We started our look back at major White Sox decisions from last winter with the Adam Eaton-Hector Santiago trade, and so we'll continue with the other deal that involved Arizona.
What the White Sox hoped: Ready to move on from the Jeff Keppinger debacle, Rick Hahn made his second swap in six days with the Arizona Diamondbacks, this time for a third baseman of the future. On Dec. 16, he sent closer Addison Reed to the desert for Matt Davidson, a top-100 prospect who was blocked at third by Martin Prado. He hit .237/.333/.434 over 87 plate appearances with Arizona as a 22-year-old in 2013, so while he struck out quite often, his contact problems weren't yet fatal.
The White Sox didn't tip their hand before the trade -- and the hole Reed left was immediately apparent -- but since he was entering his final pre-arb year and struggled to finish his 2013 season, there was a significant chance his trade value would vanish. The Sox decided to risk dealing him a year too early rather than a year too late.
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.
What the White Sox received: A strong spring training that gave Davidson a credible case for a 25-man roster spot.
Then ... nothing.
Davidson started the season in Charlotte, and his approach cratered immediately. He started slow, he finished slow, and it was slow in the middle, like an all-bread sandwich. He hit 199/.283/.362. His strikeout rate breached 30 percent and his power dropped. From Larry's year-end Charlotte review:
The 23-year-old can point to a .253 BABIP to explain it but that's not going to assuage anyone who thinks he was just making weak contact. Davidson hasn't ever shown much of a platoon split and this season wasn't different. He was bad against both righties and lefties. He did still hit 20 home runs. His swing was definitely off and he went through a few different iterations during the season with nothing really working.
What the White Sox gave up: A closer who would've helped their bullpen, but only by default. Reed disappointed the Diamondbacks on their end, as every positive development could be countered with an ugly one. He did save 32 games, but in 38 chances (with a 1-7 record). Yes, he struck out 69 batters to just 15 walks over 59⅓ innings ... but he allowed 11 homers, after giving up a total of 12 over his two full seasons with the Sox.
Reed has never been a terrific run-preventer (4.17 ERA with the White Sox), but he always posted strong strikeout rates with good control and a respectable amount of homers, which hinted at unrealized potential. The discrepancy between Reed's ERA and his fielding-independent numbers meant that he was naturally going to score better with FanGraphs' version of WAR, compared to Baseball-Reference.com's WAR.
- FG: 2.6 WAR from 2011-2013
- B-Ref: 1.3 WAR from 2011-2013
But thanks to the massive jump in homer, WAR called him replacement level at best.
- FG: 0.0 WAR in 2014
- B-Ref: -0.5 WAR in 2014
And on top of that, he ran out of gas for the third straight September, so he didn't even end the year on a high note. His career splits are a fright in this regard:
Even with these problems, Reed would've had a job in the White Sox bullpen, but it's hard to see how he would've changed the course of the season. I guess the late innings would've featured fewer walk-laden debacles, but a few more gut-punch homers. Pick your poison.
Would the White Sox do it again? They'd definitely deal Reed again, because his value was going to take a hit even with a better season. He's set to to make quite a bit of money during his first arbitration year thanks to his 101 saves over three years. It doesn't matter that his ERA is mediocre -- that save total will likely push his salary from near the league minimum to something around $4 million, so he could be as overpaid next season as he was underpaid entering this year.
I just imagine they'd try another prospect. The extent of Davidson's failures surprised, but the root causes didn't.
I don't know how much better Hahn could've done in terms of a ranked prospect (or prospects). A number of teams around the league -- Oakland, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Cleveland to name several -- signed veteran closers with hopes of avoiding save inflation for their younger and more talented relievers, so it's possible a large chunk of the market saw through the White Sox's angle in selling.
When you look at the young position players who have enjoyed varying degrees of hitting success after the Sox acquired them, none of them resemble Davidson. Eaton, Carlos Quentin, Conor Gillaspie, Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu (if you count him) all had bat-to-ball abilities in their bag.
Davidson's trying to succeed in spite of his hit tool, and the Sox haven't been so fortunate with that type. The closest they've come is Tyler Flowers, who was such a force through Double-A that concerns about his defense were waved away, as he had first base as a fallback. That Plan B evaporated in Triple-A; fortunately, he had unseen defensive potential and worked his tail off to become a playable MLB catcher that way.
Positional scarcity isn't on Davidson's side. Age is, so Hahn's "development isn't always linear" stock line still applies for at least one more season. Still, if the Sox had to trade Reed all over again, I imagine they'd seek a hitter less likely to require a swing overhaul. Maybe that eliminates most other top-100 prospects and forces the Sox into the buy-low pool a la Eaton or Quentin, but maybe they're better off that way.
And hey, maybe a do-over isn't purely hypothetical, because their sinking stocks probably kept them on the same trade plane. Although instead of "Reed for Davidson: Who says no?" the question is now, "Reed for Davidson: What's wrong with you?"