White Sox fans were understandably angry toward the end of the 2022 regular season. The team was wildly disappointing, but nothing had changed, and (at the time) nobody was being held accountable. Despite some positive reaction to the hiring of Pedro Grifol as manager, fans are again upset by a report from The Athletic that suggests the team will cut payroll in advance of the 2023 season.
If the White Sox do not have ample budget room for free agency, then it is very unlikely that they will be able to address their holes (such as at second base, left field, right field, and the starting rotation) without making trades. The problem, of course, is that the White Sox farm system is still well below-average, even after a relatively encouraging year. Thus, trading for positions of need may need to come at the cost of MLB talent.
Opposing teams are likely wary of trading for White Sox players following a dismal 2022 season, and the White Sox are less likely to trade a pre-arbitration player since their goal is also to meet a reduced budget. Therefore, Liam Hendriks and Lucas Giolito often get mentioned as trade candidates.
Hendriks is one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, and with two years and $29 million remaining on his contract, his salary suddenly looks quite affordable when compared with other elite closers like Edwin Diaz. As the White Sox bullpen has been oversaturated, trading from it to address a need could make some sense.
However, a trade of Hendriks would plainly be an attempt to cut payroll, and unless a team offers a truly ridiculous return that addresses multiple White Sox needs with proven talent, the roster is more likely to get worse rather than better as a result. While Reynaldo Lopez or Kendall Graveman could serve as the team’s closer, trading one of the best relievers in baseball is something a team does when it is rebuilding, not contending.
While Lucas Giolito had a down year in 2022, there is a reason that (smart) teams would be interested in him. He is a bounce-back candidate for 2023 given his pedigree, age, work ethic, and that he will enter free agency after the season. He is estimated to make about $10.8 million in arbitration, which would offer plenty of surplus value even if he only marginally improves from his 1.8 fWAR in 2022.
Of course, this is without even mentioning that trading Giolito would open up yet another hole in a starting rotation that still needs to replace free agent Johnny Cueto. Much like with Hendriks, a team would need to make a remarkable offer with multiple proven MLB players for the trade to be worth it for the White Sox.
White Sox fans have largely accepted at this point that the team will not be a suitor for Aaron Judge-level talent in free agency. If the White Sox could just match last year’s payroll or exceed it by $5-10 million, there would be no need to discuss trading an elite closer in Hendriks or a likely bounce-back starter in Giolito to save money.
Not only would trading either player likely make the team worse in 2023, but trading good players on reasonable contracts during a competitive window because you don’t want to pay them implies that you might as well enter another rebuild. Of course, everything at this point is just a rumor (largely based on the previously mentioned report from The Athletic), but the organization has not earned the benefit of the doubt, especially after last offseason.
No player on the White Sox should be untouchable, and teams should always be open-minded. That said, trading Hendriks or Giolito should not be received positively by White Sox fans unless the return resembles a Shelby Miller trade level of fleece. The holes the team may fill with such trades would be unlikely to compensate for the holes that are created as a result. The organization would frame the moves as “best for the team in 2023,” but fans should see the trades as what they truly are: salary dumps.
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