About 11:00 yesterday morning, I started writing an article breaking down the Lance Lynn trade. I got about halfway through it before the White Sox so rudely interrupted me and made another move, this time signing Adam Eaton. Per usual, White Sox Twitter had their disagreements all day, and I read them over, took them in, and then decided it was time to sit down and write my breakdown article.
At a high level, I’m not in love with the results over the past two days. However, I’m not nearly as upset with them as most people are either. Go figure, as this is exactly how I end up getting tweets like this:
Anywho, let’s take a deeper look at the moves the White Sox have made, move past just the instant reactions, and really break down what happened here.
White Sox Acquire Lance Lynn
It’s happened for the first time of the rebuild: the White Sox traded a prospect for a proven MLB player. We as fans are used to be on the other side of this – things have obviously changed.
In case you missed it, the White Sox acquired Lance Lynn Monday night in exchange for Dane Dunning and Avery Weems. With this move, the White Sox have given themselves a formidable top 3 in the rotation with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance Lynn. In return, the Rangers have put themselves in a position to really begin their rebuild, as their “Big 3” of Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, and Corey Kluber from last year all appear to be gone this year.
What the White Sox Get in Lynn
Lance Lynn, even at the age of 34 next season, is a front-of-the-rotation arm. He’s finished Top 10 in Cy Young voting two years in a row and features a five-pitch mix: 4-Seam Fastball (49.9%), Cutter (22.1%), Sinker (18%), Curveball (8.9%), and Changeup (1.1%). He throws all of them with pretty quality accuracy, with a 25.6% K-rate and an 8.3% BB-rate over the past three seasons. This has led to Lynn accumulating the eight-most pitcher WAR in baseball since 2018 to go along with a 3.57 FIP, .296 xWOBA, and this 2020 BaseballSavant scorecard:
On top of having solid numbers and solid peripherals, Lynn is also one of the true workhorses left in the majors. Before the shortened season in 2020, Lynn made at least 31 appearances in every season since 2012, passing 175 IP every season except one. Lynn provides true reliability every fifth day on the mound – you know what you are going to get every time out. No matter what way you spin the metrics, Lynn has been a top 20 starter in this league over the past three seasons.
The risks, however, are obvious: Lynn will be 34 next season and is only signed for one year. However, there’s a lot of reporting going on, and a lot of it says the same thing: Lynn would be open to signing an extension with the team. This makes it easier to stomach the move, especially considering that there aren’t any immediate signs that Lance Lynn will be slowing down. Two additional years of Lynn after 2021 wouldn’t be a bad thing.
It’s pretty simple at the end of the day: Lynn is a workhorse and a guaranteed top 3 member of the rotation. He gives the White Sox the flexibility to develop Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease without relying on them to lead the rotation this year. Lynn also brings some Postseason experience with him, meaning all three of the top arms in the rotation have some sort of Postseason experience.
What the White Sox Lose in Dunning/Weems
Yes, giving up Dane Dunning hurts. I said as much in a tweet yesterday – I truthfully never thought it would take more than Stiever to acquire Lynn. However, I certainly learned something about the market for pitchers this year. With so few top arms available on the free-agent market, the cost to acquire a starting pitcher via trade naturally inflates. That’s exactly what happened here in my opinion.
Let’s talk about Dunning though, who, to his credit, has been a Top 100 prospect. The dude is a good pitcher, he has solid stuff. But, a lot of people got mad at me when I said Dane Dunning profiled as a “pitch-to-contact” #4 pitcher. Here’s what I meant by that – which I couldn’t explain due to TWITTER’S DANG CHARACTER LIMIT.
Dunning is primarily a sinkerball pitcher. Pitchers who throw a sinker aren’t going to strike out a ton of hitters, especially when they throw 92 mph as Dunning does. That puts more pressure on the defense and on, eventually, batted ball outcome luck. This is something Dunning actually had a lot of this season, both good and bad. The wOBA on his sinker in 2020 was .223, which is fantastic. HOWEVER, the xwOBA on his sinker was .335 – not so fantastic. Conversely, the wOBA on his fastball was .439, while the xwOBA was .341. It all balanced out, but what it balanced out too was a pretty below-average expected performance with his hard stuff. Overall, his offspeed stuff is filthy and is no doubt one of the big reasons he was so attractive to Texas. However, there’s some work to be done on his primary pitches.
