A theory: Last Wednesday, Rick Hahn put a reminder on his phone's calendar to acquire a third baseman. That ended up in the trade for Brett Lawrie.
Except he set the event to "recurring," and that's how the White Sox got Todd Frazier one week later.
There's a sizable segment of the White Sox universe -- fans, media, trolls -- who are conditioned to expect the worst from any big-ticket acquisition, and so they immediately hunt for reasons why it won't work out.
@SouthSideSox Frazier has played 72 games vs. AL teams. His batting average is nearly 60 points lower and his OPS is over 200 points lower.— David Gerber (@dazed63) December 17, 2015
@SouthSideSox We keep depleting farm i'm sad. Champions r built from within. Look at the Cubs. They sign free agents & keep their prospects— Joey Hrusa (@RadioJoe7) December 16, 2015
Sox fans readying themselves for Todd Frazier's inexplicable descent into mediocrity.— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) December 16, 2015
Sox fans are going to freak out when Frazier only hits .212/3/11 in April— Brett Lyons (@Brett__Lyons) December 16, 2015
It's annoying, but understandable. The Sox have a litany of egrocious, immediate disappointments, even adjusting for individual expectations. It'd be irresponsible to ignore it outright. I mean, when revisiting what I wrote about Adam LaRoche, I should've hammered this particular point harder:
With LaRoche being on the other side of 30, the hope is that he just doesn't lose anything. The Sox still wear the scars from similar lost bets, and so I flipped to the worst-case scenario. I saw his age, his problems against lefties, his limited defensive utility, his lack of exposure to American League play and his precipitous drop in doubles, and I could easily envision a pretty dour June storyline:
"Adam LaRoche is still getting acclimated to a new league and new position, but he better pick it up if the Sox want to be buyers at the trade deadline..."
Hell, even the uptick in walks brought to mind Jermaine Dye's last season. If this signing were a Rorschach test, I'd probably be sedated by now.
Frazier is turning 30, and he followed up his All-Star first half with an unimpressive second half. There's that same lack of exposure to American League play, and lack of success in what little he's had, and there are sizable home-road splits.
But this time it's different. If Frazier faceplants out of the gate, there's already a ready-made joke for it:
Seriously, even factoring in Frazier's flat second half -- .220/.274/.390 with just 10 of his 35 homers over 72 games -- he's a good player. He brings extra-base hits to the lineup, as he would've led the 2015 White Sox in both homers and doubles (43) in 2015. Regression is most likely, but should that be a canary for his offensive future, he still has a glove that's been good to save a baker's dozen of runs or so by either major defensive metric, UZR or DRS.
That's the big difference between Frazier and fizzlers like LaRoche, Adam Dunn, Jeff Keppinger, Melky Cabrera, et al. -- maybe he won't produce runs at the plate like he did with the Reds, he should help Sox pitching keep runs off the board. Sober offensive projections still have him beating the pants off previous editions of White Sox third basemen. Account for hell at the Cell all you want, but you don't have to expect a lot for the Sox to get a lot.
(He also brings enough speed to steal 33 bases over the last two years, although he ran into 10 outs last year, which is the big reason he finished 17 bases below average in 2015. He was +10 in that department in 2014).
Moreover, the cost wasn't prohibitive. Larry reviewed what the Sox might miss in Trayce Thompson, Frankie Montas and Micah Johnson, and Thompson is the only one whose absence will be felt. He had all the intangibles working in his favor for the most favorable reception by being:
- A reason to care during an otherwise desultory September
- The first high school position player matriculated to the majors by the Sox in forever
- Able to cut down on strikeouts without dismantling his game
- Way better than expected at the plate and meeting the top billing in the field
In other words, he dismantled an awful lot of the nihilism that has pervaded following the Sox the last three years. Or, to put it simpler still, "fun."
He also might've been, in very different words, "playing ridiculously over his head." The Sox aren't known for finishing hitters, so you could say Hahn is respecting natural forces, turning into the skid and selling high. It would've been incredible if the Sox acquired Frazier for the same package at the All-Star break, and we wouldn't normally advise lording a sizzling month-plus over years of history.
If the Sox successfully executed a pump-and-dump here, then big ups to Robin Ventura for taking his time giving Thompson at-bats against righties.
However, even if Thompson develops into an everyday force that turns Klay Thompson into "Trayce's brother," then that's kinda cool, too. A year after the Jeff Samardzija trade, Marcus Semien remains worth following. If Trayce follows suit, then it's a lot harder to gripe about the Sox' inability to develop position players.
One way or another, some time-honored complaint should die by the end of Frazier's two years. Both players delivering All-Star performances would be the best possible outcome in this regard.
The other silver lining from the Thompson trade: The Sox need an outfielder.
The upside Thompson showed was tantalizing enough to bring back the 2015 outfield with a straight face. If Avisail Garcia couldn't figure it out in short order, Thompson lurked as a usurper for that everyday playing time, although he wasn't the surest bet himself.
Now the Sox can't pretend their corners are acceptable, and with Frazier in the fold for a cost-effective amount, Rick Someone sounds more confident about getting one last big move done:
"We’re going to continue to be aggressive on numerous fronts and certainly continue to talk to various free agents as well as other clubs about trades and we’ll have to see how the coming weeks unfold," Hahn said.
We saw moves beget moves for the White Sox last offseason, and it could be the same story this time around. This would follow the Blue Jays' blueprint I've pointed to before:
- Win the winter.
- See no measurable gain from much-heralded infusion of talent.
- Trust talent infusion, double down with targeted moves the following offseason.
Frazier might be a full notch down from Josh Donaldson, but he could be a similar kind of improvement at a position that had nothing going for it. That leaves a Russell Martin-type signing to cap off the White Sox' offensive overhaul, and one is waiting to be made with Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes or Alex Gordon.