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Luke Smailes’ White Sox Offseason Plan

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Trades? Trades! The Sox make four pivotal trades as the contention window is busted open.

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks
The White Sox chase a Ketel of talent in Arizona.
Norm Hall/Getty Images

I do a little bit of everything with this year’s White Sox offseason plan: A blockbuster trade, a couple of big contract money swaps, and go bargain-bin hunting on a couple of relievers. As always, the process would be a lot easier if the budget was higher and the team had a more robust farm system.

Arbitration-eligibles

Jimmy Cordero $1.2 million (Non-Tender)
If I knew more about Cordero’s progression through Tommy John rehab, this might be a different decision. Even knowing nothing, I strongly considered tendering him, but I’m already going with a pretty high payroll and Jimmy Biceps was one of the causalities. He throws hard with good movement and he ran into some tough BABIP luck last year. A minor league deal may be possible, but I could see another team committing this $1.2 million to add Cordero to their bullpen if he’s fully healthy.

Adam Engel $2.2 million (Tender)
Everyone wants to see Engel stay healthy to see how real his back-to-back 120 wRC+ (short) seasons are. He continued his coinciding contact rate and ISO surge again in 2021. He’s also still a premium defender and one of the fastest players in the game.

I don’t think he can be penciled in as a right field regular given his injury history, but if a left-handed bat is acquired to play there, Engel could see regular ABs against southpaws in 2022, as has been his projected role since 2019.

Jace Fry $1 million (Non-Tender)
Fry was pretty solid through 40 innings in Charlotte (3.14 FIP, 36.1 K%) but he’s had significant control issues in the majors. We’re only talking about $1 million here and he does have a minor league option remaining, but I think we can get what Jace Fry gives from a pre-arb pitcher in the system for 50% less. I wouldn’t be opposed to bringing him back on a minor league deal if he’s interested.

Lucas Giolito $7.9 million (Tender)
I don’t see an extension being worked out prior to Giolito reaching free agency in two years. He didn’t take the step forward into the “bonafide Top 10 starting pitcher in the game” discussion like some thought he would, but he was still a 4-WAR pitcher. Since the start of 2019, only Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler, Max Scherzer, Lance Lynn and Charlie Morton have a higher fWAR that Giolito.

Brian Goodwin $1.7 million (Non-Tender)
Goodwin did a nice job picking up the slack and providing a respectable left-handed hitter in the lineup when the team was dealing with major injury issues. That 125 wRC+ against RHP was particularly useful. However, I don’t feel as though his efforts warrant a 75% raise. If he was a better defender, we might be having a different conversation, but Goodwin has been a bottom-third outfielder by OAA. He’s another player I’d offer a minor league deal, but depending on who is added to the White Sox outfield, he might be looking to latch on somewhere with a clearer path to playing time.

In any case, I would say this is one of the top bat flips in franchise history, so if anything, thanks for that, BGood.

Reynaldo López $2.8 million (Tender)
It was quite the turnaround for Lopez who showed the ability to pitch in various roles successfully in 2021. This is valuable moving forward and is worth the $2.8 million. By my pitch quality metric, xRV, one that takes stuff, command and deception into account, the quality of Lopez’s arsenal went from the sixth percentile in 2020 to the 63rd percentile in 2021. That’s a huge jump, and while his fastball was 1.6 mph faster than last year and it had more ride with an uptick in spin, command was a major factor in his success. His had above-average command of his fastball, and his slider command was in the 96th percentile! He increased his slider usage too, and he could probably even increase it a little more.

For a guy with double-digit walk rates in his two previous seasons, his 5.9 BB% in 2021 showed a control stride that I don’t think anyone saw coming, either.

Evan Marshall $2.3 million (Non-Tender)
Marshall has been a favorite of mine and an xRV-darling for the past of couple of seasons now (97th percentile in 2019, 86th percentile in 2020). I can’t fit $2.3 million into the budget for someone that isn’t going to throw a pitch for me in 2022. What the team could possibly do is work out a separate deal with Marshall where he gets a little something while he rehabs through next summer and the Sox retain the year of control they lose this season.

He was a lot better than his ERA showed in 2021, and his changeup is still a nasty pitch. That changeup had .341 BA but only a .210 xBA and even in a down year where we can assume that he was pitching with a damaged elbow through some of it, xRV had his arsenal in the 79th percentile with his changeup in the 95th.