As Dunning has jumped levels, he’s seen the strikeout rate slowly decrease while the walk rate slowly increases. This, while typical, speaks more to the profile of a sinkerball pitcher. He will probably strike out hitters at around a league-average rate during his career, but it will be important for him to avoid hard contact. He doesn’t have the pure “stuff” to get away with mistakes.
Game 3 of the AL Wild Card worried me after watching Game 2. Dallas Keuchel and Dane Dunning profile very similarly: both need to hit their spots to be dominant starters. Good teams – teams with patient, experienced hitters – will not only hit your mistakes but will be patient enough to make you make some. This is why I feared Dunning’s start could look a lot like Keuchel’s – and though we didn’t get to see more than a couple of batters, things were trending in the wrong direction. Dunning doesn’t have the pure “stuff” to blow fastballs by hitters or drop wicked curveballs. This limits his upside and places him in a camp of a back of the rotation starter. He will likely have a very good career in that role. However, the Sox needed more than that guaranteed in 2021.
This doesn’t even factor in that Dunning was just coming off of Tommy John Surgery in 2020. He’s going to be on an inning limit in 2021. When the White Sox will already have Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease on innings limits, someone has to pitch.
As for Weems, I don’t have much on him. I do know a few things: he was a $10K signing out of college, and he apparently performed incredibly well in instructional leagues. This second part is important because it was reported that Weems was an important part of getting this deal done. I’ve spoken for a while about the improved player development system for the White Sox, and I believe this is yet another example of how Chris Getz, Everett Teaford, Matt Zaleski, and the rest of the player development team have transformed the White Sox’ PD department. This is the type of stuff good teams are able to do, and I’m excited to see the White Sox turning a $10K signing into someone teams covet.
The Verdict: I Like It
I like the move. You have to give something good to get something good. Lynn provides the White Sox the necessary stability at the top of the rotation to allow Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease to develop throughout the season. This likely isn’t the last pitcher the White Sox add either – with Kopech and, likely, Cease, on innings limits, the White Sox could use another arm (the most widely rumored one is Jose Quintana).
“The Sox gave up six years of control on Dunning for one of Lynn!!” – Years of control are an interesting concept because they guarantee control (obviously) but don’t guarantee performance. There’s no guarantee that the Dane Dunning we saw across 7 starts in 2020 is remotely similar to the version that Texas is getting in 2021 and beyond. Texas loves their sinkerballers, but are notoriously bad at player development. Dunning isn’t a finished product yet, and the Sox needed one with the window opening this year. You have to take some calculated risks; we can’t be scared as fans of making trades because of the Tatis deal a few years back. Operating out of fear is riskier than you think, as I spoke about with Chris Lanuti on the Sox in the Basement Podcast recently.
“Well why didn’t the Sox just sign Bauer?!?” – we’ve been over this one time and time again. Most of the articles you’ll read on this trade today and yesterday will evaluate it the same way: we evaluate given that spending often is at a minimum. Doesn’t mean we like it, but doesn’t mean we are all going to sit here and complain about it. That doesn’t advance your knowledge or mine.
At the end of the day, Game 3 of the ALDS just got a lot more certain. With Giolito, Lynn, and Keuchel leading the charge, the White Sox will allow Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, and a free agent starter to fill the rest of the gaps. There’s still depth too in the immediate form of Jonathan Stiever (if necessary) and Garrett Crochet, along with any additional minor league depth the team signs.
Long story short, this move made the White Sox better in 2021. That’s what we all want.
White Sox Sign Adam Eaton
Let’s just get this out of the way first: I didn’t hate this trade as much as most people. There was a visceral reaction to this trade that I just genuinely did not understand – well, I understand it, I guess I just don’t agree with it.
In case you missed it, Adam Eaton signed a one year, $7M deal with the team with a club option for 2022. All indications are that he will be the starting RF in 2021.
Let’s start with what everyone pretty much unanimously decided was important in RF: someone who can hit RHP. Eaton certainly fits this mold, having a career 119 wRC+ and a .286/.365/.436 (.801 OPS) slash line against RHP. The White Sox haven’t gotten that sort of production out of right field since… Adam Eaton. On the chance that Adam Engel isn’t the same hitter against LHP as he was in 2020, Eaton’s career slash line against LHP is less vomit-inducing than most LH options: .272/.344/.351 (.695 OPS) and a 93 wRC+.
