The non-waiver trade deadline is still a few days off, but the White Sox have already publicly acknowledged that this season is dead. And even after a bizarre three-game winning streak at the expense of the Tigers and Cubs, their playoff odds still sit somewhere around five percent. Perhaps it was a mercy that they got crushed by the dregs of both leagues sandwiching the All-Star Break and didn’t string everybody along. With the deadline approaching and deals starting to increase in frequency and magnitude around the majors over the past few days, and after last year’s deadline where the Sox neither bought nor sold, it seems as though there is more clamoring from fans and media (and perhaps from the front office) to commit to a direction–and in this case, selling.
I definitely get the appeal of selling. It would at least offer some clarity as to what the team’s plan was, and it’s harder to be disappointed when the Sox miss the playoffs if there was never any hope to make it in the first place. There seems to be some added attraction to it given the organization’s reputation for refusing to rebuild when it seemed quite prudent to do so in recent years.
The thing is, I’m not sure it’s strategically correct to sell at this time; not in any significant way. The only expiring contracts they have for the end of this season are Austin Jackson, Justin Morneau, and the two catchers. I suppose if Alex Avila or Jackson were healthy, some team that was in the hunt might want to add them as bench pieces, but they’re not. Perhaps with Morneau looking pretty solid in his first few games back, maybe some other team would be willing to send something over for him (although personally it’s so nice not watching Avisail Garcia play baseball every day that I might prefer just keeping Morneau around for the rest of this now-pointless season).
So, most of the assets of any consequence to sell are under control for 2017–Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, Zach Duke and so on. As it stands, even though 2016 has been a huge disappointment, they still look to finish somewhere between 78-83 wins; pretty much what they were projected to do coming into the season. And, if the Sox are trading one third of their starting lineup for 2017, they would be basically punting yet another prime season of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton.
There are no replacements in-house for those three bats (Frazier, Lawrie, Cabrera). The only position players left in the organization who could contribute to 2017 profile as bench pieces at best. That means if the Sox are selling those guys, they are conceding that they cannot build a winner around a core that features two of the best pitchers in baseball on absurdly cheap contracts. If the Sox can’t win with that kind of core, they’ll do what, exactly, with the next one, should they ever actually acquire another one? If White Sox management has decided this core isn’t good enough–or at least, good enough for this front office and scouting department to win with–then shouldn’t the first step be cleaning house in the front office and scouting department and let those guys make the call for whether/what how to buy or sell?
Besides, I don’t think it makes sense to give up on Sale and Quintana, because once again the problem in 2016 was not the core. As has been written dozens of times here, the problem with 2016 was failing to make even a credible effort at rounding out the supporting cast. After Adam LaRoche retired, the primary DH job was given to Garcia with zero backup plan even though everybody but the White Sox has known for a long time that he is unplayable. Center field was given to a glove-only fourth outfielder. The plan at shortstop was “hope that a utility player and a minor league free agent on his absolute last legs could hold down the fort until Tim Anderson showed up,” and it was very likely that Anderson would not be ready at all this year. Catcher has been a mess that seems to have particularly agitated White Sox Twitter this year.
But, especially given how well Anderson played out of the gate, this team was legitimately one free agent outfielder and one bat to play at DH that was better than Garcia away from being a real competitor. The solution to “Wow, roster spots 15-25 were horrible this year” isn’t “nuke roster spots 1-10.”
Frankly, they look to be in even better shape for 2017. Miguel Gonzalez is under control for 2017 as well, and is posting the best peripherals of his career in his age-32 season. He seems to be enjoying the switch from the Orioles Pitching Hellscape to Don Cooper Land. Anderson is here and looks to at a minimum be a league average shortstop, which is better than the team had coming into 2016. James Shields is terrifying and too expensive and was definitely A Mistake, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be better than John Danks profiled to be as the fourth or fifth starter for next year.
This is a core that can and should be successful. The Sox just need to figure out what to put around it and how they are going to get there.
Who can the White Sox trade without destroying 2017 if they aren’t dumping Sale, Quintana, Abreu, and Eaton?
If the Sox are confident about being able to generate bullpen arms from within, that is certainly an area where they can sell at the deadline and increase the overall talent in the organization, and maybe even free up some money.
- Robertson still has two years and $25 million left on his deal. Although this has hardly been his best season, we are still only talking about forty innings or so of a very strong career. Given what we’ve seen given up for Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery so far–and I think it’s fair to say Robertson is somewhere between those two guys in terms of quality–the Sox could expect a good return here. If they are confident in Zack Burdi, Carson Fulmer, and in the healthy returns of Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka, it could be argued this is an area where they can afford to sell from to help out elsewhere and still run out a good relief corps in 2017.
- Zach Duke is the diet version of Robertson in this regard. Although the organization has had an oddly difficult time adding lefty relievers, Duke shouldn’t be deemed irreplaceable. Again, given how much teams seem to covet relievers these days, he could bring back something neat.
- Maybe Don Cooper & Co. decide Fulmer is ready to be a starter in 2017. It’s a topic worth debating, but if that’s the case, perhaps somebody would be interested in Gonzalez. It feels risky to trade him; 2016 has been ruthless in showing how much starting pitching depth a team realistically needs. If he is traded and Shields reverts to his Worst Pitcher of All Time act, it is probably putting way too pressure on Fulmer to pitch 180 good innings.
And other than the aforementioned Avila and Jackson who appear to be injured for the bulk of the time a team would want to add them…that’s kind of it.
Make no mistake–if the Sox decide to trade Sale and Quintana and Eaton, then sure, they should blow everything up and trade everybody and go scorched earth. If they do that, they need a whole new front office to do it, but that is a not crazy option. It’s just a hideously unpleasant road to start going down when the Sox already look to be adding to a massive playoff drought. But, if they aren’t trading those guys, it doesn’t make any sense to abandon 2017 either. Because if they trade Melky, Lawrie, and Frazier, the Sox are in fact giving up on 2017 unless they spend a ton to replace them…but if they are willing to do that, the Sox would be better served to just spend a ton to supplement them instead.
It has been a bleak couple of months in the midst of a bleak decade for the White Sox, but that doesn’t mean the situation is as bad as it feels. If they play their cards right–not a given, certainly–they can position themselves really, really well for next year.
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