The MLB trade deadline is still over a month away, but an anemic offense and inconsistent bullpen have led fans of the first-place Chicago White Sox to frantically search for and discuss potential right field, second base, and/or bullpen targets to stabilize the team until some of its injured stars presumably return. It is certainly a unique situation — the AL Central is not shaping up to be especially competitive, but Chicago’s lack of offensive firepower and reliable high-leverage relievers (aside from Liam Hendriks, of course) make it ill-suited to seriously contend for a World Series, even in spite of a remarkable starting rotation.
The White Sox are already on their way to a strong season, but if they were not one of the teams that has been most decimated by injuries, the trade deadline conversations would focus solely on a right fielder and perhaps a right-handed reliever. Even after the injuries, second base is the only other position that has opened (if one is to assume that Eloy Jimenez will take Yermin Mercedes‘ plate appearances and that Andrew Vaughn will continue to start). Therefore, if the White Sox can just acquire a competent reliever or two, a right fielder, and a second base rental, the trade deadline will likely be a success.
The White Sox do not need a prototypical contender’s “splashy” deadline. The front office, primarily, just needs to rectify some of the mistakes it made in the offseason. For example, as I wrote in February, the team’s lack of power was very predictable. Whether the White Sox acquire a second baseman and/or a right fielder, that player should offer at least average power. The team cannot solely bank on Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert returning and serving as major home run threats. If they do hit the ground running, that would be great, but if they understandably need time to recover from their respective major injuries and perhaps are not their usual selves at the plate, the White Sox need to ensure that they are not entering the playoffs as one of the least powerful teams in all of baseball.
However, it is not just that the White Sox do not need a splashy move, but also that they cannot afford one. We could see some stars on the move in July: Trevor Story, Joey Gallo, and perhaps even Max Scherzer or Ketel Marte among them. But none of these players — particularly Marte, who would be a perfect fit on the White Sox — are easily attainable. Marte’s immense on-field value and his team-friendly contract would necessitate a return far greater than anything the White Sox farm system has to offer (even if Garrett Crochet were in the mix), and the front office (rightfully) should have no interest in moving Michael Kopech, Andrew Vaughn, or any other young MLB talent.
While the front office’s position is difficult, it also will have no excuse for another inactive trade deadline. The White Sox have not had as legitimate of a chance at a deep postseason run in 13 years. The 2022 MLB season is far from a guarantee given the expiring collective bargaining agreement. 40% of the team’s dominant starting rotation is, at least for the time being, not under contract after this season. It would be foolish to simply hope that the White Sox can make noise in the postseason without external additions, as one cannot guarantee that they will even be a lock for the playoffs in future seasons. There is a middle ground between the idea that the White Sox have nothing of value to trade for major pieces and the thought that they must make a drastic win-now move, such as trading Garrett Crochet and a few of their only minor league prospects with notable trade value for yet another contact-only bat like Adam Frazier.
(I feel as if I should elaborate on the above since Frazier has been such a popular trade target on White Sox Twitter: if the White Sox have to trade someone off the MLB roster such as Crochet, I would rather they target a player with more of a track record than Frazier, who is having his first significantly above-average year at the plate, is a mediocre defender at best, and has benefitted from fairly extreme batted ball luck in 2021 [.372 wOBA compared to a .331 xwOBA, for instance]. Given that his trade value is at an all-time high, the Pirates would undoubtedly ask for someone like Crochet — or perhaps a Jared Kelley type of prospect at the very least, which even then, feels like an overpay for what Frazier brings to the table.)
The White Sox, then, can focus on making several minor additions as opposed to one or two bigger splashes. Players such as Eduardo Escobar, Asdrubal Cabrera, or David Peralta would all cost significantly less in prospect capital than any previously mentioned player. While they are all rentals (aside from Peralta, who is a free agent after the 2022 season) with roughly league-average production, they should all be attainable and all fill needs. Peralta is not much of a power hitter for a corner outfielder, but a power hitting Escobar at second base could offset that somewhat.
A couple of potential additions I have not seen discussed as much as I would like are Jonathan Schoop and Kyle Schwarber. Schoop is a second baseman on an expiring contract, and White Sox fans likely know him, given that he plays for the Tigers, or because he has hit 11 home runs against the White Sox in his career, his fourth-highest output against any team. While his second base defense is a bit shaky, Schoop has hit 15 home runs in 2021 and, despite being right-handed, he hits right-handed pitching and left-handed pitching equally well.
Schwarber, on the other hand, is a good fit for the White Sox regardless of the fact that his current hot streak is obviously unsustainable. Whether he plays in left field or serves as a designated hitter, Schwarber, who would also just be a rental for this season, could fit into the lineup with Jimenez at either position and Vaughn shifting to right field. Schwarber’s 21 home runs, 133 wRC+, and penchant for destroying right-handed pitching (a weakness of the White Sox) make him a very good fit for the 2021 White Sox.
Schoop, Schwarber, and the Diamondbacks’ trio are just a few of dozens of realistic trade options for the White Sox. Since these players are mostly rentals or are not flashy enough to require the team’s top prospects, I believe they are both good fits and actually attainable. These players would not cost Crochet types, but rather, the team could deal some of its “blocked” or otherwise expendable prospects such as Jake Burger, Gavin Sheets, Jimmy Lambert, or players with rising stock like Konnor Pilkington or Jason Bilous. As I said earlier, the White Sox just need a few quality hitters to keep the offense afloat, and should they also be power hitters and/or better against right-handed pitching, that would make them even better fits.
Thus, the White Sox should not deal their young MLB talent for a significant short-term upgrade, nor should they stand pat and hope for the best; to me, the choice is clear. If the White Sox want to contend for the World Series in October, they must make a few small trades by the deadline to improve the depth around the team’s stars.
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