Impending Free Agents

Leury García (2021 contract: $3.5 million) Cut Loose
García is coming off the best season of his career (2.0 fWAR). He was a league-average hitter and basically a league-average defender that could play six different positions if needed. There are plenty of guys with infield/outfield versatility, but if you had to play them at the premium positions of shortstop and center field for a short period of time, you’re probably going to have some heartburn about it as a manager. That’s not the case with Leury.

He’s another player that I wouldn’t mind bringing back, but given that I’m adding versatility elsewhere and already operating at the top of the perceived budget, he’s another casualty.

His Game 3 home run in last season’s division series is one of the top moments in the last decade for this organization. Witnessing it live was a truly special moment. If that’s the lasting image of Leury García after his nine seasons on the South Side, that wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Billy Hamilton (2021 contract: $1 million) Re-sign to a minor league deal
Hamilton seemed to like playing for the White Sox and fans seemed to really appreciate him, too. There’s not enough room to commit a spot on the 26-man roster to him, and I think this will be the case for the 29 other teams, too. If he does truly like the organization, then Charlotte might not be a bad place to spend the summer and get regular at-bats before joining the playoff roster in October.

Ryan Tepera (2021 contract: $950,000) Cut Loose
I would love to bring Tepera back, and I tried really hard to fit him into my plan. But he’s going to get a two-year deal in the $15 million range from someone else. He was really good in last season. His 1.6 fWAR was the 14th best in baseball among relievers with at least 50 IPs in 2021. He has a lot of success by commanding his slider to his glove side while also taking advantage of seam-shifted wake (late movement) on the pitch. The raw metrics don’t scream “elite reliever,” but Tepera pitched like one.

There’s something to be said about his desire to stay in Chicago, but I think cashing in on a major contract for the first time in his career at 34 years old might supersede that desire. Maybe the Cubs bring him back on that deal, and he gets the best of both worlds.

Carlos Rodón (2021 contract: $3 million) Extend Qualifying Offer
The Qualifying Offer works well for both sides here. For Rodón, he can prove wrong the doubters of his ability to stay healthy by pitching more than 132 innings in 2021 and reproducing a five-WAR, sub-3.00 FIP season. Then when he enters the free agent market next offseason, he also won’t have the QO attached to him because you can only take it once in your career. Any team that signed him wouldn’t be charged draft pick compensation (if that process is even part of the new CBA).

For the White Sox, they’re also betting on his health improving to where he can feature that 99 mph fastball deeper into the season. In the meantime, they can also see if Dylan Cease takes the next step into becoming an All-Star pitcher and Michael Kopech solidifies himself as a legitimate starter. If both of those scenarios come to fruition, then retaining Rodón past 2022 would be less necessary. Flexibility is king.

If Rodón is in fact back on the Qualifying Offer or a separate contract extension, the White Sox would retain the best starting rotation in the American League.

Team Contract Options

Craig Kimbrel $16 million (or a $1 million buyout) Pick up
Kimbrel was acquired with a completely-unsustainable 0.49 ERA, with help from a .203 BABIP. His HR/FB% regressed hard after the trade and his fastball was down 1.2 mph. He struck out fewer hitters and walked more, yet there was nothing, aside from the drop in fastball velocity, that signaled a major decrease in pitch quality.

When you step back and look at Kimbrel’s 2021 season as a whole. He had a 2.26 ERA and 2.43 FIP with a 32.8 K%; all of which closely align with his career numbers. His season was just so drastic on each end that many Sox fans have a sour taste in their mouth and want to buy him out. That would be a major mistake.

I propose a trade involving Kimbrel below, but having Kimbrel on the 2022 White Sox roster can absolutely work. He and Liam Hendriks can still create the borderline-unfair back-end tandem that Rick Hahn envisioned when he acquired him in July. Even when Kimbrel’s acquisition was still in the rumor stage, I wanted to make him the closer and make Liam Hendriks the bullpen’s fireman/stopper, a role that would feature him in the highest-leverage situation from the sixth to the eighth inning.

