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To trade, or not to trade — that is the question

The White Sox again look to be candidates to sell some of their talent, specifically in the bullpen. But at this stage of the rebuild, is selling the thing they should do?

Chicago White Sox v Tampa Bay Rays
Not so fast: Alex Colomé could be out of Chicago in just a week — but should he be sticking around?
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

In anticipation of next Wednesday’s trade deadline, South Side Sox has two takes on what the Chicago White Sox should do. First, WSM presented a bit of a fantasy stab at what sort of reshuffling might occur on the South Side if an aggressive GM like Seattle’s Jerry Dipoto — or, in a White Sox context, Frank Lane — was in charge. Here, Darren Jackson examines the chips the White Sox have in their arsenal, with specific respect to team control — who makes sense to swap away, if anyone?

That is definitely the question, and an important one now that there’s just one trade deadline, at the end of month. Just as a reminder, there is no longer a waiver trade deadline in August, therefore, July 31 at 3 p.m. Central is the last opportunity for the White Sox to make a deal. But should they?

The White Sox do not deserve to be buyers at the deadline. And even if the Sox were near .500, as they were just a couple weeks ago, I highly doubt Rick Hahn and the front office would have made a buyer’s deal anyway.

But after a terrible start out of the All-Star break, should the Sox sell some of their valuable pieces? No, because their most valuable players are controlled for at least the 2020 season, which is the year that a lot of fans (and the front office) circled once the rebuild started as the opening of the playoff window.

At some point for the White Sox, the rebuild needs to be over. At some point, the front office will have to stop selling, start spending, and keep their guys. This should be that season:

  • Yoan Moncada has taken a huge step this season and looks like the top prospect he was.
  • Lucas Giolito, though he has taken a step back over the last month, looks like he will be a reliable top-half of the rotation starter.
  • Before they got hurt, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez both looked like they finally turned the corner, at least in the batter’s box.
  • Reynaldo Lopez is looking more like his 2018 self since the break.
  • The White Sox even called up Dylan Cease to get those early career jitters out of the way, and (albeit with some very back luck from terrible defense and some walk issues) he has looked OK.

With that, and knowing Michael Kopech will be back next season along with the inevitable promotion of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, makes for a pretty good core of young talent,. That core will not get younger, and is not controllable forever.

Then, there is the labor strife that might lead to a player’s strike. With many players starting to speak out about the real possibility of a strike once the current CBA ends in 2021, there is no telling how long that strike will last or what that new CBA will entail. Problem is, 2022 is supposed to be in the middle of the White Sox’s winning window, and that window could very well slam shut for an entire season while the players strike.

Now obviously, the Sox are not going to sell their most valuable players, who are Moncada and Giolito at the moment. If there’s a sell-off, it will be more of a soft sell of players like James McCann, Alex Colome, and Aaron Bummer probably being the top candidates.

One problem: None of those players have expiring contracts. The Sox can keep all three for next season and have a reliable catcher along with two very good bullpen arms to help them in 2020 (the year the Sox are supposed to be playoff contenders). Also, if Colomé and McCann continue to show out this season, the Sox are the ones in the driver’s seat to re-sign them. Why trade any from this trio, when these players are important to next season, on a young team that needs veterans — and the possibility that there isn’t baseball in 2022.

There is no point in trading away major league talent with all of those variables. But there is a possibility that it happens, and we’re coming up on the trade deadline after all, so here are some guys to put on hug watch in the coming days.

Expiring Contracts

There are really only two players the Sox have who are worth anything and are on expiring contracts. Now, I do not believe they are worth a ton of talent in return, but they could net a younger player or two.

Jose Abreu is the biggest name in baseball when it comes to 2019 trade candidates; he has basically been on the block for about three years at this point. But Abreu has lost a lot of his trade luster, from from an affordable contract lens standpoint as well as just plain talent. He has done well in the counting stats department up to this date: Abreu is tied for fourth in the AL in RBIs and tied for 14th in home runs. However, the wRC+ or OPS+, whatever you use, indicates a more average player, as Abreu is only getting on base about 31% of the time and striking out a little too frequently.

What is interesting is when Abreu does make contact, it is better than ever. He currently has career highs in barrel %, exit velocity, and hard-hit rate, for a very healthy Baseball Savant quick Statcast look.

