In the timeline of Sox acquisitions this winter, Brett Lawrie was an early grab. Acquired for two minor league arms, Lawrie was initially thought to be ticketed for the hot corner, where the White Sox had been in perpetual need. Once Todd Frazier entered the fold, Lawrie was pushed to second base, which had been his secondary position.
Considering the gaps elsewhere on the field, one could argue that second base was not high on the immediate need list entering the offseason. Carlos Sanchez represented a clear defensive improvement over what was seen from Micah Johnson to start the 2015 season and even managed to raise his OPS more than .200 points in the second half (a .285/.314/.419 line from July 1-Aug. 30), suggesting that perhaps he might have the ability to hit after all.
More likely what we saw was a low standard being surpassed. A regular viewer of the White Sox, who would be understandably prone to grasping at straws, could very easily fall victim to this sleight of hand. The better of his two halves still fails to bring his bat up to league average performance and his Fielding Runs Above Average mark of negative-2.2 on the year sheds some serious doubt that his glove is enough to make up the difference in offensive production.
Brett Lawrie now finds himself with the potentially low pressure task of simply raising that low standard a bit more. If he comes in true to his career norms, his bat is roughly average season after season according to his TAv, which constitutes a definite improvement on the offensive side, especially when factoring in position. His offensive upside was once thought to be quite high, but having failed to reach that potential to this point, seeing him elevate to new levels of production would be out of character for his new employer. Regardless, a player entering what should be his prime years and coming off of a 1.9 WARP season definitely looks a lot better than a limited ceiling player like Sanchez, who just surprised his way into a negative-0.8 WARP showing.
Defensively, this is a man lacking outstanding numbers at his main position, moving to one not only less familiar but more difficult could prove problematic. The White Sox were an awful defensive team in 2015, and Brett Lawrie taking ownership of second base full time is not a harbinger of change. A team that lacks plus defenders can’t necessarily afford to punt a traditionally defense-first position in the interests of raising their offensive floor. Brett Lawrie: second baseman is a bit of an experiment.
It also seems worth acknowledging Lawrie’s off-field baggage and subsequent clubhouse influence. Rumors of a poor-chemistry Oakland Athletics clubhouse were accompanied by rumors of him being a large source of that discontent. Whether or not that holds any truth, the White Sox are making a habit of collecting players that carry reputations of being problems to teammates on teams left behind. Adam Eaton was accused of being selfish in Arizona, apparently the owner of an attitude that irked his teammates. From where I stand, his reputation on the South side does not resemble that. More recently, Mat Latos was added to the mix after having torched bridges upon departure from multiple organizations. If Lawrie is looking for a place to get comfortable and realize some of the potential he carried while a top prospect within the Blue Jays organization, perhaps he’s found some kindred spirits to help him along.
Two years of team-controlled arbitration salary for what looks to be an overall positional improvement in exchange for two minor leaguers who were not going to see major league time within the White Sox “window” once again shows Rick Hahn’s ability to work within the financial restraints laid upon him.