I don’t know this for a fact, but it seems like Kimbrel is a lot more routine-dependent in preparation for a game as a reliever than Hendriks is, meaning he’s a lot more comfortable knowing exactly the situation he’s going to be deployed in. With the Cubs, that was in the ninth inning with a three-run lead or less — the traditional closer’s role. Aside from his 2020 struggles with the Cubs where he was removed from the role, Kimbrel had been a traditional closer since his first full season in 2011. Hendriks has been a DFA’d starting pitcher, middle reliever, set-up man, and closer in the majors, and openly said that he doesn’t care when he pitches — he just wants to win. The rationale that moving Hendriks from the traditional closer role to the fireman role would be considered a demotion is also part of the problem. It’s not a demotion, it’s just optimally deploying your bullpen, and Hendriks is progressive enough to realize that.

La Russa either didn’t realize that, or didn’t have the courage to make that kind of decision.

Here’s a thought experiment: Can you imagine battling Giolito for five plus innings and finally stringing together a mini-rally with the heart of order up in the sixth inning as Giolito begins to tire, only to see La Russa walking to the mound to bring in the fire-breathing, profanity-screaming Hendriks to end it by shoving riding 100 mph fastballs down your throat? Sounds kind of demoralizing as the opponent, doesn’t it? This man is getting uncomfortably fired up in the SIXTH INNING. They were expecting a ho-hum middle reliever before having to deal with the back-end bullpen talent. Especially when you still have a Hall of Fame-caliber closer to get the last three outs, this is conceivably a major advantage.

That was my vision of how this would play out, but we may never find out if something like this would have worked.

César Hernández $6 million (no buyout) Decline
Not much to elaborate on here. We already know that Hernández’s option is getting declined. He was a pretty big disappointment after a nice first half for Cleveland and a good first week on the South Side.

Free agents

C Stephen Vogt - 1 year, $1.5 million
Vogt is an all-around solid defensive catcher. His Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), a comprehensive catcher defense metric by Baseball Prospectus, was the league's 30th-best (2.1 runs) in 2021 among qualified backstops. In his 78 games for Arizona and Atlanta, Vogt hit .195/.283/.333 with a 64 wRC+. Remember, we’re talking about the backup catcher market here. Good catchers are pretty scarce nowadays, and if all Vogt does is make us not have to watch Zack Collins behind the plate ever again, then that’s a win in itself.

RHP Blake Parker - 1 year, $1.5 million
Parker outperformed his peripherals in 2021 as he had a nice season for Cleveland. He looked to have a new plan in place during his short 2020 stint with Philadelphia, and that was throwing his splitter more often than any other pitch. He had fantastic results on the pitch (32.5 whiff%, .148 BA, .220 xwOBA) and good results overall (2.81 ERA, 3.38 FIP).

xRV absolutely loved his splitter. It was the sixth-best overall pitch of every pitch type thrown in MLB at least 100 times in 2021. The pitch gets good depth, but my model graded two factors of deception really high — tunneling (89th percentile) and expected movement differential (78th percentile). Cleveland’s rationale was likely to get hitters seeing more of Parker’s fastball in order to make the splitter generate more whiffs from the tunnel effect. While his splitter whiff% did jump almost 4%, the overall results were not as good as the splitter-heavy approach of 2020.

Parker represents a cheap veteran bullpen arm with minimal risk, and the upside of being an above-average middle reliever.

Sign a couple of these guys to minor league deals with invites to spring training (in order of preference): LHP Daniel Norris, RHP Jimmy Cordero, RHP Wander Suero, RHP Buck Farmer, LHP Alex Claudio, RHP Tanner Rainey, LHP Jace Fry, LHP Adam Kolarek.

Sign a couple of these guys to minor league deals with invites to Spring Training (in order of preference): OF Billy Hamilton, INF Charlie Culberson, OF Brian Goodwin, INF Ronald Torreyes, OF Mike Tauchman, INF Alex Blandino, C Luke Maile,

Trades

RHP Craig Kimbrel, 2B/3B Bryan Ramos and OF Misael González to Tampa Bay for OF Kevin Kiermaier, INF Joey Wendle and RHP Phoenix Sanders

Why it makes sense for the White Sox:
The White Sox were 20th in outfield Outs Above Average (OAA) in 2021. Since 2019, Kevin Kiermaier has the most OAA of any outfielder with 34. Why is he expendable? He’s due to make just more than $12 million in 2022 and also has a $2.5 million buyout on a $13 million option for 2023.

He tracks down pretty much anything out here. Oh, and he has an absolute cannon for an arm.

