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What’s On Second for the White Sox?

by Adam Kaplan
Published: Last Updated on

Assuming there is a 2022 season, the Chicago White Sox have a handful of holes for their roster they need to fill. One of them is at second base. Personally, as a fan, that’s the area that gives me the greatest anxiety. Judging by how popular this tweet of mine was, that seems to be a concern for many of you as well.

I probably don’t need to recap how we got to this place, but for anyone new, here we go. On June 9, 2021, Sox rookie second baseman Nick Madrigal injured his hamstring. The injury sidelined him for the remainder of the 2021 season. On July 30, 2021, the Chicago White Sox traded Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer to the Chicago Cubs for supposed stud closer Craig Kimbrel. The day prior, the White Sox acquired Cesar Hernandez from the Cleveland Baseball Team to fill their void at second base. Hernandez wasn’t very good during his tenure on the South Side, and the Sox declined to pick up his $6 million option for 2022. Craig Kimbrel absolutely imploded, and now the Sox are actively trying to trade him.

Now we’re up to date.

I completely understand why Rick Hahn traded away Nick Madrigal. It was a bold move trying to win the World Series in 2021, and regardless of your feelings about Nicky Two Strikes, he was physically unable to help the Sox accomplish that goal. However, the Sox didn’t even come close to sniffing a World Series ring and currently don’t have a starting second baseman on the roster. Now what?

The Sox recently signed Game 3 Hero Leury Garcia to a 3-year contract; however, The Athletic’s James Fegan recently reported Leury is still going to be used in a utility role.

Other internal options for the organization are not very good right now. The Sox seem to be very high on Romy Gonzalez, as he was one of the two September call-ups in 2021, but he does not appear to be ready right now to help a ball club with realistic World Series aspirations. Danny Mendick plays major league defense very well, but as this past season proved, he is not an everyday starter. So if the Sox don’t have any internal options, let’s try to look outward.

As it stands right now, the free agent and trade market for a second baseman is very bleak. The following notable options have already been taken:

  • Marcus Semien signed a 7-year/$175MM contract with the Texas Rangers
  • Javier Baez signed a 6-year/$140MM contract with the Detroit Tigers
  • Chris Taylor signed a 4-year/$60MM contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Eduardo Escobar signed a 2-year/$20MM contract with the New York Mets
  • Cesar Hernandez signed a 1-year/$4MM + $1MM in incentives contract with the Washington Nationals
  • Adam Frazier traded to the Seattle Mariners
  • Joey Wendle traded to the Miami Marlins

If the Chicago White Sox want a legitimate starting second baseman, their options are drying up. In theory, Sox can still sign stud shortstops like Carlos Correa or Trevor Story and play them at second, or move Tim Anderson to second. However, knowing owner Jerry Reinsdorf, hell will freeze over before the Sox spend what Correa and Story will ultimately get.

Obviously not every single free agent who can play second base has been signed. However, as of this writing, the best of the unsigned players are guys like Freddy Galvis, Donovan Solano, and Jed Lowrie. While I’m sure they’ll eventually come cheap, which seems like a plus to the Sox organization, I believe these are players that should not be a starting second baseman for a championship team.

Rick Hahn certainly seems like he’s putting all of his eggs into the “Trade Kimbrel for a Second Baseman” basket. I find this to be an unnecessarily risky position to put yourself in. For starters, Craig Kimbrel has an expensive contract for a team to take on. In 2022, because the Sox picked up his option, he’s set to earn $16 million. In contrast, the best closer in baseball, Liam Hendriks, will only earn $13 million in 2022 — and won’t earn $16 million a year over the course of his current contract with the Pale Hose. Secondly, Craig Kimbrel currently isn’t close to the pitcher that Hendriks is. While Kimbrel was lights out for the Cubs in 2021, he was horrendous for the South Siders. Kimbrel has also posted an ERA north of 5.00 in 2019 and 2020, so it certainly seems like the first half of 2021 was the exception.

