Rick Hahn could not finish his sentence because the room started to fill with an overwhelming applause.
The mild-mannered general manager of the Chicago White Sox was in the middle of explaining to the collection of fans in attendance at this particular SoxFest seminar about the thought process behind the plethora of offseason moves he had just undertaken in.
Fans whistled while others clapped their hands as Hahn struggled to finish going into detail about why he decided now was the right time to make all of these acquisitions. Heck, after the winter he just had, nobody would scrutinized him if he wanted to resurrected the ill-fated “All In” slogan from a few years ago.
Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, and Adam LaRoche were all major additions that grabbed headlines around the nation. The White Sox went from bottom feeders in the AL Central to having a surefire chance of taking home the division crown.
While most of the attention has been directed at the aforementioned players, there was one masterful pickup by Hahn that has flown under the radar. This player most likely will not find himself in the Opening Day lineup, but he will surely be an instrumental piece on this year’s White Sox team.
Back on January 8th, the White Sox agreed to a 1 year-$3 million contract with Emilio Bonifacio. Certainly not a flashy move, but one that is sure to pay dividends throughout the season.
The 2013 and 2014 White Sox were filled with an enormous amount of deficiencies that led to two of the worst seasons in franchise history. One overlooked flaw these past two seasons was the lack of quality bench players that could be used at various positions.
Does one even have to revisit the list of options manager Robin Ventura had to pinch hit or pinch run late in games? Did anybody really trust Jordan Danks with a bat in his hands late in games or how about the only free agent gaffe of the Hahn-era in Jeff Keppinger? Anybody enjoy watching Casper Wells overrun a ball in the outfield or Alejandro De Aza run the bases like a little leaguer?
Unlike the collection of underachievers, Bonifacio is the prototypical bench player and is the perfect fit for this year’s White Sox team.
Bonifacio possesses above average speed—showcased by his 26 steals last season—which was more than anybody on the 2014 White Sox. While his 0.6 WAR was nothing sabermetric savants would rave about, it is definitely a serviceable number.
Bonifacio’s slash of .259/.305/.345 won’t get him selected to any All-Star teams, but it is still better than that of Leury Garcia and Gordon Beckham. To top it off, his ability to hit from both sides of the plate is something that has been missing on the Southside for quite sometime.
According to FanGraphs, Bonifacio is a .291 hitter against left handed pitching in his career, which means that he could pinch hit late in games when opponents bring in a left-handed specialist. Furthermore, he is a career .279 hitter when batting either seventh or eighth which is a welcomed change of pace from the lack of production the White Sox have seen from the bottom of the order in recent seasons.
What sets Bonifacio apart is the fact that he can be an adequate option at second base, shortstop, and every position in the outfielder. Unlike the bench players in recent past, the eight year veteran is not a one dimensional asset, but rather can be inserted wherever Ventura sees fit. He opens up the door for a multitude of players to have a day off, especially during the dog days of summer.
Injuries are just a part of the game of baseball. Over the course of 162 games there is certain to be at least one or two that plague the team for months. Last season Avisail Garcia’s forced the White Sox to rely on incapable Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza.
Even for stretches when Viciedo and De Aza were hitting well, their defensive inefficiencies or baserunning blunders proved that they were not the most well-rounded options to start for an extended period of time on a moment’s notice.
Two years back Ventura deemed Hector Santiago a “Swiss Army Knife” for the invaluable flexibility to provided the team. The same holds true for Bonifacio. Unlike those before him, when Bonifacio steps up to the plate late into the game or when he checks in as a late-inning defensive replacement, nobody will shake their head in disgust.
A welcomed change of pace from what has happened in recent memory.