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Grading the recent White Sox trades with Seattle and Arizona

by Tim Moran

It hasn’t been the most thrilling offseason for White Sox fans, to say the least. Dylan Cease is still on the team and improvements to the roster have been more characterized by youth than talent. However, this past week brought some excitement to the South Side with a pair of trades. Last Saturday, Chris Getz sent Gregory Santos to the Seattle Mariners and Cristian Mena to the Arizona Diamondbacks in two deals that featured young arms.

Given the rebuilding (re-tooling?) state of the team, 24-year-old Santos and 21-year-old Mena were low on most fans’ radars for being trade candidates. Santos is coming off a breakout season in the majors, and Mena flashed promise across Double-A and Triple-A. Despite this, the White Sox parted ways with both in exchange for two very different returns.

Santos fetched an intriguing pitching prospect, an older outfield prospect, and the 69th pick in June’s draft in return. Here, Getz was thinking long-term, zeroing in on 23-year-old pitcher Prelander Berroa and the draft pick. Mena, meanwhile, was the inverse: Getz appeared to look short-term by getting 26-year-old Dominic Fletcher in exchange for the far younger Mena.

With two varying trades, I have two varying reactions.

Gregory Santos Deal Grade: A

Relievers are volatile. Relievers! Are! Volatile!

As excited as we all were to see Gregory Santos develop the next few years, the fact of the matter is that relief pitchers often have up-and-down careers. One season may be great, the next average or worse. Yes, Santos is still likely to be a solid arm in the majors for years to come. But the risk of variance means that when you can get a return like this for an unproven reliever, you take it.

Courtesy of the ever-detailed Baseball Savant, here’s how Santos ranked percentile-wise across important metrics in 2023:

Clearly, he was impressive all around (ooooh pretty red colors!). But there’s reason for caution in this profile: Santos doesn’t strike a lot of guys out, and his sinker is surprisingly ineffective. He got a ton of outs by inducing weak contact with his fantastic slider. That’s awesome, but it means he’s one-dimensional. If Santos ever loses the feel for the slider or opposing batters improve at preparing for it, he doesn’t have a backup plan. Generally, his ceiling will be limited without a second plus pitch.

Meanwhile, the return is encouraging. Berroa is a Santos spin-off of sorts. He exhibits the same Triple-A control issues that Santos later conquered, yet strikes out far more batters. Here’s a nice breakdown from MLB Pipeline:

“Berroa’s heater sits in the mid-90s and has touched 99-100 mph with arm-side run, and the slider sits at 82-85 mph with a shorter, cutter-like shape. Both generate a ton of whiffs and groundouts. He also had an ineffective changeup that he scrapped after becoming a reliever.

Though Berroa is athletic, he never has provided consistent strikes, averaging five walks per nine innings throughout his career and giving up free passes to three of the eight big leaguers he faced.”

Zach DeLoach doesn’t move the needle much, but could be a nice outfield depth piece for a few years. He gets on base and boasts some pop, registering a .387 OBP and 23 bombs in 138 Triple-A games in 2023, good for an .868 OPS. Given the White Sox roster, he absolutely will compete for corner outfield reps this season.

Finally, there’s the draft pick. Sitting between the second and third rounds, it’s a nice get that rounds out the deal, adding $1 million to the White Sox bonus pool. Santos for Berroa and DeLoach straight-up feels pretty even to me, so this pick elevates the trade to a win for Chicago in my book. Getz had his sights set on the future with this move, and executed well.

Cristian Mena Deal Grade: C

I see what the White Sox were going for. I really do. But unless I’m missing something in Fletcher’s profile, I don’t see the point of trading an older prospect for a younger, higher-ceiling prospect.

Admittedly, Dominic Fletcher could be a quality player in the bigs. But his ceiling feels pretty limited. Across five seasons in the minors, he never hit more than 15 home runs or stole more than 5 bases, a bit of a red flag in a 5’9″ outfielder. The aggregate numbers in Triple-A were adequate, with a 112 wRC+ (.297/.381/.470 slash line) through 167 games. But that rarely translates to being an above-average player offensively in the MLB.

Based only on his short stint in the majors, the defense appears stellar. Unfortunately, his Outs Above Average seems to be a result of a small sample size, as evaluators tend to consider his fielding abilities just decent. His offense with Arizona was also highly misleading in 28 big-league contests. Fletcher compiled a .791 OPS due to a .370 BABIP and a huge over-performance from expected stats based on contact, with a .340 wOBA (weighted on-base average) hiding a .263 xWOBA (expected wOBA).

So without surplus power, speed, or fielding, I have a hard time envisioning Fletcher as a mainstay for the South Siders’ future. He hits the ball hard and gets on base fairly well, so his floor likely earns him a starting spot this season. But he’s not the high-upside type of guy I’d look for to shape the Sox’s future.

On the flip side, Cristian Mena hasn’t been spotless in the minor leagues. The 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic has never finished a campaign with an ERA below 3.80 and has struggled to locate the ball in Double-A and Triple-A.

Still, with his impressive strikeout numbers (10.81 career K/9) and evident development at such a young age, I’d like to hang on to Mena. Many scouts note his fluid delivery, indicating that the control issues could very well be reined in. If that happens, Mena profiles as an effective #3 or #4 starter for a major league ballclub.

The only reason I’m grading this trade as a C and not lower is because I have faith in Brian Bannister to analyze arms. Employed as the new White Sox senior pitching advisor, Bannister was beloved by Giants pitchers and even labeled a “miracle worker”. That seems a bit hyperbolic, but the man appears to know ball.

Bannister most likely saw something negative in Mena that gave him the guts to green-light a trade. So I won’t completely lambast Getz and Co. for this one, as it very well could end up being a small victory of a deal in the long run. I just can’t embrace the general idea of swapping young upside for older depth.

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Featured Image: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

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