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Analyzing the Aaron Bummer trade by the White Sox

by Jordan Lazowski

Late last night, the White Sox made their first major transaction of the offseason, trading Aaron Bummer to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for five players: RHP Mike Soroka, LHP Jared Shuster, INF Braden Shewmake, INF Nicky Lopez, and RHP Riley Gowens.

Given that Bummer pitched to a mid-6.00 ERA in 2023, the general fan reaction has involved talking about the “haul” the White Sox received in this trade or just pure happiness that he will no longer be on the team. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, most of the reactions come from a dislike of Bummer rather than a true analysis of what happened in this trade.

In case you’re not on Twitter, about 85% of people have graded this trade as an A/B.

So, who did the White Sox receive in return for Aaron Bummer, and why did the Braves trade these five players to the White Sox? What could the Braves possibly see in Bummer? We will get to all of this and more below.

Let’s start with this: it made all the sense in the world for the White Sox to trade Aaron Bummer, and does signal the direction of the team moving into 2024. Essentially, in making this trade, Chris Getz has admitted that this team is in no position to compete this season, and as a result, doesn’t need a relief pitcher with years of control on a contract. Whether rebuilding or retooling, relievers of any sort of value are the first players to go.

Once that decision is made, the question then becomes: do the White Sox wait until the trade deadline, see if Bummer bounces back, and then trade him when he has a bit more value, or do they trade him for whatever they can get at this time? In this case – and frankly, in alignment with how Getz has attacked this offseason – he chose the latter, opting to turn over the roster as quickly as possible. Perhaps the thing that’s been most clear about the White Sox is how much Getz seemed to have disagreed with Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn in their roster construction strategy, given that he has had no problem cutting ties wherever possible with members of the previous regime.

So, the logic behind the trade makes sense. But, how is the return?

Typically, the days of 5-for-1 quantity-over-quality trades are long gone, with teams preferring to target quality of returns rather than quantity. Trades of these sorts are not exactly uncommon at this time of year, however, with teams facing the Non-Tender Deadline today and 40-man roster crunches becoming more prevalent as free agency truly gets underway in the coming weeks.

Simply put, teams would rather try and trade guys that they are planning to cut to see if they can get something for them before letting them go for free. With this trade, the Braves did exactly that, clearing their 40-man crunch by opening up three spots, while the White Sox have filled their 40-man roster currently and will need to make some cuts before making any free agent transactions. The Braves just happened to get a little more than something.

But, who are the players the White Sox received?

We’ll start with Mike Soroka, who is the most experienced player of the bunch. Soroka made his major league debut in 2018 as a 20-year-old, posting a 3.51 ERA in 25.2 innings of work. He broke out in 2019, posting a 2.68 ERA in 174.2 innings. From there, multiple Achilles injuries forced him to miss most of the 2020 season and all of the 2021-2022 seasons. He returned healthy in 2023, only to post a 6.40 ERA in 32.1 innings before being shut down with forearm soreness – never a great sign for pitchers. He posted the highest fastball velocity of his career, however, at 93.1 mph, so the stuff – while never overwhelming – may have returned from his best days.

With just one year remaining on his contract, the White Sox likely view him similarly to how they viewed Lucas Giolito as the Trade Deadline neared this past year: someone who the team can flip to acquire some sort of value if Ethan Katz and Brian Bannister can help unlock some of his better stuff. However, he only threw 110 innings last season – most of them in the minor leagues – and hadn’t thrown that many since his 174.2 innings in 2019. If the forearm soreness proves to be anything worth monitoring, his innings number will probably remain low.

Next up is Jared Shuster, a former first-round pick back in 2020 by the Braves. He started his career off strong, posting a 2.78 ERA and 30 K% in Double-A as a 23-year-old in 2022. However, since being promoted to Triple-A that same season, his strikeout rate has declined sharply, and with it, his ERA has been on the rise.

