Last winter, Rick Hahn and the White Sox entered the offseason’s two big conferences with the entire direction of the team resting on their actions. They acted boldly and dominated the winter meetings by trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, and thus starting the rebuild.
This time around, the only major question hovering over the White Sox is whether they’ll trade Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu.
Sure, Hahn left the door open for more ...
“It has to be in play,” Hahn said of listening to offers on those two. “Everything is in play. Even a couple of years ago when we come to these meetings, there would be all these Chris Sale rumors. The reason for that was we had to keep our options open. There are simply no untouchables. We have to fully vet and understand our players and make an appropriate decision about what is best for the long-term health of the organization.”
... but that’s something he has to say because of precedent. I’d quibble with the “everything” part, because it wouldn’t make any sense to deal Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech or Eloy Jimenez. When it comes to talent within a half-decade of free agency, though, the Sale, Eaton and Jose Quintana trades erased the idea of “untouchable” at this stage in the rebuild.
Neither trade strikes me as likely, although I’d put Garcia ahead of Abreu, simply because his brand of baseball — a big man who needs his legs, a strong man whose power goes the other way — is a difficult way to make a living. Moreover, his breakout wasn’t sparked by newfound selectivity, but by being even more aggressive. He led the league in swinging, both on the first pitch and afterward.
Garcia has always been weird, and pnoles showed by BABIP alone doesn’t disqualify him from future success, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the league made the White Sox wait until Garcia proves he could do it again.
In contrast to Garcia, Abreu’s skills and strengths are well-defined, and he’s as close to a known entity as there is. He’s also on track to hit free agency after 2019. This combination should theoretically make it easier to deal him, and yet it’s harder for me to treat the idea of an Abreu trade seriously. It’s partially because of his stabilizing presence in the clubhouse, particularly for Cuban prospects of note. More tangibly, the market still isn’t great for moving him.
Abreu will turn 31 before pitchers and catchers report, and his final two years could pay him more than $30 million. Meanwhile, first base is one of the areas where a team in need of a first baseman can find one via free agency. Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana headline the lists, but Logan Morrison and Yonder Alonso both had respectable seasons as starters in 2017.
This talent glut brings to mind the situation the Sox faced with David Robertson last year. The open market offered three brand-name closers (Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon), which suited the teams who planned on really investing in the spot. After that, the Nationals were the only team that needed a closer on that level, but ownership didn’t want to absorb that kind of financial commitment.
The White Sox eventually found a taker for Robertson at the deadline, because Robertson stanched his decline as a new market developed, and this time there wasn’t a pool of comparable players who only cost money. Abreu is coming off a better season than Robertson did last winter, but this scenario still strikes me as the one more conducive for a trade — one where he serves as a midseason upgrade and also solves a problem for 2019.
But even then, it’s hard for me to see the Sox breaking up an Abreu-Moncada right side of the infield for anything less than a very helpful return. Unlike Robertson, who’d be owed significant guaranteed money for a team that looked likely to lose 90ish games, arb years give teams a few options if disaster strikes. With no financial incentives or blocked prospects forcing the Sox’ hand, the motivation would have to entirely come from the other side of the table, and teams haven’t been climbing over each other to outbid for 30something corner players.
Based on Hahn’s quote, he strikes me as equally skeptical Abreu is going anywhere:
“His leadership, his role in the clubhouse, the way he plays the game, the example he sets for everyone is important,” Hahn said of Abreu. “It's something that quite frankly may well tilt it so that we value him more than anyone else in the game because we've had the privilege of having him in our clubhouse and know the value that he adds and others are just speculating on that part. Every team in baseball is able to put a value on him based on what he does between the lines. We increase that value to us based on what he does in the clubhouse.”