In fact, according to Sports Info Solutions, he has the second most Outfield Arm Runs Saved of any player since 2015.

It seems silly to acquire one of the best outfielders in the game and put him at a corner, but Luis Robert is pretty darn good in center. With Kiermaier likely a one-year option, it might make sense to keep Luis in center and put Kiermaier in right field.

Kiermaier has also been good enough with his bat over the past two seasons. He improved from his .233/.280/.386, 79 wRC+ line from 2017-18 that directly followed the signing of his contract extension with Tampa Bay by posting .247/.326/.381, 99 wRC+ over his last 549 PAs in the last two seasons.

He did undergo arthroscopic right knee surgery on November 3 after playing through a small meniscus tear in 2021, but he should be good to go for spring training.

Aside from Kimbrel, the Sox acquire Joey Wendle, too. Wendle is coming off of a 2.6 fWAR season where he hit .265/.319/.422 with a 106 wRC+. He’s also in the 84th percentile of major league infielders with 13 OAA since 2019. He’s in his second year of arbitration and he’s estimated to earn $4 million by MLB Trade Rumors.

The final piece is relief pitcher Phoenix Sanders, who Tampa would have to add to their 40-man roster this winter or he becomes susceptible to the Rule 5 draft. Based on the season that he had at triple-A Durham in 2021, I’d say there’s a decent shot he gets taken. He had a 3.38 ERA with a 3.14 FIP and a 32.4 K% vs. only a 4.5 BB%.

Why it makes sense for the Rays:
Kiermaier is guaranteed $14.7 million compared to Kimbrel’s $16 million. For a $1.3 million increase, they can add a proven closer to an already great bullpen. Brett Phillips and Manuel Margot are scheduled to make less than Kiermaier combined and are both also magnificent defensive outfielders while producing just as well at the plate (all were right around league average in 2021). Margot has the second most OAA among outfielders since 2019 with 29 and had 17 in 2021, the most in MLB. Phillips had the 10th- most in 2021 (10). They also have Fangraphs’ 37th-best overall prospect, Josh Lowe, a 23-year-old center fielder who had a 142 wRC+ in 470 Triple-A PAs in 2021. They can very cheaply and effectively replace Kiermaier who has a skill set that has become redundant on their roster.

If anyone can get Kimbrel back to how he was pitching with the Cubs in 2021, it’s probably the Rays.

The Rays should be serious players for Oakland 3B Matt Chapman in a trade this offseason. He represents roughly only a $5 million increase from Wendle at third base, and Tampa obviously has the system to pull it off. If Cleveland decides to trade José Ramírez, the Rays make a lot of sense there, too, in a much bigger trade, but nonetheless, Wendle can be had.

Sanders is a pitcher the Rays are unlikely to protect from the Rule 5 draft, given their 40-man roster crunch.

Bryan Ramos is the White Sox’s 10th-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline and is coming off a season at Kannapolis where he slashed .244/.345/.415 with a 109 wRC+ as a 19-year-old. That is impressive, and he doesn’t have to be added to the team’s 40-man roster until next offseason. That’s what Tampa Bay likes.

González was a 12th round pick in 2019 that had a 151 wRC+ in rookie ball before enduring a tougher adjustment to Kannapolis as a 20-year-old (71 wRC+, 38 K%). MLB Pipeline ranks him as their 27th-best prospect.

1B/OF Andrew Vaughn, RHP Jared Kelley, OF Micker Adolfo and RHP Theo Denlinger to Arizona for 2B/OF Ketel Marte

Why it makes sense for the White Sox:
It’s really tough to part with Vaughn. I think he has the upside of a .300/.400/.500 hitter at his peak. The problem is that he’s a right-handed 1B/DH, and José Abreu and Eloy Jiménez aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Gavin Sheets, while he doesn’t have the upside that Vaughn does, is left-handed, and that quality is unique to only him and Yoán Moncada as players who are controlled long-term.

In the scope of the entire league, there aren’t many players I’d move Vaughn for, but Ketel Marte is one of them. He checks a lot of boxes that the Sox are looking for in their offseason additions.

