Just eight months ago, as captured in that lead art above, Matt Davidson had hit three homers on Opening Day in Kansas City, Avisaíl García was poised to prove his outstanding 2017 wasn’t a fluke, and the Chicago White Sox led the AL Central.
From there, things took a turn. Davidson not only failed to keep up his 486-homer pace, he basically failed to hit against anyone in baseball outside of Kansas City,
Matt Davidson 2018— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) November 30, 2018
7 games at Kauffman Stadium: .462/.563/1.308, 7 HR, 12 RBI, 5 BB, 4 K
116 games everywhere else: .213/.302/.363, 13 HR, 50 RBI, 47 BB, 161 K
and had his most notable moments as a sneaky-effective relief pitcher.
Avisaíl, we learned months later, tweaked his knee in warmups during that wintry mix of an Opening Day, an injury (and related maladies) he suffered with (and was disabled twice over) all season. While he clocked a personal best of 19 home runs, overall his play was miserable. Worse, but apropos for a 100-loss team, Avisaíl suffered non-hustle benchings by manager Ricky Renteria that seemed at best, misplaced, and at worst, idiotic given Avi’s attempts to play through pain.
With Davidson ticketed to earn $2.4 million in arbitration and Avisaíl $8 million (per Matt Swartz of MLBTradeRumors), both players were non-tendered on Friday’s contract deadline, making them free agents eligible to sign with any team — including the White Sox.
Chicago avoided arbitration with another player, superutilityman Leury García, by agreeing to a one-year, $1.55 million contract.
Avisaíl played for six seasons on the South Side. He had 4.6 bWAR in 2017, accounting essentially for the whole of his career value. In that season, Avisaíl was an All-Star and finished second in AL batting average (.300) to José Altuve. He also finished in the AL Top 10 in several other categories: on-base percentage (.380, 7th), hits (171, 10th), triples (5, 9th), singles (121, 6th), adjusted OPS+ (138, 9th), and right field assists (13, 1st).
The hulking hitter was acquired in the summer of 2013 as part of a three-way deal, with the White Sox sending Jake Peavy to Boston and getting back Avisaíl from the Detroit Tigers and Frankie Montas, Cleuluis Rondón and J.B. Wendelken from the Red Sox.
Having passed the minimum qualifier of 1,500 career plate appearances, Avisaíl occupies a spot in the all-time White Sox record book in several areas:
- 15th-most Ks in White Sox history (551)
- 26th all-time in at-bats per home run (29.4)
- tied for 33rd with Jack Fourmier, Ron Kittle, Danny Green, Tom McCraw, Billy Sullivan and Juan Pierre in hit by pitch (28)
- tied for 37th with Alex Rios in home runs (74)
- tied with Eddie Collins, A.J. Pierzynski and Dayan Viciedo for 38th in slugging percentage (.424)
- tied for 43rd with Joe Kuhel in GIDP (55)
- 46th all-time with a 38.5 power-speed number.
Davidson played two full seasons with the White Sox, showing a decrease in slugging percentage in 2018 but otherwise showing noticeable improvements. He went from a -0.9 bWAR to 1.1, a two-win swing almost entirely attributable to gains on offense (Davidson, to the extent he was allowed to field, has never brought value with the glove), generally ranking between third and fifth on the White Sox in a wide variety of hitting categories. And, as sassily noted above, Davidson hit the pitcher’s mound for three scoreless outings in 2018, earning 0.1 bWAR.
While many of his skills seem duplicated, and potential ceiling eclipsed, by clubbing phenom Daniel Palka it’s nonetheless curious that Rick Hahn abandoned Davidson after a year in which he demonstrated real statistical growth. It’s silly to go to the mat (heh) for a guy who can’t field or run, and is otherwise a limited player but for a phenomenal flow and penchant for breaking hearts at Kauffman Stadium, but Davidson was asked to improve on some woeful production in 2017, and he did. But for a paltry price of two-and-a-half-mil, those improvements weren’t good enough.
Losing Davidson — if it turns out that the corner infielder/DH/relief pitcher/podcaster doesn’t return for, like, a minimum salary — means that three of the five White Sox hitters in 2018 with a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) that was better than league average are now gone. Joining Davidson are Omar Narváez, dealt to the Seattle Mariners today, and Kevan Smith, lost to waivers earlier this month.