José Abreu’s quick Statcast look.
Baseball Savant

Teams interested in Abreu could be Cleveland, the Red Sox, Rangers or Nationals.

The other expiring contract player that could net something is Jon Jay. He has, well, been doing Jon Jay things since returning from injury. He is hitting better than .300 without much power or help from a good walk rate. He is just what he has always been, a good bat-to-ball player that any team could use down the stretch as a fourth outfield-type or a pinch-hitter. Terrance Gore is the guy to grab for a pinch-runner, Jay can be the guy to get for a professional at-bat when a hit is needed. He is not worth much, but he may be a guy on the move. For reference, he was traded by the Royals to the D-backs last season for an older left-handed reliever and Elvis Luciano, whom the Royals lost in the Rule 5 draft.

Another year of control

This is where some big talent sits for the Sox, and the most likely to be traded in Alex Colome. Back in June, MLB Trade Rumors ranked the highest on the list of trade candidates among Sox players (No. 16 overall) and the seventh-rated reliever (although if the Giants keep winning and are buyers, not sellers, Colomé leaps up to No. 4).

Let’s start with the elephant in Colome’s room: His peripherals are not great, and Statcast confirms. He has a top 2% wOBA at .228, however, his xwOBA is actually below average, for a 102 point negative difference. This is due to a lot of different things, including his strikeouts being down, and giving up harder contact more often than earlier in his career.

But those expected stats and the better contact that Colomé has been giving up have not translated to actual poor results: He has a 2.33 ERA and is 21-of-22 in saves. That gives Colomé the 11th-best ERA (for relievers) and fifth-most saves in the American League — a pretty good resume of actual results, which is why teams are interested.

But the White Sox should keep Colomé. He is a veteran presence in what is a very young bullpen already. With Zack Burdi constantly on the mend and no other options to close right now, Colomé is a sturdy and steady closer to have. Any team needs more pitching, so, there is not a definitive interested teams list: It should be all of them.

Much like a good closer, a good catcher can make a world of a difference, and the Sox are benefiting from the addition of James McCann. The offense certainly came out of nowhere from McCann this season, and even after his post All-Star break slump, the All-Star catcher still has an above-average wRC+. Some of the peripherals and the very high BABIP are causes for concern, but McCann currently has the highest average exit velocity of his career, and a hard-hit rate that is in the 81st percentile in baseball. Not too shabby, from who was supposed to be a backup catcher and placeholder until the catching prospects were ready. Now, Zack Collins and Seby Zavala are stuck in Charlotte because of him.

On the defensive side, the actual stats (FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus or Baseball Savant) are not huge fans of McCann’s framing, but it has been better than what Sox catchers have accomplished in recent seasons. We know what this has helped Lucas Giolito so far, and with pitching prospects being very important to the Sox rebuild, a good veteran catcher is a must. McCann is that, but I also would not be surprised if he had a decent trade market surrounding him. Interested teams could be the Athletics, Angels, and Nationals, though because of the extra year of control, most teams should be interested.

The last of the valuable White Sox with one-plus year of control is Leury García. García has been average with the bat for about a three-year stretch, including 2019. Quite frankly, that is a lot better than people thought García could be when he was acquired in 2013.

García is not quite the hitter that Jay is, but García should be desirable for his speed, defense, and positional versatility. Of course, those are the reasons that the Sox should keep him as well. Admittedly, moving García may not be a bad idea at this point, with his profile seemingly at a high. In this season alone, García has played second, shortstop, left, center, and right field with average- to above-average marks per defensive runs saved. Though García does not have many stolen bases, FanGraphs has him as the 23rd-best player on the basepaths this season.

Like some others in this list, García will not be able to bring back a top prospect in a deal, but he could net something because of his resume. Statcast sure seems to like the speed and defense — other teams should, too.

Leury García’s quick Statcast look.
Baseball Savant

Multiple years of control

There are three players, or more accurately, three relievers who have received some interest per reports, mostly from Bruce Levine: Evan Marshall, Jace Fry, and Aaron Bummer, and all are controlled for multiple seasons. Though Evan Marshall has come out of nowhere this season, it should take a serious haul for the White Sox to part with any of those three relievers, and it is easy to see why.

