Appreciating Nate Jones while he’s still ours

The White Sox loudly announced to the world that they were rebuilding this winter by shipping out their two best players on consecutive days. And then stopped. Completely. Which is both totally understandable and incredibly frustrating. It makes sense to hold on to Jose Quintana if the Astros and the Pirates aren’t willing to pay the freight you want. You’ve got all the time in the world. And if the Nationals are too reluctant to part with prospects or absorb money for David Robertson, then there’s no reason to jump the gun and give him up for a handful of beans.

It makes sense that teams both want to trade for Robertson and are wary of pulling the trigger. But the White Sox have an even better trade chit in their bullpen and as you’ve likely ascertained from the headline, his name is Nate Jones. Jones isn’t as well known by the common fan, though it isn’t through any fault of his. He’s never been the official closer and has been toiling in anonymity on mostly terrible White Sox teams since breaking into the majors.

Jones combines height (6-foot-5) with a strange delivery that seems to taunt hitters with an “I will hold this ball in the sky and smite you with it” motion, yielding an arsenal consisting almost exclusively of a power heater living in the upper-90s and a devastating slider. And as the years have added up, he’s done so to increasingly impressive results. Excluding his lost 2014 season (lost to Tommy John surgery), his cFIP has gone from 97 in 2012 to 75 in both 2013 and 2015, and, finally, 66 in 2016. His DRA- over that same stretch? 99.4, 76.0, 81.8, and 69.9. His WARP last season was 2.2. For comparison’s sake, Aroldis Chapman‘s WARP the past four years have been 2.3, 2.3, 2.1, and 1.6. Every year has seen Jones walk fewer and fewer hitters per nine while maintaining a K/9 over 10. He’s not lighting in a bottle. He’s just lightning.

Other than Quintana, there might not be a more valuable asset the White Sox have on their roster when realistically assessed for trade value. Not only is he an incredibly talented reliever who would be closing on more than a goodly few teams, he’s cheaper than a Hot-N-Ready. His next two seasons cost less than $6 million, combined with club options over the following four seasons for less than the market rate.

And this is a baseball market where one year of Wade Davis can get you Jorge Soler. Where 1.5 years of Zach Duke turn into Charlie Tilson. Half a season of Aroldis Chapman netted a Top 15 prospect (Gleyber Torres), two more prospects, and a swingman. And, of course, 2.5 years of Andrew Miller netted the Nos. 16 and 52 prospects (Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield), as well as another pitching prospect and a reliever. And while he is not on the pedigree level of Chapman and Miller, he costs less and comes with far less baggage. Some lucky team is going to trade for Jones in the near future and the White Sox’s rebuild will benefit very heavily from it.

Lead Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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