  • Impact hitter? ✅ (Since the start of 2019, Marte has slashed .318/.374/.543 with a 137 wRC+)
  • Can he play 2B or RF? ✅ (He can play either, as a bonus)
  • Left-handed? ✅ (He’s a switch hitter)
  • Controllable and affordable? ✅ (The Sox would have him signed for as long as three years for $30 million, or as short as one year for $8 million)
  • Passable defender, at least? ✅

Why it makes sense for the Diamondbacks:
Coming off a league-worst, 110-loss season, it’s no secret that the D-Backs aren’t going anywhere in 2021 and the same can be likely be said for the other two seasons that they have Marte under contract for. Prior to Vaughn’s prospect graduation, he was the 13th-best overall prospect according to FanGraphs. His 94 wRC+ was less than what was hoped for in his rookie season, but his final 20-game stretch where he had only seven hits over his last 78 PAs, slashing a paltry .099/.179/.099 is what killed the aesthetics of an otherwise nice rookie campaign. Prior to this stretch where he was battling back issues, Vaughn slashed .263/.335/.457 with a 116 wRC+ through 391 PAs. His .308/.347/.516, 134 wRC+-July is where he started to feel extremely comfortable. At a time when the Sox were dealing with injuries throughout their lineup, Vaughn may have been the team’s best hitter.

This July 11 game in Baltimore is the game that comes to mind where I thought to myself, “Damn, this kid is going to be really good.” He’s the key to the trade. There are other teams who are also a good fit for Marte, but how many of them are going to be willing to move their Top 15 prospect (if they even have one) to get the ball rolling?

The second piece is the Sox’s second round pick from 2020, Jared Kelley. While he battled inconsistencies and control issues in his first pro season, only throwing a total of 23 23 innings, he has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a disappearing, 70-grade changeup. If Arizona can project on Kelley like the Sox did out of the Texas prep ranks, then they should be really happy with him as the secondary piece to this big trade.

One can dream on Adolfo’s raw power. FanGraphs gives it a 70-grade and Adolfo slugged .520 at Birmingham and Charlotte in 2021. The problem that limits his major league upside is his massive strikeout numbers.

He’s also out of options, so with the White Sox not at the point where they can give Adolfo an extended tryout to see if he can take advantage of that power potential, he should be moved rather than lost at the end of spring training to a waiver claim. Arizona, on the other hand, should have the ability to give Adolfo those opportunities as they try to strike gold with fringe players through their rebuild.

Denlinger’s path to pro ball is actually a fascinating story. He’s a 25-year-old 2021 draftee (not a typo) from Bradley University who has a fastball that sits in the upper-90s while touching triple digits. In his first 16 23 innings of pro ball, Denlinger struck out 31 batters against seven walks.

LHP Dallas Keuchel to Milwaukee for OF Jackie Bradley Jr. and $4 million cash

Why it makes sense for the White Sox:
Keuchel simply has to go, but it’s not solely because of the 5.22 FIP-season that he just put up. He’s always seemed to have a weird vibe with the rest of the team, and I think that started with the “I had to teach these players how to win” comments during the 2020 season. I think saying that rubbed some individuals the wrong way, especially given the circumstances of the Astros winning when he was there. But hey, when you put up the kind of mini-season that Keuchel did in 2020, he walked the walk.

Fast forward to 2021, and Keuchel looked helpless on the mound at times. His BABIP shot up from .255 up to .307, which was his highest since 2013 (his career average is .293). One considerable problem was that his defense stopped shifting behind him. In 2020 under Ricky Renteria’s direction, the Sox shifted on 33.9% of Kuechel’s plate appearances. This was in the 53rd percentile of the league, so more or less average. In 2021, this number dropped to 14.9%, or to the seventh percentile. That’ll probably hurt the ol’ BABIP for someone that relies on ground ball outs as much as Keuchel.

You get plays like this, for example, that compound into runs.

Baseball Savant

For context, this is where Sanó was played on average in 2021 with a runner on first base. Notice that the Sox had the second baseman on the right side of second base in the above clip.

Baseball Savant

Now, although it didn’t help, La Russa’s managing is not why Keuchel had a bad year. The batting average on his cutter, a pitch that broke an inch less on average in 2021, interestingly regressed exactly to its 2020 xBA, .329. He also got 4% fewer whiffs on his changeup, his overall barrel rate more than doubled, and he faced more three-ball counts than 80% of pitchers with at least 50 batters faced. So he has plenty of reasons to point the finger at himself.

