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White Sox must maximize bench versatility

L. Garcia's value increases because of ability to play multiple positions

CHICAGO -- White Sox captain Paul Konerko's return may mean a leg up for Leury Garcia where the team's final active spot is concerned.

Konerko's 16th and final year on the South Side leaves the White Sox with basically one roster opening as it is currently configured. Those permutations factor in 12 pitchers, nine starting position players, a backup catcher and Jeff Keppinger, whom the White Sox intend to use across the infield and behind Conor Gillaspie at third. That 25th man needs versatility and speed, qualities possessed by the 22-year-old switch-hitter acquired from Texas in the Alex Rios deal on Aug. 11.

Garcia has played second, shortstop, third base and center field over 45 games at the big league level. He also swiped 51 bases during the 2010 campaign as part of the Rangers system.

Jordan Danks asserted himself as a viable alternative offensively off the bench last season, hitting .231 with five homers and 12 RBIs. The left-handed hitter with solid speed already was known as the best defensive outfielder in the organization.

But the White Sox will have to decide whether a pure fourth outfielder or a utility bench player suits them best if their current options remain the same. Keppinger has the ability to play third, second, first, shortstop and the outfield, although Garcia would be more of a true shortstop backup to Alexei Ramirez, who has played no fewer than 156 games in each of his last four years.

Dropping the bullpen to six relievers would give the White Sox room for another position player. To accommodate such a move, the team could move Hector Santiago from the rotation, where he appeared to earn a starting nod last year, or could even begin the season with a six-man rotation, which is far less likely.

Six starters are in the mix for five spots when including Santiago, who posted a 3.51 ERA with 122 strikeouts over 130 2/3 innings in 23 starts among his 34 games last year. That rotation number doesn't include potential chances for the White Sox to add on in the area via trade or free agency, options White Sox general manager Rick Hahn acknowledged were out there during a Wednesday conference call to announce Konerko's return.

Pitching has been frequently listed as the primary reason why the White Sox won't overlook '14 and call the season a complete rebuild. To subtract a pitcher from the staff, with inexperience in the rotation in Andre Rienzo, Erik Johnson and Santiago to some extent, and John Danks in his first full season off of '12 shoulder surgery after 22 starts in '13, would seem to weaken that strength.

"It's something we haven't done in a while," said Hahn of an 11-man staff. "The trend in baseball is probably more toward 13 than it is back toward 11.

"That's something we've talked about, and based upon the personnel we have by the time we get to Spring Training, it's something we need to consider. I wouldn't put it as likely, but it's certainly a possibility and one we will address by the time we get in Spring Training."

Marcus Semien and Micah Johnson both put their respective names in the Major League infield mix with impressive '13 Minor League campaigns. Semien, who hit .261 over 21 September games with the White Sox, scored 110 runs and hit .284 between stops at Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Johnson picked up a Minor League-best 84 stolen bases and hit .312 while playing for Class A Kannapolis, Class A Winston-Salem and Birmingham.

They seem destined for more everyday Minor League seasoning. Then again, player change still could happen for the White Sox between early December and late March.

"Certainly we'll have a backup catcher, and certainly we'll have Paulie," Hahn said. "Then you're going to want someone who can cover multiple outfield positions as well as someone who can cover shortstop.

"Leury Garcia actually fits that description and can fill both of those roles. So as we sit today, he would be a valuable guy off the bench. But we have several months before Opening Day, and that 25th-man decision may involve a different cast of characters by the time we're ready to leave Glendale, (Ariz.)."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.

Chicago White Sox, Jordan Danks, Leury Garcia, Conor Gillaspie, Jeff Keppinger, Brent Morel, Alexei Ramirez, Hector Santiago, Marcus Semien