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White Sox trade Anthony Swarzak, add to outfield competition

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Ryan Cordell is a potential fourth outfielder joining in organization with plenty such players

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

One day after giving Anthony Swarzak the opportunity to record his first major-league save, the White Sox are giving him an opportunity to pitch for a contender.

While the deal is not yet official, multiple outlets -- including Scott Merkin — have reported the traded their last above-average reliever to the Milwaukee Brewers for 25-year-old outfielder Ryan Cordell. The deal is not yet official because Cordell is on the disabled list with a back issue:

(Update: It’s official.)

Cordell, a 6-foot-4-inch, 195-pound righty selected out of Liberty University in the 11th round of the 2013 draft, was listed as the Brewers’ 17th-best prospect as a position where Milwaukee has prospect depth, including Lewis Brinson and Corey Ray. The Brewers had acquired Cordell along with Brinson in the Jonathan Lucroy trade last summer.

Cordell is on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster, so a swap with Swarzak won’t change that math. Swarzak’s departure will open up a spot on the pitching staff, and hopefully the White Sox finally call up Reynaldo Lopez to take it, with Mike Pelfrey moving to the bullpen to soak up innings elsewhere.

Given that Swarzak was the only trustworthy closer candidate after David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle were sent to the Yankees, this feels light.

Given that Swarzak is 31 years old, was a non-roster spring-training invitee before the season, will be a free agent after the season and is experiencing unprecedented success in between, it’s a triumph he was worth a player who could feasibly make the majors somehow.

The player was either going to be too young or too old to be truly exciting, but Cordell seems to have more a little more unexplored upside than the average 25-year-old, according to people who know a thing or two. MLB.com’s scouting report:

Cordell has long stood out for his athleticism and tools, four of which have the potential to grade as at least average. He has the bat speed and strength to hit for power from the right side, and he's shown the feel for hitting and sound approach to produce solid batting averages. Cordell struggles to control the strike zone and has swing-and-miss tendencies, though he's also shown an ability to make adjustments throughout his career. Cordell has plus speed that makes him a threat on the basepaths, and he's efficient when he chooses to run.

Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs:

Cordell was old for his level in 2016, a level he was essentially repeating. But the adjustments he’s made are substantive and are encouraging considering the likelihood that he and his long levers will likely need to make more of them down the line. Though none of them project to be especially loud, Cordell is closer to being a five-tool player than many other prospects gilded with such a title. I think he has a chance to be a second-division regular.

His recent home parks add to the mystery. He’s a 25-year-old outfielder who is hitting .284/.349/.506 at Triple-A Colorado Springs, which would be impressive if it weren’t Colorado Springs, because its name starts with “Colorado.”

The former plays at Security Service Field, which sits 6,531 feet above sea level and is the highest ballpark in the country in terms of elevation, more than 1,000 feet higher than Coors Field in Denver. Given the way a baseball is known to soar in high-altitude environments, it'd be expected that the home of the Sky Sox would produce lots of offense, and indeed it does. Security Service Field has ranked first in both run and hit factors in Triple-A over the past three seasons, even after the use of a humidor to keep baseballs in atmosphere-controlled conditions.

However, the park actually tilts toward pitchers when it comes to long balls with a 0.938 home run factor in 2016 and 0.970 over the past three seasons. The stadium does go long down the lines at 350 feet to both right and left fields, extending out to 410 in center, but Mother Nature has perhaps the biggest say in who gets to leave the yard in Colorado Springs.

Sure enough, there’s a massive home-road split of almost 400 points. Some of it you can wave away for the same reason Coors Field splits are overblown, although less can be assumed about minor-league performance. You also can’t easily look back at his work in Double-A Frisco while a member of the Rangers organization — .264/.319/.484 -- because his home was the most offense-friendly park in the Texas League.

So, until he proves otherwise, what the White Sox have is a right-handed outfielder who is most likely to be a fourth outfielder if he makes it. That gives him plenty of company as the Sox continue their hunt for late bloomers. If Melky Cabrera finds a suitor, Ricks Hahn and Renteria will have plenty of options for the extra outfield opportunities.

Willy Garcia: He’s a 24-year-old right-handed outfielder on the 40-man roster, and hit .259/.316/.424 over 96 irregularly distributed plate appearances when he really had no business being there. This is the first year his tools have translated into results, at least since rookie ball, and his 28-percent strikeout rate at Charlotte is troublesome. At least he’s an everyday player again, giving him a better chance to develop.

Adam Engel: He’s a 25-year-old right-handed outfielder on the 40-man roster, but he’s the best defensive center fielder and baserunner of the bunch, and he’s been keeping his head above water at the plate (.239/.308/.376). Strikeouts keep him from being a starter, and there are two ways to look at it: 1) His hit tool was supposed to keep him out of the majors, so maybe he can keep working, or 2) It’s unrealistic to expect further improvement.

Jacob May: He’s 25 and on the 40-man roster, although his first cup of coffee was a disaster. He went 2-for-36 with 17 strikeouts, and his shallow positioning in center field turned out to be a liability. He might be able to correct that, and switch-hitting distinguishes him a little, but given that he’s hitting .247/.308/.328 in Charlotte, he may not get another chance, at least in a Sox uniform.

Charlie Tilson: If Tilson can ever get back on the field for a White Sox affiliate, he’ll be 25 when it happens thanks to a series of injuries (torn hamstring, stress fractures in his foot and ankle). Coming over from the Cardinals in the Zach Duke trade, Tilson had an outside chance to be an everyday center fielder thanks to defense, speed and a hit tool from the left side that made use of his speed. Alas, he’s been out for more than a year at this point, and now the pool in center is surprisingly crowded.

(Also, did you see that Duke is pitching for the Cardinals a little less than six months since his Tommy John surgery?)

Nicky Delmonico: He just turned 25 and is not on the 40-man (although he’ll be Rule 5 eligible), and he’s been playing third base when his future is most likely left field. He’s hitting .264/.354/.430 in Charlotte, where his most notable accomplishment is a dramatic improvement in his plate discipline. A trade like the one for Cordell makes it harder for him to break in, but his left-handedness gives him an inroad.

Rymer Liriano: He just turned 26, and he’s a corner outfielder who is not on the 40-man, so Cordell’s acquisition almost overlaps Liriano entirely. The White Sox acquired Liriano with the idea that he might be able to convert on his previous top-100 status once he gained some distance from concussion issues, and his season is following that course in Charlotte:

  • April-May: .229/.289/.319, 8.2% BB, 26.4% K over 159 PA
  • June-July: .293/.373/.482, 10.7% BB, 22.5 K over 187 PA

One issue is that he’s done most of his damage this season against lefties, with a whopping 464-point disparity with the platoon advantage (1.066 to .602). That can be useful under the right circumstances, but “lefty masher” is a tough job to hold on a team with an eight-man bullpen, especially if you can’t play center. Cordell has played more center (145 games) than any other position in affiliated ball, so even if he’s a true corner, he can make a better case for versatility.

One player not mentioned is Leury Garcia, who last appeared on June 15 before hitting the disabled list with a sprained finger. He was maybe the White Sox’ most valuable player in terms of Wins Above Replacement before the injury, and his versatility guarantees him a job even if he’s not a true starting center fielder. He’s not going to be exposed to a roster crunch the way other players might — biding time in Triple-A, Rule 5 exposure, minor-league free agency, etc. Maybe the Sox end up trading Garcia to cash in on value, but it’ll be for an MLB roster spot elsewhere.