Davidson was drafted in 2009’s first round by the Arizona Diamondbacks and came to the White Sox five years ago, in exchange for closer Addison Reed.
In sunnier news, Leury García and the White Sox avoided the arbitration process by agreeing to a one-year, $1.55 million deal. If MLBTR predicted a $1.9 million payday for Leury in 2019 and this compromised was a split down the middle, that finds the White Sox valuing jack-of-all-trades Leury at a mere $1.2 million.
Leury certainly represents to the White Sox everything players like Davidson and Avisaíl don’t, multi-position flexibility, speed and a variety of hitting tools (aka Ricky Don’t Quit Bunting). His .271 average was the highest on the White Sox among, chortle, non-catchers, and his .355 BABIP led the club.
Like his García-in-arms Avisaíl, Leury was acquired in the summer of 2013, the player to be named later from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Rios. And like Avisaíl, Leury’s breakout major league season came in 2017, when he earned 1.2 bWAR in essentially a half-season of play. Again, like Avisaíl, that 2017 performance essentially accounts for all of Leury’s career bWAR value.
However, unlike Avisaíl, Leury managed to be nearly as efficient in 2018 (though injured) as he was in 2017; in five fewer games and 51 fewer plate appearances, Leury still managed a 0.8 bWAR. Leury also played at least one full game’s worth of innings at six positions during the season.
Overall, today’s moves (including the trade of Narváez), shore up a few question marks about the 2019 club:
- While Hahn claims the White Sox will still be shopping for late-inning relief this offseason, the acquisition of Alex Colomé fills the position of closer that was left unmanned since last summer’s trade of Joakim Soria north to the Milwaukee Brewers. Overnight, a bullpen with a murky foundation of raw arms, retreads and the lame runs confidently three deep, with Colomé closing, and Nate Jones and Jace Fry providing setup arms from either side.
- We should not expect Leury García to be the only Swiss army knife player on the 2019 roster, but in case a brand-new multi-tool, multi-positional player doesn’t drop out the sky, Leury will fill that role. Going forward, José Rondón and Yolmer Sánchez should also be prepared to fill such a function on the roster, however.
- The White Sox need a catcher. Hahn reiterated that Seby Zavala, now No. 2 on the catching depth chart despite playing just half a season (and a bit of a beat-up half-season) in Triple-A, will not ascend to a backup role with the big club by inertia. Expect a major push for a free agent (Yasmani Grandal) or one of the approximately eight thousand veteran catchers being made available via trade. (J.T. Realmuto, Russell Martin, Francisco Cervelli ... do you really expect me to look them all up? Dude, it’s been a long, otherwise innocent, November day, gimme a break.)
- Is a bit more accountability being demanded on the South Side? Davidson did nothing not to deserve a $2.4 million flier for 2019, and there are arguments to be made that in spite of all our Avisaíl fatigue, without a ready replacement from the system, the White Sox could give the kid one more year and benefit from his seven-figure contract push, with dingers. Even shipping out Narváez, who hit like a banshee this season, indicates that players unable to master all aspects of the game won’t have a place on the 2020s White Sox. (That last part was written while projecting ahead, in Conan voice, with a flashlight under my chin.)
- Palka had already earned the right to breathe easy and expect regular at-bats in 2019, but with projected DH platoon partner Davidson jettisoned, 550 PAs of designated hitting are now Palka’s to polka away.
- With Avisaíl gone, as of now, it’s good news for the three dozen AAAA outfielders who are in the organization, including Ryan Cordell, Adam Engel, Nicky Delmonico, Charlie Tilson and the four or five guys the White Sox will buy from the bargain bin in late March. If Hahn really does follow through with his wrath plan to “make Eloy learn the catching the ball with the mitt” thing and not let him break camp with the White Sox, perhaps the evil genius of an otherwise obstinate plan is to push the manchild to right field, because there is a gaping hole there now for 2019. Palka cannot play right field, or any field. Leury can see time there, but with his arm at least slightly south of even Adam Eaton’s, putting the 5´8´´ mini-mite in right is not ideal. Delmonico has two left feet, and two left shoulders when diving. Engel is wasted anywhere but center, and let’s face it, he’s sort of wasted on a major league field, period. Cordell? Maybe. Tilson? Nah. Right now, RF really should read N/A.