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White Sox will have competition in deadline reliever market

It shouldn’t stop them from trading a healthy, effective David Robertson if he’s healthy, effective

MLB: Boston Red Sox at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As we’ve discussed many, many, many, many, many times this offseason, the White Sox don’t need to trade David Robertson, especially if they think a knee surgery will cure the problems that plagued him during the second half. A half-season return to form would do wonders for his trade stock, especially since a team wouldn’t have to commit big closer money beyond 2018.

Yet it’s good to be aware of what the midseason market might look like since the White Sox won’t be in a vacuum, and Jeff Sullivan says the market could be flooded by the Sox’ National League’s parallel, the San Diego Padres:

Around deadline time, there exists a sort of reliever premium. This is mostly because, by the deadline, teams know where they stand, and in the playoffs you can exaggerate a reliever’s usage pattern to squeeze the most out of him. Every year, no matter how much offseason preparation was done, there are always contenders who need to boost their bullpens. The Padres have several guys they could conceivably market, but the big three for now are Ryan Buchter, Carter Capps, and Brad Hand.

Sullivan uses the Brewers as the model for this kind of development, since Milwaukee dealt three of their bullpen success stories during and after the 2016 season:

  • Will Smith: Traded to San Francisco for Andrew Susac and Phil Bickford.
  • Jeremy Jeffress: Traded with Jonathan Lucroy to Texas for Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz and Ryan Cordell.
  • Tyler Thornburg: Traded to Boston for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington.

I don’t think Jeffress is particularly instructive here since Lucroy did the heavy lifting in that prospect haul, but Smith and Thornburg are good examples of the way the Brewers made themselves even more interesting mid-rebuild. Dubon and Bickford are both top-10 prospects in a deep Milwaukee system, and while Shaw and Susac aren’t young for their experience levels, they still have six years of team control left if they’re better than expected, and they offer flexibility/depth for murky rosters if they can’t capitalize on their previous potential.

The Brewers didn’t ruin the market for the rest of baseball. Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller yielded considerable returns and provided the template for any 90th-percentile Robertson deal, the Pirates dealt Mark Melancon, and even the White Sox made a decent trade involving Zach Duke. Relievers figure to be in demand at the deadline for the foreseeable future, especially if Terry Francona and Joe Maddon started a movement by draining their best relievers in October.

However, any equally nifty exchange involving Robertson will rely on him being healthy and effective, because there will be lots of other relievers available at a fraction of the cost. In fact, one of those more marketable options might be in the same bullpen if Nate Jones is fully past his surgery woes.

That’s why I’m ambivalent about the timing of a Robertson trade. If the Nationals finally capitulated and offered the White Sox a non-Victor Robles prospect of note, I could understand the impetus. If the White Sox want to hold out for selling high, I understand why they’d gamble on a higher payoff. As I’ve said before, the latter route will require Rick Renteria to avoid overusing his best relievers, and everybody watching to understand unconventional relief appearances. If the White Sox are as bad as they project to be, the extra wins won’t be worth as much as the extra potential returns.