Recently, I wrote about how I think the White Sox should approach the trade deadline. Aside from a quick paragraph, I only mentioned players that I do want the team to pursue. With trade rumors and chatter among fans growing, I wanted to write in more depth about two players in particular that I do not want the White Sox to acquire, despite their availability and respective positional fits.
First, I’ll start with Charlie Blackmon. The veteran Rockies outfielder is a four-time all-star, two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and primarily plays right field. On paper, he would seem like a good fit for the White Sox, who just designated their primary right fielder for assignment. But Blackmon’s hefty contract, declining defense, and iffy performance at the plate should provoke extreme hesitation.
Charlie Blackmon is not a bad player, which by nature makes him better than any regular right fielder the White Sox have had over the past several years. He is, however, not particularly good at this point in his career, and his contract situation is nightmarish, particularly for a team like the White Sox that does not spend significant money on free agents.
Blackmon makes $21 million this year, and after the season, he has two player options. He can opt-in to the deal for the 2022 season and again make $21 million. If he does so, he has a similar choice a year later: he can opt-in to the deal for the 2023 season and make somewhere between $10 and $18 million (the exact figure will be determined by his performance in recent seasons).
Blackmon would certainly not make anywhere near $21 million in 2022 if he were to opt-out of the deal and test the market, so for the purposes of this article, we can assume that any team that acquires Blackmon will owe him whatever remains of his deal in 2021, $21 million in 2022, and $10 to $18 million in 2023. The Rockies could (and probably will have to) pay some of his remaining money to the team acquiring him, but this would only increase the prospect cost, which makes a potential acquisition even more dangerous.
My other concerns with Blackmon do not require much statistical analysis or many justifications, because they’re fairly obvious. He has not hit for power since 2019, which was also the last season in which he performed above league-average offensively (his wRC+, which averaged 124 between 2015-2019, plummeted to 97 in 2020 and 91 in 2021). Despite decent performance in a small sample in 2020, his defense has also deteriorated with age, and on a White Sox roster that already has a few too many designated hitter types, the idea of a thirty-seven-year-old Blackmon patrolling right field in 2023 does not inspire much confidence. And, perhaps most importantly, his contract situation outlined previously would prevent the White Sox from making meaningful moves at other positions, even if the Rockies were to pay for some of it.
If the White Sox desperately want a modest, low-prospect cost upgrade for right field, they should not make a long-term commitment to a declining player with a burdensome contract, but should rather target cheap, similarly productive players such as Robbie Grossman.
Adam Frazier is a common trade target among many White Sox fans. My skepticism in his performance likely makes this an unpopular opinion, but whether it’s Garrett Crochet, Jake Burger, or any of the young starting pitching prospects in single-A, there is not a realistic White Sox trade for Adam Frazier that I would be comfortable with.
Unlike Blackmon, Frazier’s contract situation is not an impediment. He is arbitration-eligible and under team control through the 2022 season. He also offers some positional flexibility: he is a regular second baseman, but once Nick Madrigal returns in 2022, Frazier could slide to right field for the year. Frazier’s defense is inconsistent year-to-year; he has had a couple of elite years by some metrics (Baseball-Savant’s outs above average loved him in 2019 and 2020) but has been average or below-average in other years. Whether the White Sox get the highs or lows of Frazier’s defense, it shouldn’t be good or bad enough to significantly affect his value.
In 2021, Frazier is hitting .325/.396/.459 with a 137 wRC+. Surprisingly, however, it is his offense that gives me pause. The first reason, and perhaps the most universally understandable one, is that 2021 represents Frazier’s first significantly above-average season. From 2016-2020, he was almost exactly league-average. Therefore, when you trade for a player in the midst of a career year, you naturally need to pay a much higher price than you would have if his performance were in line with his career numbers. One needs to do so while understanding the risk that the player is not guaranteed to maintain — or even resemble — his increased production.
It would be lazy, however, to treat every breakout player with this mindset. Exceptions to this rule must exist, or else no player would ever significantly improve. Frazier’s underlying metrics, however, do not inspire confidence that his 2021 output will sustain. We’ll start with the good: Frazier is walking more often (8.9% walk rate) and striking out less often (10.6% strikeout rate) than he ever has. He is also hitting more line drives (29.4%) and fewer ground balls (37.4%) than ever.
Clearly, Frazier is not the same hitter he was from 2016-2020, as his profile includes some real improvements. But do those improvements account for a massive .106 jump in OPS? As a reminder, Frazier’s actual batting line is .325/.396/.459. According to Baseball-Savant, his expected batting line (based on his exit velocity/launch angle on each individual batted ball event, as well as his outcomes in other plate appearances [strikeouts, walks, etc.]) is .291/.364/.388. That is still a very solid line, especially with respect to on-base percentage, but almost all of Frazier’s slugging value is sapped. Accordingly, Frazier’s .373 wOBA is overshadowed by an ominous .334 xwOBA. Again, both of these figures are career highs, but the .334 xwOBA (compared to a .317 career xwOBA) imply that Frazier’s 2021 improvements are only marginal, and not superstar-level as his basic stats would suggest.
Expected batting metrics are not perfect, but they do give a more complete view of player performance. Some players consistently outperform or underperform these metrics: for example, Yoan Moncada is often an outlier because he makes such consistently hard contact. Frazier’s career wOBA is .014 higher than his xwOBA, which suggests that he, to some degree, outperforms his expected metrics. But Frazier does not have impressive exit velocities or contact tendencies on which he can fall back: his 85.6 MPH average exit velocity puts him in the bottom 3% of baseball.
It is always fun to watch players who do not make consistently hard contact succeed, as that is essentially the beauty of baseball: there is no single archetype, and there are several positive ways to perform. But often, approaches based on soft contact regress over time, and White Sox fans know this all too well with Yermin Mercedes. I am not predicting that Frazier will have that steep of a decline, as he has far less swing-and-miss and a much better track record than Mercedes; if anything, I think Frazier is a slightly improved version of the career .273/.336/.413 hitter that he was coming into the season. But, I do not think he is the near-.400 on-base percentage, doubles-hitting monster that he has been so far in 2021. I suppose I see him as a slightly worse, left-handed version of Nick Madrigal.
If White Sox fans are comfortable trading promising pitching prospects for him after reading this, I would understand, as Frazier is still an upgrade and fills a need for this year and next. But, if the White Sox are trading some of their better prospects, I still would prefer they be for Joey Gallo or somebody with a more established track record. Smaller deals for depth pieces would also work (please just do something). Personally, I am just not optimistic about the futures of Adam Frazier or Charlie Blackmon, and I would prefer the White Sox look elsewhere.
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