Advancing talent levels and a review of the quality of his stuff can help explain this, however. Take a look at his Stuff+ metrics from his brief stint in the majors this season, where 100 is an average-ranking pitch and above 100 is above average:

2023 Stuff+597561

He possesses the Ethan Katz-preferred Fastball/Slider combination that has worked well with Carlos Rodon, Dylan Cease, and Lucas Giolito but doesn’t possess the same quality of stuff as those three names. He’s a changeup-oriented back-of-the-rotation starter who doesn’t have an above-average pitch at current. He’s an intriguing name, but at current, serves only as back-end starter competition with the likes of Nick Nastrini, Garrett Crochet, Touki Toussaint, and a returning Davis Martin.

Nicky Lopez is the Naperville name most White Sox fans are familiar with. He brings a glove that is among the best in baseball (+57 OAA since 2019; T-3rd in MLB) and can play all three infield positions at a high level. The problem has always been his bat, posting a wRC+ above 100 just once in his career (104 in 2021) in a BABIP-fueled campaign (.347 in 2021 compared to a career .292). He hit .231/.326/.307 with the Royals and Braves last season, and while his glove is insanely valuable, the Braves determined the $4M he would be estimated to make in arbitration wasn’t worth it for the team. Instead, the White Sox can use his defense in a middle infield that is certainly lacking defensively.

Shewmake is incredibly similar to Lopez in that he is a glove-first player. Another former first-round Braves draft pick, Shewmake hasn’t posted a wRC+ above 90 since he was a 21-year-old in Low-A in his first professional season. However, he only made five errors in 510.2 innings at shortstop last season in Triple-A for the Braves, so the White Sox likely view him as a nice depth piece that is strong up the middle.

Finally, we get to Riley Gowens, a ninth-round drafted pick out of college last year. He showed good stuff in a brief stint last year between the Complex League and Low-A, but he was also a 23-year-old competing at those levels. He is a throw-in in this trade with the hope that he can rise quickly through the system and perhaps be a bullpen arm that the White Sox develop.

So, the idea that the White Sox got a “haul” for Aaron Bummer is very incorrect. The narrative has been around the fact that the team received FIVE players in return without stopping to check in on the quality of the return.

One word can be used to describe how the Braves felt about these players: expendable. This trade didn’t hurt the Braves, even if Aaron Bummer cannot regain his best form. Soroka and Lopez would’ve been free agents today with the Non-Tender Deadline, as according to those with the Braves, the team was looking to trade them before having to release them. Shuster’s struggles since mid-2022 caused him to fall down the Braves depth chart, while Shewmake’s development stalled post-COVID, turning him into a defense-only player.

Player2023 fWAR
Nicky Lopez1.1
Braden Shewmake-0.2
Jared Shuster0.1
Mike Soroka-0.4

There may be five names in the return for the White Sox, but this package is all about what they do with two of them: Soroka and Shuster. In an ideal world, Soroka regains his former glory days and can be traded at this year’s deadline. With Shuster, recapturing his strikeout ability would go a long way in helping him reach his potential as a mid-to-back-of-the-rotation arm. Nicky Lopez will arguably headline this trade when it’s all said and done, as his defense has the ability to provide the most value of this group – and it certainly did in 2023. I want you to read that sentence again and really digest it.

But, the Braves could have likely done this with quite a few teams. Why did they choose Aaron Bummer?

On the other side of this trade are the Braves. These are the types of transactions that Atlanta makes all of the time, and it’s part of what makes them such a great team. Here’s an example: last year at the Trade Deadline, the Braves acquired RHP Pierce Johnson from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for prospects Victor Vodnik and Tanner Gordon. Here are the immediate results of that trade:

  • Johnson (w/ COL): 39.0 IP, 6.00 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 30.9 K%, 13.3 BB%
  • Johnson (w/ ATL): 23.2 IP, 0.76 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 36.0 K%, 5.6 BB%

Meanwhile, Vodnik got a cup of coffee in the majors to the tune of a 10+ ERA, while Gordon is a 26-year-old who still hasn’t cracked the big-league level.

What did the Braves see? Johnson’s pure stuff – while understanding there’s more than just on-field results on a bad team while evaluating a player.

