The trade deadline is a little over a week away, the White Sox have a surprising two game division lead, but even though they've been connected to some big names (Adam Dunn & Prince Fielder) over the last few weeks nothing seems imminent. I realize that by writing that opening run-on sentence the Sox will probably complete a blockbuster within 24 hours of posting this...
First, let's take a look at what the Sox need. Jake Peavy's injury has led many to believe that starting pitching is among the Sox most pressing needs, but a closer look reveals that's just not the case. Daniel Hudson's pre-season PECOTA game him a projected 4.67 ERA while Peavy's clocked in at 3.97. ZiPS is more optimistic, listing a 4.30 rest-of-season ERA with a 3.86 FIP. You're hearing a lot of talk right now about teams not projecting Hudson as more than a #3 or #4 pitcher, well, guess what his current projections make him? That's right, a #3 or 4 starter, right now... As a fastball-changeup guy with an inconsistent slider and a telegraphed curveball.
He's a #3-4 starter in the same way that '07-'08 John Danks and Gavin Floyd were #3-4 starters. They could hold their own against major league hitters, learning along the way what it takes to be a front of the rotation starter. None of these teams complaining about Hudson being a #3-4 starter are turning his services away. They all want Hudson; they're simply posturing to get more players in the deal... More players the Sox don't exactly have.
It's at this point the non-signing of Jim Thome becomes all the more painful. Not only did the Sox opt out of the deep-discounted production of a big slugger from the left-hand side of the plate, but now they're faced with the proposition of paying a market rate in minor-league talent to get a viable replacement. The Brewers and Nationals have balked at offers centered around Hudson, and the Astros seem more focused on trade-demanding Oswalt rather than better fit for the Sox, Lance Berkman.
Regardless, any move that subtracts Hudson from the team is simply shifting the Sox holes from one area to another, and should be a non-starter. The Sox need to focus their efforts on acquiring a non-marquee bat, preferably left-handed, who won't cost them part of their current 25-man roster or their immediate future -- though Hudson and maybe Mitchell -- who I don't think anyone would ask for -- are the only two on that list for me.
Who Can They Target?
By my count there are only 12 teams who can be considered out of the playoff race, which obviously cuts the potential targets. Gordon Beckham's reemergence at 2B and Omar Vizquel's surprising play at 3B have helped plug some of the Sox perceived holes. I certainly don't expect Vizquel to continue to hit .310/.376/.398 as he's done in Teahen's absence, but there's no denying that the defensive improvement has played a role in the Sox pitching turnaround. If the Sox are going to find an upgrade at 3B, he's going to have to bring along some plus defense, which all but eliminates 3B as a potential target. That leaves OF and DH as their only remaining upgradeable positions -- because, really, how can you upgrade at catcher?
So let's take a look through the roster of the 12 clubs that are out of it to try and find some potential matches:
Toronto -- MLB homerun leader Jose Batista has now been linked to the Sox, but he's not exactly an ideal fit. He's essentially a right-handed Mark Teahen -- poor-to-average defense wherever he plays, .729 OPS prior to this season while playing for 5 teams with losing records -- who just so happened to put together a hot first 3 months. That hot start includes a .238 batting average. The only reason anyone's interested is his sudden ability to have 19% of his flyballs go over the wall, which, you know, doesn't exactly seem like a sustainable skill. ZiPS projects him to hit .232/.338/.453 the remainder of the season. PASS.
Baltimore -- Luke Scott is their DH. Currently hitting .285/.355/.549, Scott bats from the left side and has a longer history of not being completely useless (.264/.350/.495 prior to '10). Compare that to the .252/.313/.351 that Mark Kotsay is projected by ZiPS to hit the rest of the year, and you're looking at a significant upgrade that shouldn't mortgage the farm. Scott has another year remaining before free agency, so the Sox will have to give up someone of value -- though interestingly, Christina Kahrl at BP proposed a Scott & Miguel Tejeada to the Sox trade that doesn't even include Brent Morel (who I think is the starting point of package for Scott) let alone Hudson, Flowers, Viciedo, Mitchell or Santos.
