Within the last week, the White Sox re-signed right-hander Blake Smith, the 29-year-old converted outfielder who made his major league debut this past September. So there hasn’t really been a dead spot in their Winter transformation, but Thursday probably did more to shape the market for the rest of their franchise-altering teardown than anything since the Winter Meetings ended.
Of ESPN’s ranking of the top free agents, only Jose Bautista, Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo are unsigned out of the top-20. No. 20 on this list that I’m not particularly interested beyond its utility as a framing device, was Ivan Nova, the former middling Yankees hurler who vaulted himself to near the top of this meager starting pitching market by throwing 11 starts for the Pirates where he just didn’t walk anyone at all.
The Pirates, whose well-known financial limitations were the inspiration for extensive efforts to shop 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen in trades, re-signed Nova on Thursday, and while three years and $26 million is very mild by today’s standards, any significant expenditure is a threat to take the Pirates out of the market. Unless of course it’s immediately leaked within an hour of the deal that they are, in fact, still in the market to add to their major league club.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 22, 2016
While the White Sox undoubtedly have a particular interest in Michael Kopech, and possess a particular confidence in their ability to develop him into a productive starter (otherwise why would they trade for him?) thats vaults him a bit beyond his prospect ranking in their eyes, the Pirates’ prospect triumvirate of Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell gives them the ability to field a package as strongly rated, if not moreso, than the Sale return. It would be very hard to find a way to raise a quibble about a Quintana trade that brought back two of them, and given that the 21-year-old left-handed Meadows will likely be a top-5 prospect here by the time the next Baseball Prospectus global rankings come out, the Sox would probably need to make peace with a deal that just has Meadows and neither of the other two.
Beyond being just insanely valuable, Meadows is crucial to the Pirates plan of moving on from McCutchen, so I would view a package with Glasnow (another arm with huge stuff with control issues to iron out) and/or Bell (immediately one of, if not the biggest bat in the Sox upon his hypothetical arrival) to be more likely. Glasnow fits the Sox mold well enough to headline a deeper package of prospects on his own as well.
Being publicly in on a White Sox trade piece with no deal imminent has not typically been a great place to be if the goal is actually making a swap. Trade talks can often bubble to the surface days and weeks after the last serious conversation, and public word of the Pirates talking about Quintana does not preclude the Astros and Yankees or others making more progress toward an actual agreement in private. But with the last vestiges of viable rotation pieces plucked off the market and rumors circulating, Quintana’s tenure with the Sox lasting until Spring is looking very remote.
Much later Thursday, the Cleveland Indians coated their position as AL Central favorites in 2017 in another layer of cement by replacing the outgoing Mike Napoli with Edwin Encarnacion as their 1B/DH to side along with Carlos Santana. Encarnacion turns 34 next month, and while he is certainly an upgrade over Napoli, a better bet to keep producing, and an excitingly aggressive investment for the typically restrained Indians, he posted his worst rate stats in in the last five years this past season and there’s a slight whiff of concern there. It’s not one that should dampen the 2017 run for Cleveland and limiting the deal to three years affords some protection.
More to the point, the biggest bat is now off the market, and a still large supply of viable but power-only bats like Trumbo, Chris Carter and Pedro Alvarez remain, along with Napoli. While the Indians spent more than they were expected to, meaning a higher-end buyer might want more than a flawed budget bat, this doesn’t flip the market in a way I believe would significantly create more demand for Jose Abreu. An individual team could be convinced that Abreu still has an above-average hit and power tool, putting him ahead of the field, but there’s not a vacuum of talent that would push everyone to bid for Abreu, like they are for Quintana.
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