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Grading the 2016-17 Offseason, Part Two

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A look at the moves the White Sox didn’t make, plus an overall assessment

MLB: Winter Meetings
Rick Hahn is off to a good start, but has work left to do
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The first installment of this year’s offseason review looked at the moves the White Sox made this winter. Now, it’s time to look at the players the White Sox didn’t trade away and deliver the final grade.

There has been plenty of speculation from fans and reporters alike regarding which players might be on the move. Here’s a list of names that have been commonly discussed that still remain in White Sox camp:

  • David Robertson
  • Nate Jones
  • Melky Cabrera
  • Todd Frazier
  • Miguel Gonzalez
  • Jose Abreu
  • Jose Quintana

These seven players can be split into three different categories

Minimal Trade Value

1. Melky Cabrera

Cabrera’s being paid like a 2-win player and he’s probably a little worse than that. The best the White Sox can hope for with Melky is that he has a hot first half and gets some interest during the summer, as an acquiring team would then be on the hook for less than half of his $15 million salary.

2. Miguel Gonzalez

Gonzalez put up above-average peripherals for the first time in his career in 2016 and was a nice surprise for the White Sox. However, with just one year of control remaining and an uneven track record of health and performance preceding this past season, it’s unlikely a team would give up much for him, even at a modest $5.9 million price tag. Furthermore, the White Sox will need someone to eat innings this season, particularly with the back of the rotation looking flimsy.

Reasonable Holds

1. David Robertson

Robertson is owed $25 million over the next two years. That’s a significant discount relative to the current market for elite relievers, but there might be a perception that Robertson doesn’t belong in that club. His strikeout rate took a little dip last season while his walks spiked to off-putting levels. A look at Baseball Prospectus’ valuation and the fact that Robertson relies a good deal on late movement on his pitches lends one to think that he may have been a significant victim of last season’s framing disaster. He’s a decent enough candidate for a bounce-back that his value might increase between now and July.

2. Todd Frazier

Frazier is a third baseman coming off a Three-True-Outcomes season, meaning he’s two things that the market wasn’t eager to pay for this offseason. Frazier set a career high in home runs but the rest of his batted ball profile took a turn for the scary, as his infield pop-up rate soared to the highest in the majors. His $12 million price tag isn’t absurd and certainly represents a discount for his services, but it might not fit snugly into tight payrolls. If Frazier posts a respectable BABIP in the first half while the White Sox pay the majority of that remaining salary, there should be interest in the summer.

3. Jose Abreu

Abreu has the same timetable as Chris Sale for free agency, so when the White Sox decided to rebuild, Abreu seemed like a natural choice to flip. However, Abreu was likely yet another victim of the down market for defensively-limited sluggers. Furthermore, early on in last season, pitchers were able to sap Abreu’s power by aggressively throwing the ball in on his hands. In the second half, he adjusted and more resembled the power hitter we used to know. Allowing Abreu a chance to prove he’s righted the ship could improve his trade stock. Finally, Yoan Moncada is the single most important player the White Sox have acquired this offseason and having Abreu around as a mentor could prove to be a significant benefit.

Ideally Should Have Been Traded

1. Jose Quintana

Quintana has four years of team control remaining at $35.35 million. Based on the escalating salaries and a reasonable forecast for decline, about one-third of the projected surplus value remaining on that contract will be used up in 2017. If all surplus wins are valued equally, that means that a fair market would estimate that at the trade deadline, Quintana will be worth about 80% of what he’s worth right now.

Of course, there’s a faulty assumption in there. Teams in a pennant chase will place greater-than-normal value on purchasing August and September wins because those games carry so much extra leverage. Even if acquired in July, Quintana still has a chance to significantly impact four seasons for the team that gets him. Therefore, if Quintana is healthy and maintains his same level of performance through July, I have to imagine his market value won’t be any lower than it is now.

