With the trade deadline quickly approaching, there has been much discussion amongst fans as to what moves the White Sox could and should do at this year’s deadline. The needs of the team are well documented: relief help, a second baseman, and potentially a right fielder. With concerns about the talent remaining in the farm system, I wanted to take a look at some of the team’s young Major League talent and determine who should be available for trade and if so, what would be an appropriate circumstance to move them.
Michael Kopech (RHP)
Michael Kopech has been a massive bright spot for the Sox this season, especially in regards to their bullpen. As a former top 10 overall MLB prospect with an electric arm that hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2018, Kopech was one of the players that fans anticipated watching the most this season.
Albeit in only 38 innings thus far, Kopech has delivered spectacular results, both in terms of standard and advanced metrics. The right-handed flamethrower has posted an astounding 13.15 K/9 compared to just 3.29 BB/9, according to Fangraphs. Opponents are currently batting a measly .162 against him, and he has an impressive strikeout rate of 37.3% along with a WHIP of 0.94. I believe that Kopech is the most talented arm in the organization and is a future front-line starter as soon as next season. All that being said and considering the fact that he is under long-term team control, it’s easy to see how Kopech would be a tremendously valuable trade asset.
In my view, there is no feasible trade in which the Sox should move Kopech and I don’t believe there is a scenario in which they realistically would either. Perhaps two months ago, with the immediate futures of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert uncertain, the Sox could have made a panic move involving Kopech for a big middle-of-the-order bat to get them through an injury-riddled stretch. It turns out that the team was not only able to stay afloat, but continue to excel, thanks to its depth from shrewd signings such as Brian Goodwin and Billy Hamilton, along with a few graduations from the farm system.
Kopech should be as close to “untouchable” as it gets trade-wise.
Garret Crochet (LHP)
After a spectacular breakout in 2020 during his rookie season, Crochet entered 2021 with massive expectations from the fans and likely the front office as well. It’s important to remember with a player such as Crochet that development is not always linear. However, it’s safe to say that Crochet hasn’t been the reliable and electric arm this season that we came to expect from watching him last season. This is due in part, in my opinion, to the mismanagement of his utilization.
Crochet has had a very inconsistent workload, pitching only 28 innings thus far, often going days at a time without an opportunity to pitch while being put in some questionable situations by his manager. There is an argument to be made that Crochet would simply be better off pitching in the minor leagues, developing his skillset and repertoire so that he might become an effective big league starter eventually. However, the Sox clearly have their sights set on a World Series Championship, and Crochet is a talent that they should be able to find a role for contributing to the Major League team.
The University of Tennessee product has seen a dip in velocity this season, as we haven’t seen him pumping the consistent 100-101 MPH fastball that we became accustomed to last season. This, along with occasional control issues, has created some problematic outings for the hard-throwing lefty. That’s not to he’s been all bad by any means, however. Despite posting a concerning 5.02 BB/9 and 12.4 BB% this season, Crochet still boasts an impressive 11.62 K./9 and a 28.7% strikeout rate, while opponents are batting .214 against him. His ERA currently sits at a somewhat respectable 3.14, although those stats alone don’t tell the entire story.
While he has not been the shutdown reliever we expected (perhaps unfairly) this season, it’s hard to make the case that he’s been a disaster either. I think with proper utilization and consistent innings, Crochet will show improvement and still play an important role for the Sox down the stretch. As a first-round pick just last season with an electric arm, potential to be a long-term starter, and a lot of team control, it’s easy to see how Crochet could be highly coveted by other organizations.
If the Sox did decide to pursue a more splashy move for a high-profile player with more than a half-season of control, such as Joey Gallo for example, it makes logical sense that Crochet would be a name at the forefront of those trade discussions. His name and talent likely carry more value than anyone in the Sox farm system, but the team could also likely withstand the loss of him in the short term at least.
As fans rooting for exciting, win-now type of moves, it’s easy to pound the table for someone like Gallo, a lefty power bat that could suitably solve the Sox right field issue for at least the next season and a half. However, I would also expect that the front office tries not to be short-sighted and make such decisions based on a small sample size such as the results we have from Crochet in 2021. While nobody could argue against the fact that a player like Joey Gallo would significantly improve the team and their chance to win now, I would be skeptical to trade Crochet away, knowing the kind of talent he has and fearing what he could blossom into with another organization.
There are no guarantees in baseball, though, and if the Sox believe they can acquire an impact talent that improves their chances of winning the World Series, and Crochet is the price? You won’t hear an argument from me.
Gavin Sheets (1B/RF)
Gavin Sheets is easily one of the more exciting and surprising stores of the Sox 2021 season. It’s probably fair to say that if it weren’t due to the team’s numerous injuries, Sheets may not have gotten a chance to play in the big leagues at all this season. Since getting his opportunity though, Sheets has taken it and ran with it.
Drafted in the second round in 2017, the Wake Forest junior was an intriguing lefty bat but seemed limited to playing first base, and it’s easy to see how he would be blocked with Jose Abreu as the mainstay. The 2017 first-round pick of Jake Burger and the 2019 first-round pick of Andrew Vaughn only complicated matters further. Not only was his path to the big leagues made more difficult by the presence of additional high-profile prospects, but Sheets never really showed much of his power potential in the minor leagues, making his value as a first baseman relatively questionable.
Two major shifts in his game have changed the outlook entirely on Sheets, however. The Sox shifted him to the outfield this offseason, where he played in Charlotte and has now been playing in Chicago. This positional versatility has not only given him an opportunity in the Majors but could create a path to a long-term role with the team as well.
