An alternative to the White Sox market conundrum

Going into the Winter Meetings, the usual White Sox circles were excited about the potential for another flurry of moves from the front office. However, the Sox had their first and only “major” move take place Wednesday night when they traded for infielder Brett Lawrie.

Looking at the moves the White Sox have made thus far, they really haven’t unveiled a clear strategy to this point. They’ve added Lawrie, a couple catchers in Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro and pulled off a few minor moves for pitching depth. It is important to note that this group of moves has not cemented a course of action for the White Sox this offseason. With that in mind, it’s commonly accepted that the White Sox are “going for it” in 2016 and are looking to add bats. Given the players they are attached to in rumored trade talks, that ideal makes a lot of sense.

That being said, I’ve been given reports that the White Sox have not been particularly happy with the asking prices for some of their desired pieces in the trade market. The team is stuck between a rock and a hard place. While it’s early in the offseason and markets are still far from developed, the team has showed an unwillingness to move top prospects Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer, and for good reason. The team brass would like to add them to their own core rather than another team’s. Regardless, the issue isn’t that the White Sox are unwilling to move their top guys; their issue is that their middle tier of prospects lacks the depth to acquire some established performers they are in pursuit of.

Below is a look at the movement of White Sox prospects ranked among the team’s Top 30 since the start of the 2015 season.

LHP Carlos Rodon
2B Micah Johnson
INF Tyler Saladino
OF Trayce Thompson
2B Carlos Sanchez
LHP Zack Erwin
RHP Myles Jaye
RHP Jeffrey Wendelken
RHP Yency Almonte
RHP Carson Fulmer
1B Corey Zangari
INF Nick Delmonico
RHP Jordan Stephens
LHP Will Lamb

Green = Graduated to MLB team, Red = Moved to another team, 






The organization has seen several players “graduate” from prospect status and move up to the parent club, but the byproduct is the depth of the middle of the system taking a considerable hit. The White Sox have also utilized their mid-level surplus of arms to bring in Lawrie, Tommy Kanhle and Will Lamb which seems like a good strategy given the organizational strength, but still, the moves detract from the heart of the system. Adding the NCAA’s best starting pitcher for the second straight year is a big jolt, but the White Sox have not added any significant pieces outside of Fulmer largely in part to losing their 2nd and 3rd round draft picks in 2015, as well as not making many trades to replace them.

The system has come along way from where it was a half decade ago but is without a doubt trending downward at this point. Trying to build a sustainable winner and fill very apparent holes at the same time can become a serious conflict of interest and it requires the upper-level prospect depth and financial flexibility that Dave Stewart flexed in Arizona the last few weeks. The White Sox may have room for a weighty expense, but their prospect depth and necessity to develop players like Fulmer and Anderson makes it hard to add a headlining bat via trade.

Getting to my greater point, the White Sox are expected to improve the 2016 lineup and use their top flight pitching to fight for a playoff spot in a wide-open American League Central, but what if the “right” moves do not surface? Would the White Sox consider rebuilding for 2017 and beyond? At this point, the prices for established bats on the trade market are too steep considering the risk they come with. Sure, they can move to free agency and bring in the middle-of-the-order bat they yearn for but I am in the minority when I look at that possibility as an option. Writing off a nine-digit expense in free agency as an outside shot (which it would be, as the team has never given out a contract on that scale), what choices remain? What it comes down to is that a rebuild may be the only option other than “standing pat” which may be the worst cast scenario.

The word “rebuild” has always been a touchy one on the South Side for leadership and fans alike. Not only does Jerry Reinsdorf whole-heartedly believe in building a winner annually, the front office is also subject to the fickle nature of the White Sox fan base. While executives Jeff Luhnow and Theo Epstein have popularized an embrace of being utterly terrible to build a winner through draft pool allotments, the White Sox lack the fan base that would wait around for such a grueling process that results in a non-guaranteed chance at winning.

John Hart, the President of Baseball Operations for the Braves, has employed a different type of rebuild. Hart has wheeled and dealed since taking over in Atlanta but he inherited a roster with plenty of commodities like Jayson Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and Andrelton Simmons while also utilizing complimentary pieces to pull off other shrewd moves. Hart’s take on the rebuild, while innovative, is again, not plausible for the White Sox. The roster composition lacks the complimentary pieces or expiring contracts that stimulate such a process.

