Sox opting for raw tools over production

The quiet of January is where it becomes really dangerous to start pulling themes out of minor transactions at the back of the 40-man roster, but in my defense, it’s a continuation of a theme that already emerged when the White Sox staked their biggest trade on toolshed Yoan Moncada and the incredibly live-armed Michael Kopech.

A funny thing happened to the White Sox presumptive starting right fielder Jason Coats on Friday: he was designated for assignment. Coats will turn 27 at the start of Spring Training, his game has never been projected to translate well to the majors, and he does not figure to be anywhere near the next White Sox contender. But with the Sox roster beginning to be excavated, and with more open spaces on the way, there was a real sense that Coats had worked his way to the top of the heap of outfield candidates and earned a shot. He torched Triple-A to the tune of .330/.394/.519 in 2016, and despite debuting last year, barely got any chance to prove himself in 58 plate appearances.

Coats might not be worth an extended look, but such a dearth of opportunity pales in comparison to say, over 1500 plate appearances for Avisail Garcia. If that wasn’t telling enough, he was excised to make room for a waiver claim of Willy Garcia, a fallen 24-year-old Pirates prospect who is Coats’ opposite. He’s got the type of big tools found in waiver clam projects–big raw power, huge throwing arm–with no production to show for it (.245/.290/.388 in 790 Triple-A plate appearances) and little scouting optimism that he can cut down on the swing-and-miss in his game.

Dayan Viciedo already taught us that there are few things as tiresome as a corner outfielder with huge power who can’t barrel anything, and a huge throwing arm but poor foot speed. Coats is a solid bet to outperform Garcia in 2017 big league action, but a perfect world projection of Garcia is superior to Coats, and Coats’ likely advantage is meaningless if 2017 wins and losses don’t matter and he still doesn’t project to be a trade asset either way.

This is a very bloodless line of logic, but so is trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, and probably Jose Quintana, to try for a massive, and inexpensive, reboot with a top-flight farm system. The Sox have already been courting electric but volatile talents in their major trades–Moncada threatens a 30 percent strikeout rate, Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez have plenty of evaluators who believe they’re relievers–under the logic that risky prospects because less risky when you have dozens of them to try out, so why not apply the same logic to their major league fliers?

By that same logic, clearing out Coats should really be about a spot for the out-of-options Rymer Liriano, himself a formless collection of tools due to two years of development lost to injuries, but possessing far more of an actual plate approach and some actual success in Triple-A (.292/.383/.460 in 549 plate appearances in 2015).

A shade or two too bloodless for my liking is the reclamation projection signing of Everth Cabrera. The 30-year-old former All-Star spent 2016 playing in his native Nicaragua, but also spent some of it in Cuba going through three months of alcohol rehab per the publication El Nuevo Diario. He broke onto the scene in 2012 when he led the National League with 44 stolen bases (while being caught just four times), despite complicating his call-up by being arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence along with his wife. His offensive peak came when he hit .283/.355/.381 in 2013, which was hampered by him serving a 50-game suspension after he admitted taking PEDs after being implicated in the Biogenesis scandal.

If a theme was not already apparent, Cabrera’s exit from San Diego was precipitated by a 2014 arrest for driving under the influence of marijuana, and his rehab stint in Cuba was preceded by an arrest in Nicaragua for getting into a fight at a market. Before that took place, in March, a somewhat paunchy Cabrera gave an embittered interview to El Nuevo Diario where he called out MLB for trying to make an example out of him during the Biogenesis scandal despite his admission of guilt, the Players’ Union for abandoning him, the police for their aggression during his arrest, and even his wife for not being understanding enough of the difficulties of his career.

It’s not hard to find legitimacy in some of his complaints, but as a whole it comes off as a lot of defiance from someone without much of a leg to stand on. The most recent video interview with El Nuevo Diario found Cabrera newly svelte and recommitted, and the Sox are definitely signing that guy, rather than the spiraling and out of shape Cabrera from last March.

Cabrera hit just .227/.267/.285 and stole only 20 in 28 bases in 119 games over 2014 and 2015 in the majors, so uncovering the premium talent buried within probably takes far more than just a new training regimen. Carlos Sanchez, Leury Garcia, and certainly Tyler Saladino are all likely superior to Coats on the major league level, which is to say nothing of how much playing time Moncada will soon consume, but perhaps it’s the same idea. Cabrera, once a basestealing menace with plus on-base skills from the shortstop position, has had higher highs than any of them. If he’s a starter-level talent again, he proves more valuable than giving opportunity to glorified utility guys.

Or it’s just a minor league deal; besides the ones that indicate a lack of emphasis on personal conduct, there are not supposed to be bad ones.


Lead Image Credit: Kim Klement // USA Today Sports Images

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1 comment on “Sox opting for raw tools over production”


Picking tools over production has been the Sox m.o. since Kenny Williams was put in charge. Nothing will change until he is gone.

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