The Sox have long coveted a solution in right field, and even better for them, Sheets is a lefty bat that the team has sorely lacked for years. Combine those with the fact that Sheets has suddenly tapped into his power potential this season, and it’s easy to see how fans have started fantasizing about Sheets as their long-term right fielder. While it’s certainly premature to make that assumption, fans can’t be blamed for their excitement, and at the very least, Sheets combines with Adam Engel to form a very intriguing platoon in right field. In 17 games at the big league level, Sheets is slugging .585 with 5 home runs and 4 doubles, while also posting an 11.5 BB% and WRC+ of 138. This is obviously a very small sample, but Sheets has already contributed to a number of the team’s wins and provided a spark of power that they have been missing in the absence of Jimenez and Robert.
As the trade deadline approaches, you could see how Sheets might be of interest to other teams and less of a necessity to the Sox as they begin to return key players from injury. This has prompted the idea that perhaps the Sox should capitalize on Sheets’ success and use him as a trade asset.
For me, Sheets would certainly have to be on the table in trade discussions, but by no means would I be rushing to move him and I would be trying to avoid including him in any sort of deal for a short-term piece. There is no guarantee that his production continues, but just the potential of the Sox developing their own lefty power bat in the outfield is incredibly intriguing, and I would like to see the team continue to give him an opportunity for more playing time. I think that rental players could certainly be acquired via trade without the inclusion of Sheets, but if the Sox are looking for longer-term options, Sheets might be near the top of the list in regards to what other teams would want in return.
Jake Burger (3B)
Watching Jake Burger overcome such overwhelming odds and obstacles to make it to the MLB has been one of my favorite stories of this season. An Achilles tear is something that ruins sports careers all the time, let alone to suffer two separate tears just months apart is unfathomable. The fact that Burger has even been able to get back on the field is spectacular, let alone play at a high level and even produce in the majors. Burger has seized that opportunity and shown real ability to compete at the major league level.
Due to his injury history, it’s easy to forget that Burger is a player with some pedigree. He is a former first-round pick that produced very well at the collegiate level. Burger clearly has great talent and ability that should not be overlooked just because he missed significant time on the field. Along with that, Burger has transformed his body and is a better athlete than you would guess just by looking at him.
He has proven that he can handle the hot corner at third base, which has allowed the Sox to give Yoan Moncada the occasional off day in regards to playing in the field. Burger can clearly handle first base and fill in the DH role as well. What I believe will be a huge determining factor for the future of Burger in Chicago is whether or not the Sox will give him an opportunity to play at second base.
This is something that they experimented with in Charlotte, and by most accounts, he was doing a fine job in that role. He is obviously blocked from being an everyday first or third baseman with the White Sox. At second, however, he might have an opportunity to compete for more playing time rather than just being an occasional substitute.
So far in 13 games with the Sox, Burger has posted a .278/.350/.500 slash line with a 10% BB rate and a 133 WRC+. While that is a very small sample, it is consistent with the excellent production that Burger had in Charlotte, where he posted a .322/.368/.596 line with a .964 OPS, including 10 home runs. It’s just a matter of finding an opportunity in the lineup for Jake, which is going to be increasingly difficult with the return of Jimenez and Robert. This is what I believe makes Burger such a fascinating case in regards to this trade deadline.
He clearly has a knack for hitting and has overcome enormous obstacles to get where he is now. Of all the players I discussed though, it’s clear that finding playing time for Burger going forward is going to be the most difficult. There is no clear spot for the Sox to play him without sacrificing one of their stars in the lineup unless they give him an opportunity to prove himself at second base.
If the Sox were to move Burger in order to add a valuable long-term piece, it would be plausible and perhaps even logical given the circumstances. Baseball executives should not do their job based on being sentimental, but not only is Burger highly talented, but he has also shown tremendous perseverance and fortitude, which I think are important traits in building a championship team. Overall, I think it would be a mistake to give up on his talent unless it was for a trade that is just too good to pass up.
The interesting thing to me in terms of the approach to this trade deadline is that the White Sox have regained some leverage and I believe are in an overall advantageous situation. With the returns of Jimenez and Robert being imminent, as well as Grandal coming a bit later on, the Sox don’t have much need to trade for any sort of power bat or middle-of-the-order-run producer. The team should be able to acquire necessary reinforcements without sacrificing much from the MLB roster, if anyone at all.
If the Sox do decide to pursue an addition at second base, there are intriguing names available that we’ve all seen on the rumor mill, including Trevor Story, Eduardo Escobar, and Jonathan Schoop. However, those players are all in the rental category and become free agents after this season, so it’s unlikely that any of them would command a talent such as the ones I talked about above.
As for the relief front, I believe it is nearly a certainty that the Sox will make an addition or two, and there are plenty of names on the market that could potentially be attainable. In the event that the Nationals decide to become sellers, Daniel Hudson is a name that makes sense, given the Sox familiarity with him. Similarly, Raisel Iglesias of the Angels would be a strong addition, as he has experience both closing and in other high leverage situations, although it remains unclear if the Angels will be selling at the deadline or simply hold their cards. Those are far from the only available arms though, and you can expect the market for relievers to be very active over the next week.
With the abundance of options and likely more sellers than buyers, the Sox should hold a strong negotiating position, and in my opinion have no need to force a trade including talent from the Major League team, unless a rare opportunity for a blue-chip talent presents itself.
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