Thursday, February 22, 2024

White Sox Add Veteran Infielder To Compete For Second Base Job


The White Sox have agreed to a minor league deal with free-agent infielder Hanser Alberto. Robert Murray of FanSided was the first to break the news. Alberto will receive an invite to spring training as a non-roster player.

If he makes the team, Alberto will enter his eighth MLB season. The 30-year-old spent the 2022 campaign with the Los Angeles Dodgers and slashed .244/.256/.365 with a pair of homers, nine doubles, and a pair of triples in 159 plate appearances. After the season, Dodgers brass decided to decline his $2 million player option and settle for a $250K buyout.

While Alberto may not earn the starting job, this move has significant implications for the White Sox future roster. It is clear that the front office does not intend to trade for an upgrade. Instead, there will be a competition between Romy Gonzalez, Lenyn Sosa, Leury Garcia, and Alberto.

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Given the current Liam Hendriks situation, this should come as no surprise. The White Sox farm system does not have many tradable assets, and Hendriks was one of the few pieces on the major league roster that garnered any trade interest. It also means Garrett Crochet, who was reportedly receiving interest from the Yankees, becomes even more valuable to the White Sox bullpen. A trade scenario that was unlikely to begin with now seems virtually impossible to pull off.

The White Sox front office could still sign another free-agent second baseman, but it will probably be along the lines of another minor-league deal. Josh Harrison has the highest WAR of all the remaining free agent options, and the White Sox already non-tendered him early in the offseason.

There are two ways to look at the Alberto news. While it is disappointing that the White Sox are relying on unproven rookies and minor-league deals to fill the hole at second base, at least Rick Hahn is not just handing the job over to Gonzalez or Sosa. Both of them will have to earn it. Hanser Alberto is a seasoned MLB veteran, and his presence will make for an interesting battle during spring training. As the old saying goes, “competition breeds excellence.”

While Alberto doesn’t exactly scream excellence, he has been a solid player throughout his career and could provide the White Sox with some infield depth. He spent his first three seasons in Texas with limited success. He never played more than 41 games and hit below .200 in two of the three seasons with the Rangers.

In 2019 he got a chance to be an everyday player in Baltimore and put together the best year of his career. He hit .305 with 12 home runs, 51 RBIs, and a .751 OPS in 550 plate appearances. The following season he batted .283 with 22 RBIs and a pair of homers in 54 games.

He signed with the Kansas City Royals during the 2021 offseason and put together another respectable campaign, posting a .270/.291/.402 slash line in 103 games. While 2022 was his least productive season in recent memory, the .292/.315/.411 showing in 1036 plate appearances split between the Orioles and Royals from 2019-21 give White Sox fans some reason for optimism.

Alberto has good bat-to-ball skills and rarely strikes out. He has a career 12.2 strikeout rate which is astonishing when you consider his low 2.3 career walk rate. In 2019 his 9.1 percent strikeout rate ranked in the top one percentile in all of baseball, while his 2.9 walk rate ranked amongst the bottom one percent of the league.

While the low strikeout rate is admirable, his free-swinging approach doesn’t produce much power. He has reached ten-plus homers just once in his career and has a career slugging percentage of just .380. From 2019-20 average exit velocity ranked in the bottom three percent of the league in back-to-back seasons. Last year his average exit velocity was just 82.9 mph. For a White Sox team in need of some power, Alberto does not fit the bill.

However, the CAA client still has a career .272 average which makes his floor much higher than Gonzalez and Sosa’s should he make the team. Alberto also hits left-handed, pitching well, carrying a .323/.341/.449 slash line against southpaws.

On the defensive end, Alberto provides some versatility. Most of his time has been spent at shortstop, second, and third base. Defensive metrics make him an above-average defender at all three positions.

Over the course of his career, he has logged 244 games at second base, 161 at third, 44 at shortstop, seven at first base, and five in the outfield. Leury Garcia’s presence on the roster makes it unlikely he will make the team as a platoon player off the bench, especially since Alberto is a right-handed hitter. If he wants to make the team, his best bet is to win the starting job.

Alberto doesn’t have great arm strength but makes up for it with his range. In 2020 he ranked fourth in the AL in range factor and fielding percentage at second base. He also ranked first in putouts that season. However, for his career, he has second base tends to be his worst position. He posted a -3 OAA last season, a -2 mark in 2021, and a -4 mark in 2020.

It will be interesting to see how the second base battle unfolds during spring training or if the White Sox chooses to stash Alberto as a depth piece should Gonzalez or Sosa earn the Opening Day job.

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