Pitch2023 Stuff+

Perhaps as no surprise, Johnson threw his best pitch – his curveball – over 70% of the time with the Braves, while only 50% of the time with the Rockies. In looking at it, it appears as though the Braves traded a couple of expendable players with low ceilings for someone with good stuff and bounce-back potential.

Sounds a bit familiar, no?

Now, the Braves will certainly have their work cut out with “fixing” Aaron Bummer. His sinker has lost its effectiveness as he’s dropped his arm slot over the years, so there will certainly be some off-season work that the team takes on. But, considering what they did just a few months ago with Johnson, the Braves likely feel very confident they can return Bummer to his days of being one of the best relievers in baseball – and he certainly was one at one point.

4-Seam Fastball94

Do you see what the Braves see? I do.

Whether you want to agree or not, Aaron Bummer before 2023 was one of the best relievers in baseball. From 2019-2022, there were just four relievers in baseball with 160+ IP, an ERA at or below 2.60, a FIP at or below 3.15, and a strikeout rate at or above 25%:

  1. Liam Hendriks
  2. Ryan Pressly
  3. Aaron Bummer
  4. Emmanuel Clase

As such, the idea that it would be worth holding onto Bummer until this trade deadline and then moving him isn’t exactly a crazy one. But, with moves such as not picking up Tim Anderson’s option, accountability and not waiting for “bounce backs” for underperforming players isn’t crazy either. As such, Getz has stayed true to his initial plans for reshaping this team.

This trade does help address the White Sox’s perceived “depth” issue, but in looking at this roster, the White Sox are now in the opposite place that they were as their previous contention window began. They had high-level talent, but not enough depth to support them. Now, they have the depth without any high-level talent – and as proven by this trade, one is far more difficult to acquire than the other. In short, this trade would’ve been far more helpful from 2020-2023 than it will be in 2024.

To circle back to the poll at the beginning: in order for this trade to be an “A” for the White Sox, Mike Soroka and Jared Shuster would have to play major roles for the club in 2024, and Nicky Lopez would have to hit a little bit more while still providing the same level of defense. It gets a “B” if one of those two pitchers works out in addition to Lopez. It gets a “C” at current because the level of value acquired by the White Sox is not clear.

Overall, this trade is not *bad* in any sense of the word. It’s fine, and if you squint hard enough, you can see where the White Sox get positive value out of it. But just looking at it in terms of “wow they got five guys for Bummer” ignores the quality of the players included. The general fan reaction thus far of trading Bummer is “addition by subtraction” or that “it just wasn’t working out here” for Bummer ignore the root of the problem: why didn’t it work? But, that is a question for another day – and it says a lot more about the team than any trade of any player ever will.

For now, this move serves as some roster filler of waiver-level players who also happen to fit the model that Getz and the staff are clearly creating. Hitting Coach Marcus Thames – who preached a power-heavy approach that did work in Los Angeles – came in and instead discussed situational hitting, bunting, and hit and runs as being a big part of the White Sox’ ideal 2024 offense. In addition, Chris Getz has harped about improving the club’s defense since the day he got the job.

To spell it out clearly: the White Sox are building a model like that of the Kansas City Royals, where defense and just enough offense rule the day. Additional transactions this offseason are likely to continue to reflect that model.

For everyone’s sake, let’s hope it’s the 2014-2015 Royals model and not the 2021-2022 one.

Follow us @SoxOn35th for more throughout the offseason!

Featured Image: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

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This was a salary dump by the Sox (Reinsdorf wants to cut payroll). The end result was Getz got to dumpster dive in a garbage bin to fill many holes in one shot.

If this was another organization such as the D-Backs, Minnesota or Tampa… teams that know how to develop and that have sold athletic training staff’s… then this would be a solid trade.

But since this White Sox, where baseball comes to die. None of the five will amount to spit. Again, Sox record at player development speaks for itself (even with the new comers!). And, we all know how terrible the current training staff is at this juncture.

If I was one of these five players… I would inform the Sox it would be in there best interest to trade or release me. Under the current conditions, I would not want to be a player in this organization. I would be looking for an escape hatch… even if that meant working at Wal-Mart or as an Uber driver.

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