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José Abreu to Los Angeles?

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Let’s break down what a White Sox-Dodgers deal could actually look like

Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox
Say it Ain’t So, José: The best White Sox hitter over the past five seasons could be on the move to Los Angeles.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Well, well, well, is Jose Abreu about to leave, even though GM Rick Hahn indicated he was looking to add MLB pieces, not subtract? It is probably two years too late to get a top-level prospect haul for Abreu, but here we are, contemplating a trade of our unofficial captain again.

The Goldschmidt Gauge

Thanks to a recent deal for a superstar first baseman, we have some sort of a baseline for a Jose Abreu deal. The Arizona Diamondbacks traded Paul Goldschmidt for Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, Andy Young, and a 2019 competitive balance B pick (MLB.com says it is 78th overall). This should come as no surprise, but Goldschmidt is much better than Abreu, at just about everything.

Before the 2017 season, Luke Weaver was around the 50th-70th best prospect in all of baseball. He made his MLB debut in 2016, and performed admirably — and he was even better in 2017. However, 2018 was not an inspiring year for the young righty. Weaver’s K/9 plummeted below eight, and his BB/9 went from 2.54 in 2017 to 3.56 in 2018. Obviously, the FIP skyrocketed as well, to 4.45, and he even lost his starting spot in September. Weaver is probably not the top prospect he once was, but he is still a great headliner in the trade.

Carson Kelly, the now-former Yadier Molina replacement, also made his debut in 2016. He is reportedly a very good defensive catcher, but has not gone through enough major league at-bats to really gauge his hit tool. Scouts are not particularly fond of Kelly’s bat, whether it is for contact or power, but his bat has been above average in AAA. In 2017, Kelly had a wRC+ of 120 in AAA. His wRC+ did fall to 107 in 2018, but that is still a good mark, especially when he had a 13.8% walk and strikeout rate in AAA. I do not think Kelly has a high ceiling with the bat, but as framing pitches is seemingly becoming more important, Kelly is a good pickup.

Andy Young had a good year in A+ and AA last year; however, there is not much potential there, most scouts agree. He will be 25 next season, so Young’s lower-level success is already skewed due to his age. The 37th round pick in 2016 just gives off a Jake Peter vibe from his stats, so he is kind of a fringe prospect.

Draft picks are hard to find value, but that does not mean we cannot try! To gauge what a high-70s draft pick is equivalent to, let’s look at the 2018 draft. The Chicago Cubs picked 77th and 78th overall. The 77th overall pick, Cole Roederer, currently is the 14th-best prospect in the organization. Their 78th overall pick, Paul Richan, is not among the Top 30 Cubs prospects. The Detroit Tigers selected Kody Clemens 79th overall, and he is their 16th-best prospect. Jake Wong was chosen 80th by the San Francisco Giants, and he is their 21st-best prospect. And let’s wedge the White Sox in here: They selected Konnor Pilkington No. 81, and he is their 18th-best prospect. So, whomever the Diamondbacks select with the 78th overall pick in 2019, he should be a mid-teens top prospect in their system.

Abreu vs. Goldschmidt

What does a prospect haul like that mean in terms of an Abreu trade? Well, first, Abreu is not going to command anything close to that. Both Goldschmidt and Abreu are entering contract years, and Goldy is entering his age 32 season, same as Abreu (Abreu is only eight months older, which is kind of surprising). However, Goldy is far better as a hitter, fielder, and anything else you can think of.

Last season, Goldschmidt had a terrible start to his season, and yet he ended up with a 5.4 bWAR. The only year where Abreu had a higher bWAR than 5.4 was his rookie season, in 2014. On top of that, Abreu is coming off a 2018 that was his worst offensive season to date. He only had a 114 wRC+, and the second lowest ISO of his career. Meanwhile, Goldschmidt’s wRC+ has increased each of the past three seasons, from 133 in 2016 all the way to 145 in 2018. His ISO did fall to .243 in 2018, but the Diamondbacks instituted a humidor, so it was to be expected.

Now, I think we all realize that Abreu is not the best athlete. He is a bad first baseman, a below average baserunner, and not very fast. Goldschmidt once stole 32 bases (in 2016) and has graded out as a positive baserunner in every season since 2014. Over the past three seasons, Goldy has also been one of the best defensive first basemen in the league, with 20 defensive runs saved (DRS) — third in baseball overall. Abreu is the polar opposite. Over the last three years, he is the third worst defensive first basemen in baseball, with -9 DRS.

So by almost any measure, Paul Goldschmidt is far and away better than Abreu. As a result, Abreu should not garner much prospect fanfare in return.

But let’s get to what the Sox could get from the Dodgers.

Salary dump route

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ championship window seems to be closing at this point. Because any package for Abreu should be limited, the salary dump route is the most prospect-savvy.

Although Rich Hill is still a good pitcher, he’s been a victim of injuries, and his production is falling. There is no need to do a deep dive on Hill, but he now averages less than 90 mph on his fastball, and is still effective, but he had his lowest K/9 and his highest FIP since his days as a reliever. The more important things are: Hill is on a contract year with a salary of $18 million, and the Dodgers have multiple major league caliber starting pitchers. Hill is an aging, expensive, expendable player for the Dodgers. Also, Matt Kemp is an aging, expensive, expendable player. By the second half of the season, Kemp returned to Earth after his hot start. He was still successful, but he became a part-time player in a crowded outfield (Kemp is also bad at defense, so that doesn’t help). He is also worth $18 million next season, in a contract year.