Eaton hasn’t been the same defender he was in 2016 with the White Sox and has really been all over the place in terms of defensive value. In 2018, he was worth -6 OAA in RF with Michael A. Taylor as the primary CF. In 2019, he was worth 2 OAA in RF with Victor Robles as the primary CF. Robles is among the best CF in the game, so it makes sense that Eaton’s defense improved with a better CF (Luis Robert, anyone?).
While not incredibly attractive, his StatCast scorecard points out an important part of the game that he adds to the White Sox.
Only five teams in baseball struck out at a higher rate than the White Sox: Tigers, Rays, Brewers, Cubs, and Rangers. HOWEVER, three of these teams also walked more than 10% of the time. The White Sox were 23rd in walk rate in 2020, the worst for any playoff team by a pretty wide margin. With a career strikeout rate of just 18.3% and a career walk rate of 8.9%, Eaton would go a long way in helping balance out the bottom of the lineup and turn the lineup over to the stars at the top.
The risk is obvious, much like with Lynn. Eaton has had one healthy season in his four years with the Nationals, playing anywhere from 23-151 games in his time with the team. If the White Sox don’t have a plan behind Eaton in case he gets hurt for a significant period of time, we could be clamoring for the return of Nomar Mazara more quickly than you would think. Eaton also stunk in 2020, battling injuries along the way. I tend to put less weight on a player’s 2020 performance because of the uniqueness of the season, as well as the fact that Eaton’s 2020 BABIP of .260 is a far cry from his career .332 BABIP. Basically, it appears health and luck both played some role. Still, the fact is it wasn’t a great season, so it’s obviously a risk to bring him in.
There’s also the fact that Eaton doesn’t appear to be very well-liked. We all know how he chose the wrong side of the clubhouse in 2016, calling Drake LaRoche a “team leader” during THAT saga. Once Eaton’s signing was floated out there to Sox fans, most were pretty unhappy about adding his personality to the team. In response, I have a couple of things:
1) It was reported that the White Sox talked to players about the addition of Eaton. Per James Fegan’s article, here’s what they had to say:
“A source indicates that White Sox clubhouse leaders, including those who played with Eaton in 2016, were consulted on how they felt about the potential fit. The response was that they believe their culture is strong enough to incorporate any new addition. Additionally, some of the same Sox personnel who dealt with Eaton previously felt he would nevertheless be a strong addition going forward, and that focusing on the past is not productive. A top Sox player who was not around for 2016 told The Athletic he was completely unconcerned about any negative stories, affirming the same sentiment about the clubhouse culture, and pointing to Eaton’s championship experience as a positive addition.“– From James Fegan’s The Athletic article
2) If you don’t have a subscription to The Athletic and can’t read the rest of that article, Scot Gregor also had an interesting article about Eaton’s growth since his time in Chicago.
Had a long talk with Adam Eaton when he was in town with Nats in 2019. He said: "I've changed a lot." https://t.co/BUioZOdjCG— Scot Gregor (@scotgregor) December 8, 2020
3) James Fox also had an interesting report on Eaton earlier. He had this to say on Twitter:
Someone told me after the season that Kenny Williams wanted to add an edge to the 2021 club. That's it. That's the whole tweet. #WhiteSox— James Fox (@JamesFox917) December 8, 2020
Well, adding Adam Eaton will certainly do that! And, honestly, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. Winning cures everything, ask fan-favorite and noted “unpopular player” A.J. Pierzynski.
Overall, I have less of a problem with Eaton in the clubhouse than most because I don’t have to play with the guy. Playing with an edge is a good thing, and it appears the clubhouse isn’t nearly as concerned about the addition of Eaton’s personality as the fans are. For that reason, I want to keep my evaluation of Eaton to an on-the-field level.
Let’s also discuss this quote from Bob Nightengale about Michael Brantley that many people feel explains the Eaton signing:
“If truth be told, they would have preferred to have Michael Brantley, the Houston Astros’ free agent. Yet, he didn’t fit their budget, leaving Eaton, who departed the White Sox during the 2016 winter meetings with ace Chris Sale when the White Sox began their fire sale.“– Bob Nightengale on the Sox signing Eaton
Besides the fact that I didn’t want Michael Brantley in the first place (that’s a story for a different article), I didn’t take this to mean, “The White Sox are out of money.” I took it to mean, “Brantley’s market is more expensive than what the White Sox were willing to pay.” The first of those is not good. The second is understandable. Just because a player wants something doesn’t mean they HAVE to pay him his price, nor does it mean he’s worth that price. Now, inevitably, the White Sox will make a move this offseason that signals that they were out of money, but I don’t think it was this one. That’s just a small side point. Let’s get into the verdict.
