Matt Davidson trade keeps White Sox turnover churning

Harry How

Rick Hahn makes his most questionable trade yet, but the same thought process prevails

On the same day I published a post about the White Sox' potential platooning opportunities, Rick Hahn blew up one of them by trading Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks for 22-year-old third baseman Matt Davidson. Hahn said that Davidson may not start the season at the majors, but whenever he does arrive, he'll be expected to hold down the position for a long time.

So much for that platoon.

Otherwise, this trade is going to need some time to marinate. All do, of course, but Hahn has raised the bar on himself. There have been a whole lot of fist pumps and high-fives since July as he weeded out roster redundancies and short-timers, so it's a little jarring when he makes a move that actually feels like something of a sacrifice.

Davidson is the biggest commitment to the overhaul yet, since Reed could've helped the Sox contend in the same window, and he's not immediately replaceable -- not as a closer, but as a high-leverage reliever. Matt Lindstrom has previous experience and Nate Jones and Daniel Webb have the stuff, but there could be some late-inning lumps if everybody has to take one step up the responsibility ladder.

Not to mention that Davidson is the most flawed prospect Hahn has acquired yet. Avisail Garcia (lack of patience) and Adam Eaton (lack of power) may never be able to develop their weak spots, but few players are that well rounded, and they have secondary skills to recoup some of that value. Davidson is something of a familiar prospect to Sox fans -- contact issues and a questionable defender -- which leaves us to hope that his age (22 years old) and reports of improved glovework mean that he's still on the ascent.

Davidson received his first big-league audition with the Diamondbacks late last year, and he hung in well enough for his age. He hit .237/.333/.434 with six doubles and three homers over 87 plate appearances, and he only committed one error in 18 starts at third, which suggests he can make routine plays. High praise? Far from it, but errors at third base can pile up quickly if a guy is thoroughly unqualified  -- Mark Teahen committing 10 errors in 49 starts in 2010, or Wilson Betemit botching four of eight chances the year before, for example.

Plus, we might still be judging third base from its league-wide heyday from a few years back. There aren't many solutions outside of a platoon, which is why I thought the idea was worth a spin. But who knows -- should Davidson turn into Cheap Mark Reynolds, he could end up being one of the better third basemen to qualify for the batting title.

That's one of a few things we don't know, and there are other gray areas that will resolve themselves much sooner than a couple years, such as:

Did the Sox sell high on Addison Reed?

The Sox traded their previous closer, Sergio Santos, by surprise after signing him to an agreeable long-term contract. He's spent most of the last two years on the disabled list, throwing just 30 innings for the Blue Jays in two years. Granted, his 25 innings last year were awesome, but that's not what Toronto had in mind.

Reed lost a couple ticks on his fastball, which is usually a big flag, but it didn't diminish its effectiveness. In fact, the change in his approach allowed him to throw his slider more often. His breaking ball never reached "wipeout" status, but he couldn't be classified as a one-pitch pitcher, and the mix allowed his fastball to stand out more.

He did wear down toward the end of the year after Robin Ventura ran him ragged in August with six saves in six days. He took his lumps over the rest of the season, and it made his final line look worse than he deserved. I wouldn't be surprised if he came back from the offseason refreshed and ready to take the next step, given a more normal run distribution by his club's offense.

But maybe the Sox think that fade is a harbinger of greater struggles. The 2013 offense taxed the high-leverage guys by offering few low-leverage situations to relieve the relievers, and perhaps they thought Reed might hit the same wall Jesse Crain crashed into.

What else are the Sox going to do with their infield?

Marcus Semien seemed to have a clear-enough path to the big-league roster -- whether he started the season in Charlotte or Chicago, there was some part-time work at third waiting for him, practically a lease with an option to buy. But if Davidson is expected to hold down the fort, that turns second base into the battleground.

Gordon Beckham can't be too comfortable right now, unless he wants out of Chicago. But who knows -- maybe Semien is dealt after a hot year, or the previous Keppinger/Gillaspie idea is further abandoned by ditching one or both.

The amount of overhaul makes the Opening Day lineup difficult to grasp in mid-December, but it's going to look drastically different already:

2013 2014
C - Tyler Flowers C - Tyler Flowers
1B - Paul Konerko 1B - JOSE ABREU
2B - Gordon Beckham 2B - Gordon Beckham
SS - Alexei Ramirez SS - Alexei Ramirez
3B - Jeff Keppinger 3B - MATT DAVIDSON
LF - Dayan Viciedo LF - Viciedo/De Aza
CF - Alejandro De Aza CF - ADAM EATON
RF - Alex Rios RF - AVISAIL GARCIA
DH - Adam Dunn DH - Dunn/Konerko

That's four everyday starters replaced by younger, cheaper, more promising options, and there's still the potential of greater flipping. We've spent the whole winter waiting for a catcher, and a left field shakeup became more likely after the Eaton deal. Now the Davidson acquisition makes second base more vulnerable, and holy crap, this lineup could be 77 percent different, and potentially entirely for the better.

It's easy to see the Davidson-Reed trade being one where Hahn should have held himself back, but you can see how sheer momentum made it possible and desirable. The ideal result is Davidson meeting the Sox' high hopes, but a cog is more realistic -- if not on the field, than as an unremarkable transaction as part of a remarkable transformation.

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