Keuchel was also not announced during the player introductions prior to Game 3 of the ALDS, yet the rest of the taxi squad was. That was subtly odd to me, and it makes me think that either Keuchel didn’t want to hear the boos of 40,000 fans in Chicago, he wasn’t thrilled to be left off the postseason roster, or both.

The final hurdle when trying to move Keuchel is his $20 million option for 2023 that now vests if he pitches at least 160 innings in 2022. This means the value that Keuchel can provide any team that’s acquiring him is essentially capped once he nears that 160-inning threshold, because under no circumstances should that option be allowed to vest.

A change of scenery is best for both parties, but with Keuchel guaranteed $18 million for the 2021 season, the Sox would either have to eat a large chunk of his contract, or swap a bad contract of a player that could be of value to the White Sox.

Enter Jackie Bradley Jr. and the Milwaukee Brewers.

Bradley is a tremendously unexciting acquisition. In fact, he was downright awful at the plate in 2021, slashing .163/.236/.261 with a 35 wRC+. Somehow, the Brewers still gave him 428 PAs. Thus, targeting Bradley is purely financially-driven, as it saves the Sox $12.5 million for 2022 when factoring in the $4 million in cash that Milwaukee also sends over. Bradley is owed $9.5 million for 2022 and he has a 2023 mutual option for $12 million. Yes, there’s a 99.9% chance that that option is declined by whoever is employing Bradley, however the kicker is that he has an $8 million buyout on that option, bringing his total guaranteed dollars to $17.5 million — just less than Keuchel’s $18 million.

Bradley is still an awesome defender. Since 2019, Bradley is the league’s ninth-best defensive outfielder by OAA (18). So for those keeping score at home, the White Sox outfield would potentially have OAAs since the start of 2019 of 18 from Bradley, 11 from Robert and 34 from Kiermaier. That’s 63 OAA, and the Rays lead the league with 52 outfield OAA in this span.

Now, before you say I’m obsessed with outfield defense, realize two things. First off, outfield defense is immensely important. Fly balls that aren’t converted into outs result in extra-base hits that lead to runs. This has to do with the kind of batted balls that your pitchers tend to give up, but if you had to chose between good outfield defense and good infield defense, you ought to pick the former. The Top 10 team defensive outfields since the start of 2019 by OAA are the Rays, Astros, Rangers, Brewers, Nationals, Padres, Dodgers, A’s, Royals and Giants. Those teams have collectively won a lot of games over the past three seasons.

Secondly, finding a trade partner for Keuchel was the most difficult part of my plan. Bradley is acquired here because of the financial aspects of his contract, not because I want to give him 428 PAs in left field if he’s still pushing a 35 wRC+. The alternate solution to get rid of Dallas Keuchel is to simply send a team between $10 and $14 million to take on his contract and get nothing in return. At least in this scenario there’s a chance (even if it’s slim) that Bradley returns to his 90 wRC+ form and the money spent isn’t thrown into the figurative fire, it’s spent on a potential two-WAR player.

If he doesn’t and he’s still below replacement level at whatever cutoff point you want to establish, then get can be swiftly DFA’d. It’s a no-risk proposition. Keuchel’s guaranteed coin ain’t disappearing.

In the instance that Bradley shows an offensive pulse in spring training, I would play him in left field against righthanders, bump Eloy Jiménez to full-time DH and send Sheets and his available minor league options to Charlotte. This gives the Sox a ridiculous defensive outfield at an extremely low marginal cost — a valuable advantage over the course of the season. Sheets gets full-time at-bats in Charlotte and can be recalled as soon as he’s needed.

Why it makes sense for the Brewers:
The Brewers end up essentially paying a marginal cost of $4.5 million for Keuchel (i.e. $18 million owed to Keuchel + $4 million cash sent to the White Sox - $17.5 million owed to Bradley). He becomes a fifth starter in their really good starting rotation, and depending on their confidence in Keuchel bouncing back after a change of scenery, they could dangle one of Adrian Houser or Eric Lauer to acquire additional assets. But most likely the added SP depth holds the greatest value. Keuchel essentially takes Brett Anderson’s role on the Brewers staff from last season.

Even with Avisaíl García declining his player option, I’m guessing the Brewers would much rather deploy Tyrone Taylor or an external option rather than more JBJ in their outfield with Yelich and Cain. Plus, they can still QO García or work a longer deal with him.