Depending on how the Dodgers want to attack the offseason, unloading some money and adding a cheaper, more productive player in Abreu is the better option. Abreu is projected to earn $16 million, and for the sake of not making this trade difficult economically, the Dodgers would save about $20 million if Hill and Kemp are involved in an Abreu trade. What’s in it for the White Sox, Well, the salary dump route is the prospect route.

Before we look at some prospects, the only way I would support this trade from the White Sox’s point of view is if they lose out on the bidding for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. On top of that, Abreu, even with the Dodgers saving about $20 million, will still not garner elite prospects. The Dodgers are not trading Alex Verdugo, Keibert Ruiz, Dustin May, Gavin Lux, or Dennis Santana for Abreu. Those guys are all too good to be considered. Mitchell White and Will Smith are stretches — both seem to be MLB ready, but they both had down years.

A real trade could start with White, but if we are looking to fill some prospect holes, Edwin Rios is a prospect who can replace Abreu at first. He is a bit older for a prospect (he will be 25 next season), but he had a great bat with fantastic power. Last season in AAA, Rios had a wRC+ of 115 with an ISO at .178. He does strike out, a lot, at 32.3% last season, but his power will play in the big leagues.

Connor Wong is listed as a catcher currently, but it seems he has a ways to go in order to learn the position, because he just started catching last season. However, Wong also spent time playing second. He is fresh out of the 2017 draft, but in A+ last season, his bat played well. Wong had a wRC+ at 124 with an ISO at .211. That is offensive production that will play at catcher, or anywhere else.

The Dodgers have multiple pitching prospects, like Yadier Alvarez, Tony Gonsolin, and Edwin Uceta, but the L.A. tends to hoard most of their young arms.

MLB trade route

Abreu had an injury-riddled 2018, but issues like age, lack of athleticism, and loss of his best asset, power, cannot all be blamed on injuries. However, from the start of the 2017 season to the end of May in 2018, Abreu had a wRC+ of 139 with a .242 ISO. Not that long ago, Abreu was a top-hitting first baseman. On top of that, he is, and always has been, great against lefties. Even in 2018 against lefties, Abreu was elite: a 144 wRC+ with a .260 ISO. That’s a more Abreuesque stat line, and that is what the Dodgers are looking for.

Odds are, the Dodgers would look to trade on of their outfielders. The first and most likely candidate is Yasiel Puig. This is his contract year, and the Dodgers seemingly try to trade him just about every season. Now, Puig is not 2013-14 good anymore, but he is still a productive hitter, and has improved the past two seasons. Puig’s walk rate fell back near his historical norm of 8.1%, and he struck out slightly more often (19.6%). However, Puig had a career high ISO of .227, and had his highest wRC+ since 2014. In terms of DRS, Puig clocked in with a 6, which was tied for 36th in all of baseball in 2018. Other defensive stats were not as high on him, but Puig is by no means a liability in the field.

This is more of a hunch than any real guess, but Joc Pederson should be in play for a trade. Yes, Pederson will only be 27 next season. Yes, he is a cheap corner outfielder. Yes, he is under control for two seasons. So why would the Dodgers trade him? Well, the Dodgers need more batters who can hit for average. Pederson has good power, with a career .228 ISO, but his career batting average is .228. Pederson’s awful performance in the World Series was concerning, and Abreu could fix much of the contact issues the Dodgers lineup has.

Abreu for prospects

A trade involving Abreu for sheer prospects would probably garner the least value in return. Without going too deep into the Dodgers system, the headliners who could be in play will get a quick mention.

Matt Beaty is the kind of prospect the Sox should get back. He was recently added to the 40-man roster, which indicates that the Dodgers view him highly. The 2017 season was a breakout for the corner infielder. He had a wRC+ of 147, with an ISO at .178 in AA. In an injury-riddled 2018, Beaty played a majority of his time at AAA. He had a 10% BB rate along with a 14.2% K rate. That is impressive. Although he could not show much power in 2018 due to injury (.129 ISO), he still had a 110 wRC+. Just to put the icing on the cake, Beaty is actually rated as a good fielder and he is a lefty.

Crisitan Santana, a 21 year-old corner infielder, should also be on Hahn’s radar. He seems to be mostly a third baseman because he has a good arm; MLB Pipeline just thinks his arm is inaccurate right now. Santana has good power, which translated to 24 home runs and 47 extra-base hits for a .173 ISO in A+ in 2018. However, Santana does need to work on plate discipline. He only walks 3.4% of the time, with a 24.7% K rate. However, what intrigues me (and should intrigue the White Sox) were Santana’s last two-plus months. From July until the end of the year, Santana had a 133 wRC+, with a .208 ISO. All of that was good enough for a .321/.347/.529 slash line. Santana will have to build on this surge of offense into AA in 2019, but it seems like he’s found his groove.

What does this mean?

I for one do not think Jose Abreu will be traded. Hahn seems to have trade players at peak or near-peak value. If Abreu was traded this offseason, at a low value point, it would go against Hahn’s precedents. Also, in general, aging first basemen are not worth all that much anyway.

But if he is traded, Abreu is an all-time White Sox. In just five seasons, Abreu has the 10th most home runs in White Sox history, with 146. He has the most home runs hit by a rookie in a single season in Sox history. In win probability added, Abreu is tied for ninth all-time with the White Sox. The Sox went from Frank Thomas to Paul Konerko to Jose Abreu and, perhaps sooner than we think, that chain will be broken.