Eloy Jimenez is one of the most likable ambassadors the White Sox have. He’s blessed with a charisma that is completely natural. His swag stays on high. There is thunder in his bat, and his smile lights up a room. He’s also one of the most confounding players on the roster.
The 26-year-old spoke with reporters Monday on Zoom, and some of his answers were a window into the problems the Sox have.
After the team signed Andrew Benintendi to a long-term deal, it was clear left field was closed for Jimenez. That realization was a sigh of relief for Sox fans. The reason: Jimenez has hurt himself multiple times playing left field — and in the most absurd ways.
A baserunning injury landed Jimenez on the sideline for a big portion of last season. He tore a hamstring tendon that required surgery. Jimenez worked hard to rejoin his teammates and played 84 games. For most of those games, he was the designated hitter. Jimenez slashed .274/.343/.500 for an .843 OPS as the DH, but he doesn’t want that to be his main job in 2023.
‘‘Last year, when I was DH’ing more than [playing] the outfield, it was because I got surgery. And I understand that,’’ Jimenez said. ‘‘But this year, I’ve been working really hard to play the outfield more than DH.’’
To be fair, Jimenez’s offensive numbers as a left fielder were better (.340/.389/.515), but that doesn’t outweigh the added risk of him missing time with injuries. As it stands, he is the only hitter in the Sox’ lineup capable of hitting 40 home runs in a season. He’s an excellent hitter who only has scratched the surface of his potential. That potential keeps getting stunted because of injuries.
The Sox won’t say it out loud, but they know they have a better chance of winning if Jimenez is their primary DH — a role he clearly dislikes.
‘‘So I don’t really think that I’m going to accept [DH’ing],’’ Jimenez said. ‘‘If I’m working hard, I’m going to get better, and I want to play in the outfield.’’
I understand Jimenez’s point. I even applaud his desire to be a well-rounded player. It’s admirable and at the same time myopic. The problem is, the Sox didn’t address right field this offseason. They’ll go to camp with rookie Oscar Colas getting a chance to win the job.
If I were Jimenez, it would rub me the wrong way, too, but here’s the thing: Right field is a tough position to play. Jimenez’s struggles weren’t limited to injuries. He hasn’t been a consistent defensive presence at arguably the easiest spot on the field. Switching him to right field would be a fool’s errand.
Jimenez was asked about the effect of Jose Abreu leaving for the Astros in free agency. Asked about who could pick up the leadership role in the clubhouse, Jimenez offered this:
‘‘I don’t know,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know. I don’t have the answer of that. If I tell you a name — I don’t think I’m going to tell you because it’s like that, so I’m not going to lie.’’
This is disappointing on two fronts. Players such as Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito have shown they have strong leadership skills. The fact that it wasn’t top of mind is troubling. And this was an opportunity for Jimenez himself to step into the breach, and he didn’t.
But you know how he could reveal himself as a leader? Come to camp prepared to compete as an outfielder. There should be no issue with that. But if the time comes when general manager Rick Hahn and manager Pedro Grifol ask you to be the primary DH, accept it and dominate.
With Abreu gone, players returning from injury and question marks at second base and right field, Jimenez is the Sox’ one true run-producer. His bat means so much more than his glove.
In a year where the winning window is still ajar, the most prudent move for this power hitter is to sacrifice.
You can hear Laurence Holmes talk Chicago sports Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 670 The Score with Dan Bernstein.