Verdict: Insert Larry David “Eh” Gif
Overall, it’s an uninspiring move. I do like Eaton as a player though, and if healthy, he’s what this lineup needs for balance. Eaton isn’t as bad as he was in 2020, but I’m not sure how healthy he will be. Hopefully, the White Sox make some sort of signing that signals a backup plan for Eaton because he has had one fully healthy season since leaving Chicago before the 2017 season. When he’s healthy though, it’s a pretty fantastic lineup (once Vaughn is brought up):
1) Anderson, SS
2) Moncada, 3B
3) Grandal, C
4) Abreu, 1B
5) Jimenez, LF
6) Robert, CF
7) Vaughn, DH
8) Eaton, RF
9) Madrigal, 2B
The bottom of the lineup, ideally, sets up the top of the lineup pretty well. There’s a lot of balance here, something I think most fans can appreciate.
Overall though, I don’t really get the timing of it. Every time the White Sox sign a player in RF, it’s some sort of short-term deal that patches the hole rather than really fixing it. Let’s say Eaton is decent enough in 2021. He fills a hole but doesn’t impress, and the Sox don’t pick up his option for 2022. Now, what happens? They enter the offseason with the same hole they’ve had for 3-4 years now. I don’t know the long-term plan in RF, and with each passing year, I’m still waiting to see it.
On the flip side, with the Lynn deal, the reasoning for the short-term move is clear: even if he’s just a one-year deal, Kopech/Cease/others likely step up and fill the top of the rotation roles. The same can’t be said for the White Sox’ OF long-term. I’m not up in arms over this move, but I would’ve preferred something closer to long-term. If the Sox were determined to make a short-term move, there are other options I would’ve preferred.
As we grow closer to January 15th – the international signing period – I feel we might get the long-term answer in Oscar Colas. With what I’ve heard and read, it appears inevitable that he finds his way into the White Sox’ farm system early next year. However, he’s a couple of years away from the majors. I don’t know, I just personally want a long-term solution to be a bit clearer. Perhaps that clarity comes on January 15th though.
I do understand the appeal of Adam Eaton and the makeup of the ballplayer he is. I certainly don’t think he sucks. I also understand the fear that he’s on the wrong side of 30 and it will only go downhill from here. However, I hope White Sox fans will be pleasantly surprised with his play in 2021, but that all depends on whether or not he stays healthy. At the end of the day, for now, it gets an “eh” from me.
At the End of the Day, Ask me on Opening Day
Here’s an important thing to remember: each of these moves isn’t made in a vacuum. Sure, we all evaluate them in a vacuum, but that’s not how this works. How I feel about the Adam Eaton signing today might drastically change by Opening Day. By then, we will know what other moves the White Sox have made around the rest of the team – perhaps signing a big name closer or adding another bat off the bench. The only ones who know what the final product is meant to look like are in the front office.
It comes down to an allocation of limited (emphasis on limited) resources. From Rick Hahn’s perspective, if he’s given $35M to spend towards the 2021 payroll, it’s not necessarily fruitful to spend all those resources on a RF for a lineup that already led the AL in hitting last year. Now, of course, I would want him to go sign Springer, but I understand why he wouldn’t because of the importance of allocating resources to the pitching staff. Lynn, a closer, and another SP would be an excellent allocation, and it would make the reasoning behind the Eaton deal much clearer.
For now, I hope I’ve been able to help you see both sides of the deals, no matter which side you ultimately fall on. I think there’s potential for both deals to have plenty of positives or negatives. Until the games are played out though, it’s all speculation. It’s only December 9th, and even if these two moves weren’t your favorite, there’s no doubt that the White Sox are better than they were before they were made. That’s what we’ve been asking for
Either way, my message for Rick Hahn and Company is the same: Don’t Stop Now, Boys.
Thoughts? Comments? Let me know below or on Twitter! @jlazowski14
Featured Photo: Bleacher Report MLB (@BR_MLB) and NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSChicago) / Twitter