Despite Craig Kimbrel seemingly being a bad pitcher with a hefty price tag, if you believe the rumors on the Internet, there are a handful of organizations still interested in trading for Kimbrel. But how many have a quality MLB-ready second baseman they’re willing to give up? I’ve seen reports both the Miami Marlins and the New York Mets are interested, but neither have a second baseman to help the Sox. Much to the Sox fans’ chagrin, the Marlins aren’t going to move Jazz Chisholm Jr., and the Mets just signed Eduardo Escobar to play second for them.

That just leaves a third team I’ve seen connected to Craig Kimbrel: the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have infielder Bryson Stott waiting in the wings and their bullpen was awful last year. Even after signing Corey Knebel to a one-year/$10MM contract, they still could use Kimbrel (if they believe he’ll be effective for them). As our own Jordan Lazowski tweeted after the Knebel signing:

Therefore, a trade where the White Sox give up Craig Kimbrel and acquire Jean Segura from the Phillies makes a lot of sense. Further, both players will make roughly the same amount in 2022. Segura is a tad cheaper at $14.25MM in 2022, but it’ll be an extra million buyout if the Sox decide they don’t want to pick up his $17MM club option for 2023.

Jean Segura had a pretty good 2021 campaign. He slashed .290/.348/.436, with 14 home runs, good for a wRC+ of 109. He was also in the 95th percentile in Outs Above Average in 2021 and has been a good defender throughout his entire career. I would welcome his talent with open arms on the South Side. Additionally, Segura seems like an excellent stopgap until Romy Gonzalez can get further along in his development.

In 83 career games, Nick Madrigal slashed .317/.358/.406, with 2 home runs, good for a wRC+ of 113. While I agree with the criticism that Madrigal could improve on his defense, he was still worth 1 Out Above Average in 2021 (meaning he provided positive defense). Last season, Madrigal was still worth 1.2 fWAR in 54 games. Averaging that out to a 162 game season, and Madrigal theoretically was worth 3.6 fWAR. That would have put Nicky Two Strikes tied for 10th with Javier Baez among all second baseman in fWAR, ahead of Whit Merrifield, Adam Frazier, Chris Taylor, and Eduardo Escobar. And yes, Jean Segura as well. (Madrigal couldn’t have played 162 games even if he didn’t tear his hammy, but you get my point. He was on pace to have a pretty good 2021 campaign had he been healthy for all of it).

Further, Nick Madrigal comes cheap. In 2022, he’s projected to make $600K. While it’s not my money, until Uncle Jerry actually shows a willingness to spend money on elite free agents and extends players who don’t take hometown discounts, Madrigal was a plus player in the starting lineup that could have allowed Rick Hahn and Co. to spend money to improve the roster elsewhere. It’s a lot easier to justify spending money on a player like Michael Conforto (especially to Reinsdorf) when you’re paying under a million dollars to a borderline all-star second baseman. If Rick Hahn has a specific maximum budget at his disposal due to the constraints placed on him by the team’s owner, paying $600K for a starting second baseman in 2022 gives him a lot more flexibility than what he has now.

Nick Madrigal was a valuable asset to the White Sox. Without a 2021 World Series win, the effects of the trade are starting to loom heavily over the organization. Considering an above-average second baseman doesn’t exist in the free-agent marketplace anymore, Rick Hahn needs to make a trade in order to acquire a quality infielder for a team in the middle of their championship window.

The White Sox do not necessarily need to trade Craig Kimbrel in order to trade for a second baseman, and there certainly is the possibility Hahn could trade Kimbrel to another team and get their quality second baseman. As the offseason/lockout progresses, names like Tony Kemp and Gleyber Torres have popped up, names that weren’t really talked about weeks ago as realistic options but now have to be seriously considered due to the lack of alternatives. However, the trade for Jean Segura seems the most realistic and beneficial to the Pale Hose. And if the Sox do eventually get Segura, great! Please ignore this post and my anxiety will be satiated. But if they don’t, then the Madrigal and Heuer for Kimbrel swap looks so much worse six months later.

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Featured Photo: Chicago White Sox / Twitter

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