The Whitesell Dilemma

Ever since the Swallows signed Josh Whitesell to a contract, I have been contemplating the various roster adjustments the Swallows could make in order to maximize the talent available to the team. With various news sources reporting that Whitesell will make his Swallows debut on the 25th against Hanshin, I’d like to share some of those scenarios now. But, before I outline some of those scenarios, let me go over some of the roster limitations that are currently in place. Every NPB team can have up to 4 designated foreigners on their active roster at one time. However, teams cannot have more than 3 foreign fielders or pitchers on the active roster at once. Finally, no more than 3 designated foreigners can be on the field at once. Thus, in order to play Whitesell on Friday, the Swallows will have to move Aaron Guiel, Jamie D’Antona, Eulogio De La Cruz, or Lim Chang-yong off the active roster. Tony Barnette, who is currently out with gout, also factors into the equation as reports indicate that he will be brought back up to the first team shortly. The Swallows reportedly prefer to have 2 foreign fielders, and 2 foreign pitchers on the active roster, but I will explore some possibilities that don’t follow this preference. Every possible roster combination I will present will assume that Lim would be the minimum foreign pitcher the Swallows would keep on the roster. Barring injury, there is no reason why Lim should be demoted, as he has been the most consistent foreign player on the squad this year.

Possible Roster Moves

Possibility #1: Demote D’Antona

I think this is the most likely possibility, and the one that probably has the greatest upside. Whitesell would be plugged in as the everyday first baseman against all pitchers. He would be able to adjust to play in Japan without having to look over his shoulder, which would hopefully make the transition to Japanese ball easier. As a lefty, if Whitesell proves to be vulnerable to left-handed pitchers, this possibility would leave the first baseman’s slot in the order vulnerable against left-handed pitching, as Whitesell’s backup Takeuchi has had little success against left-handers. However, as left-handed pitching is relatively rare, this factor is probably not a dealbreaker. If Whitesell is able to find early success and manages to play at a consistently high level, this move would probably cruelly spell the end of D’Antona’s tenure with the Swallows. Obviously those are big ifs, and if Whitesell struggles to adjust to Japanese baseball, we could always go back to D’Antona.

Possibility #2: Demote Guiel

With Iihara no longer being a glaring liability in the outfield, it could be argued that Guiel is expendable. I am not one of those people making that argument. Guiel has an interesting combination seniority, power, arm, and locker room presence that makes him worth keeping. Despite his low average, Guiel still sports a .800+ OPS and leads the team in homeruns. Also, Guiel would probably benefit the least from farm team at bats. Losing depth in the outfield in favor of increasing depth at first base doesn’t make much sense from a pure numbers perspective.

Possibility #3: Demote De La Cruz/Barnette

This possibility would make sense if Barnette still had a few weeks before his return. The ineffective De La Cruz could be demoted and D’Antona and Whitesell could compete for the first baseman’s job. Then a determination could be made as to who to keep once Barnette was ready to return. However, with Barnette’s return seemingly imminent, this possibility does not appeal to me. While Barnette has not been the most consistent pitcher, taking him off the active roster means we have to find another  pitcher to add into our rotation. We have plenty of pitchers that can replace De La Cruz in the reliever role, but the same cannot be said about Barnette’s starting role. This possibility is probably not that likely since it goes against the Swallows’ stance of having 2 foreign pitchers.

Possibility #4: Don’t Promote Whitesell

Let D’Antona continue to work stuff out, and keep Whitesell on the farm as a motivating threat. Considering the big deal the team and the media have made over the Whitesell signing, I doubt this will happen.

The D’Antona & Whitesell Options

If the Swallows opt to go with possibilities 2 or 3, the Swallows would have both D’Antona and Whitesell on the roster. With two foreign first basemen on the roster, the Swallows could take a number of approaches in using the two players.

Option #1: Make One the Everyday Starter, Let the Other Come Off the Bench

The first option is similar to possibility #1 outlined above, in that one player would be the undisputed starter for a certain period. The difference is that the other player would be available for pinch hit appearances. While this sounds good in theory, I’m not sure how much I trust the Swallows management to be patient if the named starter doesn’t perform at a high level immediately. Also, you would have to weigh the luxury of keeping the bench player, if he is taking the roster spot of a potential starter. Finally, if D’Antona becomes the bench player, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be able to work out the issues with his bat with irregular at bats. D’Antona did not perform particularly well coming off the bench when he was in Takada’s dog house. If this is the scenario that plays out, I imagine Whitesell would be the starter.

