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White Sox rumors: Braves join hunt for Chris Sale

Atlanta farm system deep enough to consider

Atlanta Braves v Chicago White Sox Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

So far, the White Sox offseason has something for everybody — at least if “everybody” doesn’t include people who want a heavy buy.

Noted baseball writers covered the other two outcomes. Here’s Buster Olney with the status quo:

I’m guessing that’s not a “White Sox OK with the way it’s been” bulletin, but rather a random (perhaps requested) update for a team with no news to date. That tweet resonates only because that’s the logic that left the Sox inactive at the deadline.

On the rebuilding front, Jon Heyman says the Braves are the ones making noise on the Chris Sale front.

The White Sox listened to offers at the July trade deadline for Sale, but rival teams seem to believe there is a greater likelihood than ever that Sale will be dealt this winter. [...]

The Braves’ top young player is shortstop Dansby Swanson, but the White Sox have a very good young shortstop in Tim Anderson, and the Braves have many more good young players, so perhaps they could do it without Swanson. The Braves have other fine infield prospects (Ozzie Albies, Rio Ruiz, Austin Riley, Kevin Maitan and Travis Demeritte) plus a stash of young pitchers (Sean Newcomb, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller, Lucas Sims) that could form the basis of a big deal.

Conveniently, Baseball Prospectus started its offseason farm system rankings with the Braves, and it doesn’t seem like a great match for the White Sox’ top talent. It’s an excellent farm system — their most recent first-rounder is seventh (Anderson), followed by their $4.25 million international signing (Maitan) — and it’d be fun to see the White Sox try to work with Newcomb, but Swanson is the only guy who looks like a centerpiece for a cost-controlled All-Star pitcher, whether it’s Sale or Jose Quintana.

The idea of Swanson comes with at least two questions pre-installed.

  1. Isn’t Swanson one of the reasons an aggressive winter makes sense for Atlanta?
  2. Is a shortstop the best use of the White Sox’ best assets?

Swanson hit .302/.361/.442 for the Braves over 145 plate appearances while playing an acceptable shortstop. He was supposed to be doing this for the Diamondbacks, but Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa decided to make one of the most immediately laughable trades in recent baseball history. Within a year, a rebuilding Atlanta team locked down two up-the-middle positions (Ender Inciarte is the other) for a pitcher they don’t miss (Shelby Miller), which is why the Braves are adding faster than expected. The Braves have Albies around for shortstop depth, but he’s not yet on Swanson’s track.

Moreover, as Heyman noted, shortstop is one position the White Sox don’t have to address, as Tim Anderson delivered his own encouraging early returns. His hit tool (.283 average, 432 slugging) overcame his extreme aggressiveness (.306 OBP), and his defense surprised even those who thought he could stick at short. He didn’t have a shot at winning Rookie of the Year thanks to Michael Fulmer and Gary Sanchez, but he did snag a couple of third-place votes.

A choice between Anderson and Swanson is a textbook “great problem to have,” so it’s not worth creating itemized pro-con lists at this stage of the speculations. Rather, it illustrates that other farm systems — Dodgers and Red Sox, for example — look like better fits, in that all young players involved would be utilized at their natural/most valuable positions.