Gordon Beckham has been the subject of trade rumors on and off for a few years now. 2014 might be the year that the White Sox unload him. Here's a look at a possible market for the second baseman.
Contract Situation: Beckham is under contract for $4.175 million for 2014 and has one more season left of arbitration before becoming a free agent. I can't imagine he'd be due for a bank-breaking raise, but it's tough to estimate his 2015 salary with great precision due to the lack of players with his combination of playing time and lackluster offensive stats. I'd guess that if he's offered arbitration, something around $5.25 - $5.75 million might be reasonable, but that could prove to be off-base. In any case, he's a serious non-tender candidate so the point may be moot.
2014 overall line: .230/.280/.365, 7 HR, 29 RBI, .285 wOBA
What he brings to the table: Beckham isn't notably good at any one thing unless you buy into the most generous reviews of his defense. However, despite being a sub-par regular, no single aspect of his game grades out as a serious flaw. His glove at second base (a position difficult to fill with adequate skill) is at least average-ish, he has some power, is okay on the basepaths, and while his on-base ability is firmly below-average, it hasn't historically been catastrophic for a second baseman. Beckham is a collective pile of "meh", but can plug a hole for a team in dire straits at second base. Beckham is beeswax.
Why he might be traded: Beeswax is useful if you have a leaky boat. While a contender might find such a fix useful, the White Sox would be more than willing to risk some extra leakage this season to give reps to players like Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien that aren't known quantities. The same is likely true for next season. While Beckham's 2015 projected salary might represent a slight bargain relative to the free agent market on a dollar-per-win basis, his stagnant, sub-par performance across the years is plenty reason for the White Sox to give younger, cheaper players a try. Between Sanchez, Semien, and Micah Johnson, it's a good bet that the 2015 White Sox could get more from second base for less money.
Why he might not be traded: There's a few reasons that a Beckham trade might not happen. First (and by far most significantly), Beckham has murdered the illusion of a breakthrough season with his .137/.203/.282 line since June 11, which probably has potential suitors wary of what he'll do the rest of the way. Second, Beckham is something of an organizational favorite. Third, he's a known quantity on a roster that has considerable variance elsewhere. There's an extremely slim chance that the White Sox may instead choose to trade one or more of the Triple-A middle infielders, as this might net a better return than Beckham while alleviating the logjam. One would hope the Sox wouldn't play favorites when it doesn't suit them to do so, but hey, Paul Konerko's still here.
Teams that might have interest: As discussed above, Beckham doesn't excel at any one particular facet of the game, so he'd be an odd fit as a bench player without any such specialty. Rather, he's most likely appealing to teams that are starting a replacement-level (or worse) sinkhole at second base and are looking for a new everyday guy. Below are some teams that might be possible suitors for Beckham.
No. 1: Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays moved Brett Lawrie to second base to make room for the hot-hitting Juan Francisco. Though initial projections had Lawrie returning from the disabled list by the end of the month, a Beckham trade could slide Lawrie back to third since Francisco has a .243 OBP since the beginning of June. Munenori Kawasaki has hit .283 this season filling in for the injured Lawrie, but he has a .370 BABIP with little in the way of power or patience. The Blue Jays likely do not see him as a permanent regular. A Beckham acquisition would not be a huge improvement, but Alex Anthopoulos might prove to be eager to make any sort of upgrade to his team to take advantage of a rare chance to make the playoffs.
However, Kawasaki's hitting isn't a problem until it is, and he's a clubhouse and fan favorite. Furthermore, Francisco's isolated power has stiil been .212 during his prolonged slump and the Blue Jays might want to give him a chance to hit his way out of it, especially if they can continue to keep him from facing many lefties. At worst, Beckham might be viewed as nothing more than an insurance policy, and without a strong market for his services, the Blue Jays might be able to wait and see if they really need one of those.
No. 2: Oakland Athletics
The Second Team of South Side Sox has received pretty much nothing from second base all season long. Eric Sogard (.486 OPS) and Nick Punto (.591 OPS) have been miserable at the plate. Alberto Callaspo (.617 OPS) has played some second as well, but hasn't been much better and isn't a great defensive option at the keystone. There's plenty of justification to simply delete Sogard from the equation and upgrade the offense with Beckham, with Punto returning to his natural role of defensive utilityman.
However, the Athletics might prefer to stand pat with their second basemen. Punto's good defensively and there's a decent chance that Callaspo will bounce back to his pre-2014 level once he returns from the disabled list. Furthermore, the A's are already second in the American League in runs scored while playing in a pitcher's park. Beckham would represent just a minor improvement at the only real weak spot in the A's lineup. Billy Beane might prefer to stick with in-house options or aim for a bigger fish, like Ben Zobrist.
No. 3: Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles, too, have had a rough go of it at second base. Jonathan Schoop has mustered just a .216/.253/.325 line, with a lot of weak contact behind the .216 batting average. Despite Beckham's recent slump, he'd be a pretty good bet to outproduce Schoop the rest of the way. The Orioles sit at the top of the AL East, four games up on the Blue Jays and Yankees, and are no sure thing to lock up a wild card slot should they lose their grip on the AL East crown, so any upgrade could prove significant to their fortune.
However, Schoop is pretty well-regarded defensively, and depending on the valuation of his glove, Beckham might not represent any upgrade here at all. If the Orioles think Schoop fields significantly better than Beckham, this is not a trade they'll make.
Outlook: Thanks to Beckham's prolonged slump, it's going to be difficult to find him a home where he's viewed as any sort of notable improvement over the incumbent. Furthermore, unlike Adam Dunn, Beckham is a poor fit as a bench player since he doesn't notably excel at any one thing. It's very likely that he'll be phased out of the White Sox' plans in the near future, but his recent performance at the plate has made it pretty improbable that the Sox will achieve this in the form of a clean, dignity-preserving, and value-providing trade. Even Beckham's exit from the White Sox will probably be a disappointment.