Option #2: Platoon

While D’Antona’s numbers do not look too good when viewed as a whole, his numbers against left-handed pitchers are very good. In 65 ABs against left-handed pitching, D’Antona has 22 hits, including 6 homeruns, 5 walks, and 18 RBIs. Against right-handers, D’Antona has 23 hits, with 4 homeruns, 19 walks and 19 RBIs in 146 ABs. This would make the righty/lefty duo of D’Antona and Whitesell seem like a natural fit for a righty/lefty platoon, with D’Antona starting against left-handers, and Whitesell starting against right-handers. The advantage of this plan is that both players would get some fairly regular and predictable at bats. Obviously Whitesell would make more starts under this plan, since there are many more right-handed pitchers in the league. (See D’Antona’s AB totals to get an approximate lefty:righty ratio.) If, however, Whitesell is capable of hitting left-handers adequately, the need for this plan goes down significantly, as D’Antona’s diminished value weighed against the other foreign players’ whose spot he would be taking would probably not be favorable.

Option #3: Start Both

When we first announced the Whitesell signing, one commenter suggested that Whitesell could start at first and D’Antona could start at third. I do not think this option is seriously being considered by the Swallows. If the team was considering using D’Antona at third, I would expect reports of D’Antona taking fielding practice at third already. Based on the range D’Antona has displayed at first, I do not expect good things from him at third. For a team that features many starters that rely on getting outs by putting balls into play, defensive weaknesses at the corners (Whitesell has not gotten a favorable review from Ogawa defensively) can lead to the team giving up more runs. Also, if the goal is to get D’Antona humming again offensively, I question whether asking him to defend a position he has not played in 2 years can help him from a mental perspective.

Parting Thoughts

Given management’s propensity for showing impatience with struggling foreigners, I fear that Whitesell and D’Antona will be juggled around in a way that will make neither player particularly effective. I think the uncertainty of his role on the team has contributed to D’Antona’s struggles, and if Whitesell does not produce right away, I can see him being lead down the same path. I have nothing against D’Antona, but if the team is serious about Whitesell I hope they give him ample chances without having to worry too much about getting the quick hook. As such, I am in favor of demoting D’Antona and naming Whitesell the starter. Keeping both on the active roster takes away playing time from players I think are more valuable to the team, and is just asking for management to dick around with the lineup if things don’t go well. The transition into Japanese baseball is never easy, especially mid-season, and having to do it while looking over your shoulder certainly can’t help. Given the roster limitations that are in play, I cannot think of a scenario that can make everyone happy. I honestly think the players we have now, could get the job done, but if we are going to bring in a player I think we ought to give him a fair shake. No matter how I play it out in my head, someone loses. I wish Josh Whitesell all the best, and I hope he can help us win games. I also wish the same to whomever ends up being demoted.

About Kozo Ota

Kozo Ota is a third-generation Swallows fan that grew up on Montreal Expos baseball. (You can read more about that here.) When he’s not at Jingu, he works as a freelance translator/interpreter to make enough money to go to Jingu. You can find random posts by Kozo on Google+ and Twitter.

  • Ckm3028

    So let me get this straight. You're 16 games under .500; 15 games out and you want to demote the player who is leading the team in RBI; 2nd in HR's and near the top in slugging % and doubles? That jackass Takada screwed around with D'antona last year and he still came back to have a solid season. Leave him alone. He will hit like he always has!

  • I would say — you're 16 games under .500 and 15 games back (8 games out of a playoff spot), why not give the new guy a shot? Guiel has a weak batting average but slugs and gets on base (thanks to being a beanball magnet), plus has a longer track record of performing in Japan. D'Antona leads the Central League's worst offense in RBI but also has a .290 OBP. Give Whitesell a chance to win the job.

  • Kozo

    Also, the deceptive thing thing about D'Antona's RBI total is that 11 of those RBIs come from just 2 games from the beginning of the season (March 31 & April 7). While I'm not in favor of the Whitesell signing, now that he is under contract I would like to see what he can do.

    I don't have a problem with the team choosing not to call up Whitesell and letting D'Antona work stuff out. But I'd rather the team demote D'Antona to try out Whitesell than to do things half-assed and ruining both players.

  • Kozo

    BTW Whitesell was not called up today. Read this however you will, but the team has not started Guiel the last two days.

  • Seems like they've gone with possibility #3 for the time being. Barnette has been sent back down after the seven earned runs he surrendered in only a few innings last night.

    Whitesell started in left today with D'Antona on fist. Guiel is on the bench.

    • Kozo

      Just when I thought I had covered all the bases they go and stick Whitesell in left field. I'm now starting to think that Whitesell is being brought into be the medium-term replacement for Guiel, the aging lefty outfielder.