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Grading the 2016-17 Offseason, Part One

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An evaluation of the significant moves the White Sox made this winter

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox
The Chris Sale trade stands out as the White Sox’ best move of the offseason
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

With spring training in full swing and the hot stove league drawing to a close, it’s time for our annual look back at how the White Sox fared over the winter.

This offseason is admittedly trickier to evaluate than previous ones. There were two directions the White Sox could have chosen and a strong commitment to either would have had merit. The White Sox elected to rebuild. While it’s fun to play the “what-if” game, particularly given the way the market for some attractive players evolved, we’re just going to focus on how effectively the White Sox pursued their chosen course.

Per usual, I’m going to evaluate each major league move the White Sox made individually and give an overall assessment. Because a rebuild entails trading away a team’s own players, it’s easier to comment on the moves that didn’t happen, so as an added element this year, we’ll examine the situations for the players that are still here. I'm excluding minor league signings and waiver claims from the individual move assessments because even though some may have a some real impact, they generally boil down to either "no risk, but with upside" or "a little extra depth can't hurt". The next minor league signing that deserves an “F” will be the first. However, I will take these moves into account for the final grade.

Here's an explanation of the grading scale. An "average" grade is on the C+/C borderline. An "A" is a move that looks like a complete win, through and through. The best example I could give of an "A" move from recent years is the acquisition of Kevin Youkilis in 2012 for Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge. An "F" is a decision with very little, if any, redeeming qualities. “F” moves are not only below-average, but counterproductive to a team’s goals. Non-tendering Tyler Flowers to sign Dioner Navarro is a good example. An "A" is the highest possible grade.

Keep in mind when considering these grades that most moves that a given team makes are helpful in some way. A "C" decision is generally preferable over doing nothing, even if it's unremarkable or has some drawbacks.

Decisions to tender or non-tender a player along with choosing whether to pick up a team option are binary decisions, so they’ll be evaluated on a pass/fail basis.

OK. Onto the moves.

No. 1: Tendered contracts to:

  • Todd Frazier — Pass
  • Brett Lawrie — Pass
  • Dan Jennings — Pass
  • Avisail Garcia — Fail
  • Miguel Gonzalez — Pass
  • Zach Putnam — Pass
  • Jake Petricka — Pass
  • Jose Abreu — Pass

There’s a pretty detailed explanation of why it made little sense to keep Garcia here. In short, a rebuild significantly reduces the sting of retaining Garcia, but we’re over 1,500 plate appearances into this movie. Garcia’s already arb-eligible, is only potentially under control through 2019, has exhibited no valuable major league skill, and has bat-only potential. It’d take major improvement from Garcia to become a hitter as good as Pedro Alvarez, who hasn’t even been guaranteed a major league job yet. Even a team not serious about winning can find a better use of plate appearances and a roster space. Still, even though this feels like the wrong call, tendering Garcia is unlikely to matter in the long run. The greater disappointment is not the money likely wasted on Garcia, it’s the lack of serious pursuit of any legitimate alternatives.

I could see an argument for “Fail” for Lawrie since they’ve released him already, but I’m sticking with “Pass” since it made sense to retain him at the time. It was reasonable for the White Sox to see how both the roster and Lawrie’s health played out before making a final decision on him.

No. 2: Declined to tender a contract to:

  • Daniel Webb (released) — Pass
  • J.B. Shuck (outrighted) — Pass
  • Blake Smith — Pass

Whatever.

No. 3: Traded LHP Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for 2B/3B Yoan Moncada, RHP Michael Kopech, CF Luis Alexander Basabe, and RHP Victor Diaz

The White Sox announced that the rebuild was on as aggressively as possible by netting a major haul from Boston for their ace lefty, the best trade chip in recent baseball memory. Speculation ran wild about what the White Sox might be able to obtain for Sale, but in the end, this price felt just about right. I lean toward thinking that it was slightly more than what I would have deemed fair value, but there’s enough risk in the guys the White Sox obtained that I could hardly call it an overpay on Boston’s part.

Of the significant players that the White Sox had the opportunity to trade this offseason, Chris Sale was the single most important player to deal. Somehow, his three years of remaining team control represented a tie for shortest commitment length of the White Sox’ core players. It’s also clear that Sale’s market value was the highest of any White Sox asset. Finally, after all the clashes this year, I’m sure it’s in everyone’s best interests to put some distance between Sale and White Sox management.

Given the importance of specifically dealing Sale this winter, the difficult task of finding a fair return for such a premium trade asset, and the fact that the ultimate package looks more like a slight premium than a discount, the White Sox did very well here.

Decision Grade: A

No. 4: Traded OF Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals for RHP Lucas Giolito, RHP Reynaldo Lopez and RHP Dane Dunning

Just one day after Rick Hahn executed the blockbuster deal of the winter, he pulled off a worthy second act by dealing Eaton to Washington. Eaton was a less obvious trade candidate because his five remaining years of control almost certainly overlap the White Sox’ target for their next competitive team. Nonetheless, it was a great idea to sell him now.

Eaton just finished his age-27 season and it’s safe to say he’s peaked. He’s been a 120 OPS+ player for three straight years and put up eye-popping defensive metrics in 2016. It’s practically a guarantee that the latter will regress because he shouldn’t be able to sustain his rate of outfield assists once runners finally wisen up (and Eaton’s mere two gun-downs over the last two months suggest they already have). Furthermore, a lot of Eaton’s game on both sides of the ball relies on his speed, so counting on him to be a star player in his age 31-32 seasons is probably not a wise bet. The White Sox did well to cash in on him now after what will probably be the best season of his career (and that’s no insult).

When news of this trade broke, many were quick to ridicule the Nationals and I imagine a lot of that ridicule was tied up in the little number “3” by Giolito’s name in the most recently published prospect rankings at the time. As is reflected by more recent evaluations, Giolito displayed erratic command and diminished velocity in 2016, so he’s still a risky bet as the trade’s headliner and the White Sox will have to work to get him back on track. With Lopez’s future role uncertain and Dunning still needing to clear many minor league hurdles, it seems unfair to say the Nats greatly overpaid for Eaton; they got five years of a really cheap, really good player. If anything, they could be criticized for fit, as they’ll need to use Eaton in center where he’s struggled instead of right field where he’s flourished, but that’s irrelevant for evaluating the trade from the White Sox’ side.

Despite these concerns about what the White Sox received, the upside of the return for Eaton is huge and the White Sox picked the right time to sell. Dealing Sale this winter may have been a no-brainer for a rebuild, but Rick Hahn should get credit for having the foresight to trade Eaton.

Decision Grade: A-

No 5. Signed LHP Derek Holland for one year, $6 million

The rebuilding White Sox need someone to eat innings and turned to Holland as a piece who can fill out a rotation. For the last three years, Holland has struggled with both pitching and staying on the field. He’s now in the right organization to help with both of those things. The appeal of a team signing a player like this is the potential to rebuild his value over the first half of the season and flip him for something neat at the trade deadline.

It’s a pretty safe bet that Don Cooper has some idea of how to fix Derek Holland, but that could be a tall task. Holland’s slider is not what it was prior to his injury-marred three-year stint and he hasn’t been able to put up the same strikeout numbers without it. To make matters worse, he’s a fly ball pitcher, so the short fences and (projected) terrible outfielders won’t do him many favors.

Despite those drawbacks, this is the sort of signing a rebuilding team should make. There’s almost no risk in this move.

Decision Grade: C

Part Two will be posted tomorrow and will contain a review of the players the White Sox didn’t trade along with an overall assessment. Stay tuned.