If the White Sox wanted to rebuild, or “retool”, they would have to act on their own in a less-promoted form. Following the GM Meetings this past November, White Sox beat writer Scott Merkin among others asked Rick Hahn for his “definitive plan” and Hahn said he couldn’t give him one. While fans were upset and up in arms by Williams’ and Hahn’s rhetoric in the media, it could have been very telling. The White Sox are subject to the market in a way other teams are not. They have to keep their options open because of their hamstringing constraints. With that in mind, I look towards a different process the White Sox could start in effort to build past 2016.

The Sox could potentially add a haul of a young talent and eliminate deficiencies by doing the following six things:

1.)  Trade Jose Quintana for the right package

Moving Quintana would be incredibly hard to stomach and would punch a big hole in the rotation. Quintana has accumulated the 9th most fWAR of any pitcher since the start of 2013 so he’d be incredibly hard to replace but he could bring in a gaggle of young players the White Sox could sorely use. Quintana is one of the most cost effective pitchers in MLB and his price would be significant. It would take a team with significant depth on the positional side of things to pique White Sox interests but the return he would necessitate could fill multiple different holes with pre-arbitration players and/or high level prospects.

2.)  Trade David Robertson

When the White Sox signed Robertson to a 4 year, 46 million dollar deal last December, the immediate reaction was that it was a lot to pay for a guy who is only going to throw 60-70 innings for you. That being said, it seems like the White Sox were on the forefront of the relief market. The market has changed completely since and teams are now willing to pay up big time for proven back-end talent. In this scenario, the White Sox sell off Robertson to the teams who missed out on Kimbrel and Giles and are not willing to take on the risk Aroldis Chapman carries. The White Sox would be able to add an interesting piece or two while releasing themselves of a material financial obligation.

3.)  Stay away from compensation-attached free agents

After the compensation-attached free agents signs and the draft order sorts itself out, the White Sox have the potential to have three of the top 45ish draft picks (and the associated pool) given that they don’t sign any compensation-attached free agents. This significant pool will allow the White Sox to bring a bunch of talent to a system that is likely to rank in the lower third of the league. The team would pick early and often as new Scouting Director Nick Hostetler heads the whole draft process for the first time.

4.)  Be active in the international markets

I am speaking towards both the professional and amateur markets. If the White Sox were to scale back the payroll domestically, an international spending spree could help the team create excess value without facing compensation. With professional players, it comes down the scouts. There may not be a player they see translating well to the MLB play. Kenta Maeda and Jose Miguel Fernandez (who won’t be eligible as a free agent for some time) headline the Japanese and Cuban markets respectively.

As far as the July 2 signing period, the incoming class is rumored to be strong. Another added benefit is that there are eleven teams who are not allowed to spend 300K+ on signees due to past spending habits. While these players take several years to develop into MLB players, they have become far more liquid in the trade market with players like Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra and Franklin Barreto recently headlining blockbuster trades. Assets are assets and this recently underutilized avenue offers an exciting avenue to bring in more assets. If there was a time to strike in this market, it would seem to be now.

5.)  Target free agents on one year deals for potential trade pieces in July

One way to augment and expedite a rebuild is to make good on the discretionary expiring contracts you have in July. In this scenario, acquiring upside plays like Steve Pearce or Mat Latos with the intention of flipping them in July is a high upside endeavor. There’s some risk involved, but when scaling back payroll anyways, this type of move becomes much more feasible.

6.) Develop Tim Anderson, Carson Fulmer, Frankie Montas and Erik Johnson

Sure, it’s easier said than done, but having the flexibility to have your young pieces take their growth in stride gives them a smooth trajectory and allows for patience when they struggle. All four guys should start the year in Chicago, Charlotte or perhaps Birmingham for Fulmer. Every one of these players can bring a significant contribution in a short timeframe and a retooling year makes it easier for the development team to help them hone the finishing touches on their game.

This piece was intended to be a mental exercise of what the team could do across the entire organization to gear for 2017, as opposed to 2016. I don’t think it will happen and I am not grandiose enough to think my plan is a bulletproof one. However, it does strike at a greater point: the White Sox are subject to the market environment they are a part of in unique ways. It is disingenuous to think they have plan set in stone; it is feasible to believe there are multiple courses of actions being considered in the offices on 35th Street.

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  • Thanks for this great analysis.

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