DH Yermín Mercedes and LHP Gil Luna Jr. to Colorado for RHP Tyler Kinley

Why it makes sense for the White Sox:
Players go on fluky hitting streaks from time to time, but to me, what I saw from Mercedes in April and May wasn’t entirely a fluke. First of all, I don’t know how likely it is to fluke your way to a 166 wRC+ with only a 17.1 K% over your first 152 PAs. There is something there, because the ability to hit a ball almost 500 feet in one at-bat before following that up with a distinctly different no-stride, two-strike approach that nets a graceful base hit over the second baseman’s head is not normal.

That said, Mercedes is another player that needs a change of scenery. The retire, un-retire thing is familiar is Chicago, but it wasn’t as appreciated this time around. But to his credit, the team (and frankly the league) hyping the 28-year-old rookie up as the next big thing before his manager literally faulting him for hitting a home run probably messed with his head a bit. A lot happened in a short span for Mercedes.

In return, the Sox acquire reliever Tyler Kinley, who has put up replacement level numbers through 154 career innings pitched. I like him because I’m putting faith in my pitch quality model to find me a cheap, undervalued relief pitcher that a team might be willing to part with.

xRV likes Kinley’s pitches in 91st percentile of all pitchers in the major leagues. Particularly, it has Kinley’s hybrid slider in the 95th percentile, and Kinley threw it more than half of the time.

Here’s a good-looking one, for reference.

Baseball Savant

However, Kinley actually decreased his slider usage in 2021, and his xwOBACON rose by 42 points, his strikeout rate dropped 4% and his xERA shot up 38 points. Go figure. He should return to that 60/40 slider/fastball usage in 2022. He doesn’t get great movement on the pitch, but Kinley commands it in the 96th percentile while getting above average expected movement differential. Sound familiar to another reliever I really wanted to bring back but couldn’t quite afford?

That’s right, Kinley is my poor man’s Ryan Tepera if everything works out. He’s also not a free agent until 2025.

Why it makes sense for the Rockies:
Shipping Mercedes to the thin air of Denver for a team that will likely have some at-bats for him if the universal DH is instituted could be fun for Rockies fans as the team tries to channel as much from April and May 2021 as possible.

Gil Luna is an undersized, 22-year-old left-handed reliever from the University of Arizona who the Sox picked in the ninth round of July’s draft. He struck out 24 of the first 53 hitters he faced as a professional.

Summary

Lineup

  1. Tim Anderson SS (R)
  2. Yoán Moncada 3B (S)
  3. Luis Robert CF (R)
  4. Ketel Marte 2B (S)
  5. Jose Abreu 1B (R)
  6. Yasmani Grandal C (S)
  7. Eloy Jiménez DH (R)
  8. Kevin Kiermaier RF (L)
  9. Jackie Bradley Jr. LF (L) / Adam Engel (R) (platoon)

Bench

  • Joey Wendle INF (L)
  • Adam Engel OF (R)
  • Stephen Vogt C (L)
  • Romy González (R) / Danny Mendick (R) / Jake Burger (R) / one of those NRIs

I wouldn’t lead off Tim Anderson, but I’m starting to think the Sox could add 1990 Rickey Henderson to their lineup and Anderson would still lead off. I might as well not even propose Moncada or Grandal leading off anymore.

If the sight of Jackie Bradley Jr. in the lineup nauseates you, realize, again, that I would just give him the first crack, and if/when he doesn’t hit enough to warrant regular ABs against RHPs, this roster has a myriad of options. I could slide Marte to left field and put Wendle at 2B regularly, I could recall Sheets or Burger from Charlotte and move Jiménez back to left, or I could give Adam Engel more ABs vs. RHPs should he stay healthy. The idea of Bradley getting ABs or even being on the roster can be ended just a few weeks into April.

Rotation

  1. Lucas Giolito (R)
  2. Lance Lynn (R)
  3. Carlos Rodón (L)
  4. Dylan Cease (R)
  5. Michael Kopech (R)

Bullpen

  • Liam Hendriks (R)
  • Aaron Bummer (L)
  • Garrett Crochet (L)
  • Blake Parker (R)
  • Reynaldo López (R)
  • José Ruiz (R)
  • Tyler Kinley (R)
  • Phoenix Sanders (R) / Ryan Burr (R)

Total Payroll = $173.55 million