The White Sox hold the keys to breaking open this year’s pitching trade market, and those keys are named Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
The team that plays on the south side of Chicago has completely tailed off. After starting the year off 23-10, the Sox have gone 23-40 en route to a 46-50 record with the tough reality of a wasted season staring them in the face. For GM Rick Hahn, the decision to be sellers may already have been decided.
Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball reported yesterday that the team is taking calls on both Sale and Quintana, perhaps officially signaling that the white flag has been hoisted over U.S. Cellular Field.
How realistic is it to expect a major deal? Well, it’s fair to assume that the White Sox will be selling. According to Fangraphs’ 2016 Playoff Odds, the South Siders have only a 2.1 percent chance of playing in October. Hahn recently said his team is “mired in mediocrity”. Mediocrity is not going to get past the Indians, Orioles, Blue Jays, or Astros for a postseason slot.
What the White Sox do in the next eight days leading up to the trade deadline will have a major impact on multiple franchises for years to come. With some of their players clearly appealing to other teams in a market devoid of premier talent, one can assume that the team can acquire a king’s ransom in exchange for either Sale or Quintana.
With the current state of the starting pitching market, both Sale and Quintana may be at their peak in terms of trade value if made available. Currently, 36-year-old Rich Hill headlines the market. Hill has a history of injury problems that continue to plague him today, the most recent of which cost him his last start after only five pitches.
In Sale and Quintana, teams can bid over two ace-level pitchers with relatively clean health bills.
On Friday morning’s edition of MLB Central on MLB Network, Mark DeRosa suggested a blockbuster deal that was at the very least thought-provoking. His deal proposed that the White Sox move Chris Sale and Adam Eaton to the Nationals for #1 overall pitching prospect on MLB.com Lucas Giolito, starter Joe Ross, infielder Trea Turner, and top outfield prospect Victor Robles.
DeRosa’s argument centered on the notion that the White Sox have consistently struggled because they don’t have a strong core of players up the middle. Their catching situation has been in flux since AJ Pierzynski departed. Adam Eaton was moved out of center field in favor of the mediocre Austin Jackson. Brett Lawrie is an average third baseman playing out of position at second base. Only shortstop seems to have a long-term solution with top prospect Tim Anderson performing well, but he’s been a big leaguer for only six weeks.
In this trade, the White Sox would have solved that perceived problem. While the price the Nationals are paying in this deal may be too much, the framework makes a good amount of sense. I agree a lot with what DeRosa pointed out, but for different reasons.
In 2014, the White Sox overperformed. Very few people thought that they would be in contention for as long as they were that season, as their roster was top heavy and lacked depth. While they won only 73 games, Rich Hahn used the following offseason to make a premature run at the division. The team acquired starter Jeff Samardzija and signed short-term free agents like Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, and Zach Duke. The team ended up having too many holes to overcome with a few free agents, and the team won only 76 games in 2015.
The team then followed that up with more short-term fixes. Trades to bring in Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie have not given the team the push it needed. While other players like Jose Abreu have severely underperformed, the team still has too many holes. These holes include two starting caliber outfielders, a catcher, and bullpen and rotation depth. The list is long, daunting, and cannot be fixed in free agency.
The White Sox need to make sustainable changes. In the current market, Sale and Quintana could bring back massive hauls similar to what DeRosa mentioned on MLB Central. Just for fun, let’s see where the Sox would be if that deal went through.
In the rotation, the White Sox could insert a potential ace and a 3-win pitcher all in one move. Their 2017 rotation could shake out to be:
Jose Quintana – 5 fWAR average since 2015
Joe Ross – 1.7 fWAR in 16 starts in 2016
Carlos Rodon – 3.3 fWAR in 239 IP between 2015 and ‘16
James Shields – Was good once
Lucas Giolito - #1 overall prospect on MLB.com
Projecting that Quintana continues to produce 5 fWAR in 2017, Ross and Rodon produce 3 fWAR each, that rotation already puts up a sturdy 11 fWAR without any contribution from Shields, Giolito, or anyone else the White Sox put out there.
Up the middle, the team would have a foundation for years to come at shortstop and second base. The double play combo of Tim Anderson and Trea Turner is fast, can hit, and is under control for six years each.
The White Sox should be focusing on creating organic change through cost-controlled young talent. While the DeRosa trade proposal is a hypothetical, it demonstrates the extreme value both Sale and Quintana have in this market. If the Sox decided to keep Sale and trade Quintana, is it out of the question for the Rangers to give up top prospects Lewis Brinson (#13 overall on MLB.com) and Joey Gallo (#7 Overall) for Quintana? What about a package constructed around Rafael Devers (#14 Overall) from the Red Sox?
It may be a tough pill to swallow, but it may be the pill that ends up pushing the White Sox into contention in a league where mediocrity just won’t cut it.
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Ronnie Socash is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at@RJSocash.