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One and Gone (Almost) for Sure

Lancing the theory that Lynn isn’t a rental

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers
Definitely not ready for the “best shape of his life” White Sox cliche
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

OK. I’m an old guy. I have never been on Twitter. I never want to be. But my son, Will, tells me there is much ado amongst White Sox fan tweeters whenever someone suggests that Lance Lynn is a rental.

Which, best I’ve read, is about as accurate as most tweeting, because, folks, Lance Lynn is almost assuredly a rental — just like virtually every other acquisition of the sort that brought him to the White Sox. Well, actually, every single such deal I can find, but I probably missed one or two here or there — feel free to demonstrate your better memory in the comments below.

During our last Sharing Sox podcast I mentioned I’d love to find out how many seeming rentals turned out to opt for a long-term lease with their new team, and Will guessed is would be 20%, tops, probably less.

Yeah. Turns out to be about 20% less.

And we need not concentrate on just Manny Machado. Nor mention Justin Verlander, who still had two years left on a contract the Tigers partially covered after trading him to the Astros in one of the most important midseason moves ever (yes, the Astros eventually ended up signing him again — at the very non-Jerry rate of $33 mil per).

Certainly, if Lynn is a rental, to be a White Sox member just for 2021, then the rest of the offseason is even more of a horrible mess than it seems. Because the whole process should be aiming to one grand year, World Series or bust, and never mind what happens with the rest of the 30 or 40 years of team control that were left with Dane Dunning. Instead, of course, it’s sort of a giant flail. Or fail.

Now, it’s not easy to come by information on MLB players traded for with one year or less of team control remaining. At least it’s not easy unless you’re way better at coming up with Google search lines than I am.

Turns out, though, the simplest search line was the most effective for me, just “MLB rental players.” And that turns out to provide the idea that Lynn being gone in 2022 is a whole lot better bet than Bitcoin or Gamestop, more along the lines of “it will be cold in Chicago in the winter.”

Buried In The Snow
Lance Lynn’s chances of being on the White Sox in 2022 are the same as the chances of driving straight out of this parking spot.
Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

In the interests of full disclosure, when you use “rental” for MLB players, the term is most commonly applied to those acquired at or near the trade deadline, not those reaped for a full season, and almost all the players about to be mentioned are in the former category. Still, the principle is the same — a veteran with an expiring contract picked up for short-term gain, in exchange for prospects or young players who will be controlled and cheap for the long term. And I know of no unique term to search for the full-season types.

The first useful hit was an article from Bleacher Report in 2014: “The 10 Biggest Rental Trades of the Past 10 Years.” Some big names there: Mark Teixeira (Angels), Zach Greinke (ditto), Carlos Beltran (Astros), Matt Holliday (A’s), C.C. Sabathia (Brewers), Cliff Lee (twice, Mariners and Rangers), and Shin-Soo Choo (Reds). Choo was the only full-year rental. Retention rate? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Fuggedaboutit.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals
Notice that the Cliff Lee picture here is neither a Mariner nor a Ranger.
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

The next useful hit was a Yahoo article from 2018 about big-time rentals. There was some repetition, but with the addition of Yu Darvish (Dodgers), David Price (Blue Jays), Jon Lester (A’s), and Aroldis Chapman (Cubs). Those guys did a great job for their new teams — then left. Again, zero retention. And that’s even with some big-spending teams in there, not merely the Jerry Reinsdorfs of the baseball world.

To round things out, there was an article from The Score in 2017, about each team’s most important rental. For the record, they gave the White Sox leader as Ken Griffey, Jr., a move that, given his age at the time, was mostly about ticket and souvenir sales and very much less about playing baseball.

That, of course, provides 30 more cases to look at, ranging from Randy Johnson to guys whose names the teams don’t want to be reminded of. Again, some crossover, but we end up with some three dozen examples.

Amazingly, two of those actually spent a second season with the acquiring team. I was shocked. That is, until I figured out The Score had just screwed up, and the two players — Todd Walker and Wilson Betemit — weren’t actually free agents at the end of the season in question, so they didn’t fit even an expanded definition of a rental and shouldn’t have been included.

Among those who actually did become free agents? Zero retention once again. Not a one. Zilch. Nada. Bupkus.

You’d expect out of more than 30 rentals, odds are, with 30 teams in baseball, at least one would stick around, that the new team would like them enough to want to keep them. The law of averages alone might point in that direction. But: absolutely not.

Many years ago, when we moved to a new city, my wife and I rented a house with option to buy. We didn’t buy. Our realtor said she’d never arrange such a thing again, because no one ever did end up buying — they knew too much bad about the house, from the cold family room to the moles digging up the yard. Maybe that works both ways for rental players and teams. Or maybe — could it be? — it’s just all about money. And if Lynn pitches well, more money will be offered in other places.

Either way, say hello to Lance Lynn this season. And then, say goodbye.