The issue with keeping Quintana is that there’s little room for his value to increase; the White Sox are carrying risk without the upside. This isn’t an insult, but Quintana’s peaked already; there’s no next level in his repertoire that’s going to make teams think he’s even better. Meanwhile, each start he makes for the White Sox is a waste of a 4-5 WAR talent during which either his health or results could take a turn for the worse. Because Quintana’s intrinsic value can’t realistically climb, the White Sox are gambling that offers will improve between now and July purely from changes in market demand. In any event, if he remains on the team on August 1st, they’ll have made a mistake. There’s no way Quintana’s age 29-31 seasons would carry more weight in trade than his age 28-31 seasons and if they don’t trade him at all, it’s more than fair to question the team’s commitment to this direction.

2. Nate Jones

Signing Nate Jones to a team-friendly extension seemed like a good idea last offseason. Now that he’s had a full, healthy season as a top-20 reliever in baseball (and even better than that if you use metrics that don’t punish him for pitch-framing debacles), five years for a maximum of $20.65 million for one of baseball’s best firemen looks like a great asset. Jones is entering his age-31 season and is reliant upon an upper-90’s fastball to set up his high-80’s slider. You can go ahead and take a guess which direction his effectiveness is going to go by the time the White Sox are ready to contend again.

If he stays on the White Sox, Jones is likely going to spend his two or so additional years as one of baseball’s top stoppers for a franchise that really doesn’t need wins. Given Jones’ age and his status as a Tommy John survivor, he’s always going to carry significant injury risk and since the White Sox have little short-term use for him, he needs to be traded as soon as possible. We don’t know what discussions have gone on behind the scenes, but it’s admittedly concerning that Jones didn’t pop up in a single trade rumor this offseason, particularly given the aggressive market for top relief pitchers. The White Sox could still reap big rewards for Jones at the trade deadline, but he carries even more risk than Quintana thanks to past health issues and a smaller innings sample in the first half of the season.

Overall Assessment

Although they went in a different direction, this offseason has felt similar to each of the past two in that the White Sox raised expectations by making some big moves early on and then went dormant with a lot of unfinished business on the table.

One key difference this time around is that there’s a little less sense of urgency to finish the job. The last two seasons featured average, shaky rosters that couldn’t afford to wait until the trade deadline for reinforcements. A rebuild allows the White Sox some ability to be patient, though as mentioned above, that patience carries the risk of depreciation of two of their best trade chips in Quintana and Jones.

After the trades of Sale and Eaton, the White Sox have a well below-average major league roster and a farm system that ranks somewhere in the top ten (and by most accounts, within the top five). That’s a great start, but the White Sox have to continue to shift surplus wins from the present to the future because they won’t have much on the major league team to supplement the prospects that pan out. Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson, and Tyler Saladino are the only current White Sox that have lost prospect eligibility and are projected to play a role on the next competitive White Sox team. Even an above-average outcome for the current crop of prospects would leave a lot of holes on the diamond, mostly on the position player side.

Given the difficulty the White Sox have had with building around a core, it’s very important that their next crop of cost-controlled talent is stronger and deeper than the last one. Barring a bunch of guys hitting their 75th-or-better percentile projection, we’re not there yet. There seems to be acknowledgement of this, as Rick Hahn has publicly stated that he wished the White Sox were able to do more this winter. After two years of the front office expressing confidence in incomplete rosters, it’s comforting to hear that they understand that there’s still work on the table. Despite those good intentions, I can’t give them credit for moves that haven’t (yet) happened.

The White Sox pulled off an impressive feat by getting at least fair value for their two best assets. However, it was discouraging that they were unable to accomplish much else. Even if no other major trades were workable, they made relatively few minor moves that could help them build for the future. Bringing in Derek Holland was a decent idea and it would have been nice to see some other flippable players or change-of-scenery candidates acquired, particularly since two (arguably three) lineup spots will be occupied by uninteresting replacement-level players.

Even if we’ve been left wanting more for a third straight year, the White Sox made strong steps toward a rebuild and it’s hard to be disappointed when such significant progress is made towards a good goal. The majority of teams didn’t accomplish this much, and some (::cough:: Detroit ::cough::) even had a counter-productive offseason. The foundation has been laid for a thorough and successful rebuild. Now, all the White Sox need to do is follow through on it.

Offseason Grade: B