Marshall is controlled through 2022 and is currently having the best season of his career. Much like Colomé, Marshall’s peripherals like FIP and xFIP are not as kind; he is not a strikeout pitcher, and has given up quite a few home runs as well. But again, relievers are more results-based, and Marshall has been good on that front. After 18 straight scoreless appearances, Marshall had a tough time in his five games (seven runs), and it seemed like the old Marshall was back. However, so far in July, Marshall has a 1.50 ERA over six innings. Now, Marshall is probably not a high-leverage reliever, but what he has done this season cannot be ignored, especially given the movement he now has on his pitches.

Evan Marshall’s 2019 pitch movement.
Baseball Savant

The redder it is, the more movement, and those are some great numbers. But it is not just that, Marshall’s pitches have changed, and for the better. Though the changeup has lost slightly less than two inches of vertical drop, it has gained two inches of horizontal movement. The same thing happened with Marshall’s sinker: more horizontal movement replaced the vertical. Again, the same thing happened with Marshall’s slider, as it gained two inches of vertical movement, even pushing the vertical drop vs, slider average to the third-best in all of baseball.

These movement increases have not translated into strikeouts, but it has led to softer contact in terms of average exit velocity (86.9 mph) and hard-hit rate (31.2%), as both are better than the MLB average. Other reclamation projects like Joakim Soria (Kodi Medeiros and Wilber Perez), Tommy Kahnle (involved in a big trade with the Yankees that nabbed Blake Rutherford, among other prospects), and Anthony Swarzak (Ryan Cordell) led to some decent prospects at the time. But now is not the time to continue the habit of trading bad relievers turned good by this organization, especially when they have multiple years of control left like Marshall does. It is time to keep and utilize the successful reclamation projects.

Jace Fry has one more year of control than Marshall, as he would stick with the White Sox through the 2023 season. Fry had a very rough start to his season, and has steadily gotten better. He currently has a 4.15 ERA, and his FIP mirrors that assessment of his season so far. The biggest problems Fry has had this season are the walk rate (near 16%) and his inability to keeps those walks or other runners on base at a healthy rate. Fry had big expectations coming into this season because of how good his arsenal is, but his secondmost-used pitch has fallen flat.

Fry’s cutter/slider has been fantastic this season, but the curve has been awful. Batters currently have a .651 wOBA against it, which is a 403-point increase from last season, not so good. But Fry has been better lately, and the amount of ground balls he has been inducing (well more than 50%) is a positive sign. But there is no reason to trade Fry right now.

Besides the control, Fry is still doing his best against batters he supposed to do well against: lefties. Because the Sox do not have many good right-handed relievers yet, Fry pitches a lot to them as well, but ineffectively. Against left-handed hitters in 2019, Fry has a 2.85 FIP; against righties, he has a 5.26 FIP. With the three-batter minimum on the horizon, Fry will need to be better against those righthanders, but his effectiveness against lefties is why he is on the team, and that can be better utilized in the more balanced and high-quality bullpen of the White Sox future.

Last but not least, Aaron Bummer, who is probably the most valuable asset the Sox have. Bummer is controlled through 2024 and is having a breakout season of his own, with a 1.69 ERA. Statcast certainly approves of his abilities.

Aaron Bummer’s quick Statcast look in 2019.
Baseball Savant

Bummer’s season has gone so well that Bruce Levine has even reported that the Sox view him as a “potential closer.” I am guessing that is in the future, when Colomé leaves or loses his closing job.

A lot of Bummer’s current success excites not only the White Sox but also the Braves, who have inquired about him, in that he has changed his pitching arsenal to basically a 1-2 punch with his sinker and cutter. In 2018, Bummer used four pitches at least 10% of the time, with the sinker far and away the most used. This season, he’s leaned on only two, with the sinker usage at 67% and the cutter at 20% — and that combo has been devastating to hitters. With a two-mph increase in average velocity for the sinker and the increase in usage, opposing batters now have a .229 wOBA against Bummer’s sinker, and a .166 wOBA against the cutter. It is pretty easy to see why Bummer has so vastly improved in just a single season.

It seems like the sky is the limit for this young lefty reliever — a perfect reason to not trade him.