Kansas City -- Kenny loves trading with the Royals, and they might actually have a fit. David DeJesus isn't exactly a sexy name, but he owns a career OPS of .783, which plays much better because of his plus defense. The upgrade from Q! to DeJesus in RF would make it seem like we're adding about a .900 OPS DH, plus limiting potential Q!injuries while playing the field. DeJesus is signed through this year, with a $6M player option next year. It seems like he'd be more expensive to acquire than Scott, if only for the intra-division tax. They're grooming Alex Gordon for outfield play, for some reason... Maybe we could trade them a proven 3B/OFer. I think we may have one of those to spare.
Cleveland -- Wasteland.
Oakland -- Jack Cust. Meh, maybe a couple years ago. Pass.
Seattle -- Nearly a wasteland. They recently added Justin Smoak which logjams their 1B/DH situation with Casey Kotchman and Russell Branyan. Kotchman seems to have worn on yet another organization, while Branyan was brought back in as a fan favorite. It wouldn't be a trade speculation thread without mentioning Kotchman, but the lack of production has finally caught up with him. He'll forever be the butt of our pretend trade jokes. Branyan might be an option on the 31st when everything else has fallen through. He'll bring some much needed power, but not much in the way of actually getting on base.
Washington -- Dunn. Dunn. Dunn... Dunn. You know all about him. Mike Rizzo is holding out for Beckham and the rights to all of his future offspring. If a trade does go down, it looks like it's going to be painful in terms of talent surrendered.
Milwaukee -- Same as Washington. Replace the name Dunn with Prince Fielder. Difference is Fielder is under team-control for '11 and may be due as much as $16M at arbitration. Still, the extra year of control probably raises the asking price. Supposedly, Corey Hart hasn't been drawing too much interest. And although he isn't left-handed, neither was the bulk of the Sox '05 squad. We need another bat, period. If Hart isn't going to cost Hudson or Santos, I'd pull the trigger.
Houston -- The Astros may want to hang on to Lance Berkman simply to retain some franchise identity should they trade Roy Oswalt. He seems like an afterthought to the Sox after Dunn and Fielder, though he'll probably cost nearly as much, rendering him an even less likely trade target.
Pittsburgh -- They've got young talent everywhere, not exactly a good trade candidate. One name who may be available is Andy LaRoche, who was replaced by Pedro Alvarez. LaRoche is my new Kotchman, a prospect with great minor league numbers who's never put it together at the major leagues. Not gonna help the Sox this year, but a guy who I wouldn't mind giving a shot -- though with Viciedo and Morel, the Sox aren't exactly lacking the questionable 3B prospect market.
Cubs -- Time to get creative. Kosuke Fukudome is left-handed and better than Mark Kotsay, which is all we're really looking for here. But he has a big contract. The Cubs would have to take on Linebrink and/or Teahen plus eat some of his '11 salary to make that work. And it's not that big of an upgrade anyway. You can toss Carlos Zambrano's name in there too just because of the Ozzie connection -- the Sox are probably the one destination where I'd expect to see him thrive -- but I don't see any way they can take on that salary, or would want to take on a certified headcase.
Arizona -- Adam LaRoche, Andy's older, more successful brother, would be a decent option. A career .272/.341/.487 hitter, LaRoche had a .957 OPS last year after being traded to ATL. ZiPS projects him to hit .278/.354/.495 the rest of the season. He's got a $9.5M vesting option should he be traded which might scare the Sox off, as is his name recognition which might necessitate some more well-regarded prospects than that for the similar production of Luke Scott.
Verdict: Once you remove all the teams in the race, then subtract the untradeables -- your young players with <4 years of service, the overpaid veterans, and face-of-the-franchises -- there's not a whole lot left. There seems to me to be an obvious trade target who brings the skills the Sox are looking for along with what shouldn't be too steep of a price tag -- though one would have to believe if Scott & Tejada were available for Kahrl's proposed package, he would already be a good guy wearing black.