through 33 PA but [checks notes] none of our projections suggest he can maintain that.

In our preseason projections, Robert (4.0 WAR), Moncada (2.4), and Jiménez (1.9) occupied the team’s top three spots, with Andrew Vaughn (1.6) and Andrew Benintendi (1.5) the only other position players above 1.0. In other words, without this trio the Sox don’t have a single player who projects to be average or better in the lineup. These outages and this miserable start — which includes the lowest-scoring offense in the majors, at 2.42 runs per game — have dropped their already-abysmal win projection from 66.3 as of Opening Day to 60.8. With the possible exception of the days that Garrett Crochet starts — he’s got a 2.00 ERA and 2.50 FIP through three turns — this is going to be an unwatchable team at least until Robert gets back.