As the White Sox put their finishing touches on the regular season, two of their infielders find themselves trending in the opposite direction. Tony La Russa is trying to find the best nine players to put on the field for the postseason. This raises the question, can the White Sox afford to keep César Hernandez’s bat in the lineup?
César Hernandez was acquired at the trade deadline to plug a hole at second base. His Gold Glove defense and 18 home runs made him look like the perfect addition to the lineup. But since joining the White Sox his numbers have taken a nosedive. While his defense has remained Gold Glove-caliber, his offense leaves a lot to be desired. Hernandez looks like he is swinging a piece of wet sporting news at the plate.
He is hitting just .222 with a .299 OBP. The most concerning is his .283 slugging percentage. Hernandez has never batted for a high average but he is known for his power. In his last 109 at-bats, he has only 24 hits to go along with 23 strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Leury Garcia’s stock is at an all-time high. After hitting an improbable walk-off home run with two out and two strikes in the ninth inning on September 13th, the longest-tenured member of the Chicago White Sox has been receiving the recognition he deserves.
Garcia has always been known as a great locker room guy. His infectious personality and positive attitude have earned him the nickname “Leury Legend” in the clubhouse. Lance Lynn went out of his way to praise what Garcia has done for the roster.
“We call him The Legend,” Lynn said. “You’re looking at the guy that has the longest tenure around here. Great human being. Every day he comes in here with a smile on his face, works hard no matter if he’s in the lineup or not. Day in, day out, he’s doing the same thing, getting himself ready no matter what the situation is. Whenever we call on him, no matter what position, where in the lineup, or whatever we need from him, he’s there to do it with a smile on his face. You’ve got to have those guys if you want to beat a playoff-caliber team.”
Ozzie Guillen even went as far as to say that Garica is the most valuable member of the team on NBC Sports Chicago’s White Sox Talk Podcast. Garcia’s play on the field has certainly helped his cause.
Garcia is swinging a hot bat. In his last 30 games he is batting .330. He has never been a big on-base guy but has still managed a respectable .383 OPB during that stretch. Garcia is fifth on the team in RBIs. Garcia has been so valuable for the White Sox that he has a higher WAR than Liam Hendriks.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) September 26, 2021
Tony La Russa has made it clear that Garcia is an everyday player. There is a reason that Garcia is a mangers dream. He does all the little things well. This is why a former manager Ozzie Guillen and a Hall of Fame manager like Tony La Russa hold him in such high regard. It is also why the White Sox last manager, Rick Renteria, insisted on putting him in the lineup every day.
Hernadez’s defense is superior to Garcia’s, but Garcia has shown he is a more than capable defender. When Tim Anderson got injured, Garcia was slotted to fill in for him. While playing his natural position at shortstop, Garcia made some head-turning plays with his glove. Garcia’s versatility puts him at a slight disadvantage. Most everyday players like Tim Anderson and Luis Robert get to spent all their time mastering one position. Garcia has to split his time between six.
If he is the everyday second baseman during the playoffs then his defense should only improve because he will be investing all his time there.
Regardless this is a tricky decision for manager Tony La Russa. Benching a guy that the front office invested in during the trade deadline is not an ideal situation.
“We’ve seen César rise to the occasion.” La Russa told reporters before Sunday’s game when asked about playoff lineups. “There’s a chance Leury is playing right field. When we get there, you’re going to put your best nine out there. Leury at second base, yeah. But I think Cesar has enough background to rise to the occasion.”
Time will tell who gets the starting nod at second base. But if La Russa wants to put his best nine out there, Garcia at second base has to be a serious consideration.