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Should the White Sox Pursue: Kenta Maeda

The White Sox could be able to land their No. 2 starter for an affordable price

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Los Angeles Angels
Odd man out: The Dodgers righthander has a consistent track record in the majors, but he has not made the postseason rotation since 2016.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago White Sox need starting pitchers, and may need to look externally for options. There is a terrific option available with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kenta Maeda.

But does Maeda make sense for the White Sox? Oh yes, he does. Let’s count the ways.

The White Sox rotation is very bad

It is no secret that the White Sox rotation needs help. They have one guy you may have heard of who has a 2.22 ERA and is No. 2 among all pitchers in fWAR (3.0). But besides Lucas Giolito, no pitchers on the team have reached even 1.0 fWAR yet. The closest is Carlos Rodón, who is out after having Tommy John surgery, at 0.8.

After the injured Rodón ... yikes. Granted, Michael Kopech will be back next year, and Dylan Cease should be up sooner rather than later. But, that does not change the fact that fewer teams could use more proven talent in their rotation than the White Sox. Though help may be on the way later this year in the form of Cease, White Sox starters are 28th in ERA (5.44) and 21st in fWAR (3.9). Other than Giolito and Rodón, the others have been worth 0.1 WAR combined. So, White Sox internal upgrades are probably not enough to get them over the hump. Given how weak the back end of the rotation is, a few resources will be required to improve it.

Kenta Maeda, on the other hand, is good

Maeda, who turned 31 in April, would be the No. 2 White Sox starter. Hopefully, after Cease is promoted, and Kopech and Rodón return, this will not be the case. However, it is certainly the case right now. Maeda is a solid, consistent major league starter. After dominating in the NPB for eight years, the Dodgers signed him to an eight-year deal, and so far, he is getting it done for them.

Maeda has a 3.82 career ERA with 8.0 fWAR, which puts him above average. This year has been pretty routine for him, as he has a 3.89 ERA with 0.9 fWAR. One common theme for Maeda throughout his career has been consistency. Outside of a rough few starts to begin 2017, from which he recovered to finish with an average season, Maeda has been quite predictable. He is about as unlikely as anyone to have a string of bad starts.

Maeda has a team-friendly contract ... even by White Sox standards

Maeda’s contract is quite team-friendly. In fact, considering how the White Sox handled the offseason, Maeda’s incentive-based contract would be a perfect fit for them. Maeda is in the fourth year of an eight-year deal worth $25 million guaranteed. Each year, Maeda’s guaranteed base salary is $3.125 million, but thanks to incentives, he averaged $8.167 million over the first three years of his contract.

The most Maeda can make in a season is $13.275 million ($3.125 million guaranteed plus $10.15 million in bonuses). A contract like this would limit the White Sox’s risk. (Full details on his contract can be found here.) Regardless of how Maeda performs, the potential downside is very limited due to the nature of his deal. If he keeps up his pace or does even better, that would be excellent, because even with his incentives, he would provide surplus value. If not, the White Sox would not be out that much money. In addition, Maeda’s contract ends after the 2023 season, which fits nicely into the White Sox’s window.

But why would the Dodgers get rid of a player of that caliber with with such a team-friendly contract?

The Dodgers don’t need Maeda

The Dodgers have won the NL West six straight times, and they are very likely to extend that streak to seven in 2019: FanGraphs currently gives them a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs and a 99.5% chance of winning the division. L.A. is 48-24, which puts it on pace for a 108-54 season. Remember how Maeda is clearly better than all current White Sox starters besides Giolito? Well, Maeda is the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter, which was also the case the past two years, which leads to point No. 5 ...

The Dodgers undervalue Maeda

In the postseason, teams often trim their rotations from five players to four. During L.A.’s 2017 and 2018 runs to the World Series, Maeda was the odd man out, as he got zero postseason starts both of those years. In addition, he barely even pitched in a reliever’s role.

Maeda pitched 6 23 innings in the 2018 postseason, even though the Dodgers played 16 games. Two of those innings were in the 15th and 16th innings of Game 3 of the World Series. In other words, the Dodgers only used him as a “back-up back-up” option in that marathon game. Maeda would have only pitched 4 23 innings in the playoffs last year had Game 3 ended sooner.

So, the Dodgers do not need Maeda to win the division, and when the postseason begins, they do not use him nearly as much as they should. If they barely use Maeda when the pressure is at its highest, he doesn’t have much of a purpose on the team.

As with any trade opportunity, the White Sox need to ensure that they are not paying too high of a price. There just is not much of a reason to believe that the Dodgers would force another team to overpay.