During Rick Hahn’s tenure as general manager of the White Sox, the pro scouting department has been rightly questioned, as bad money was too often spent and mistakes were all too familiar.
While changes to that department have occurred, they’re tough to quantify currently. Former director of amateur scouting Nick Hostetler is now a special assistant to Hahn, working on the professional scouting side of the operation.
Dan Fabian is a fixture in the front offices at 35th and Shields as well, in addition to rising star Emily Blady, among others. Ben Hansen was employed as a biomechanical engineer and while his influence was positive in multiple departments, his position is yet to be replaced since his departure for another opportunity, outside of baseball.
The White Sox are second in baseball in run differential (having just flipped spots with Houston) and the club is near the top of the leaderboard in offensive and pitching WAR. It maintains a solid lead in the American League Central despite the losses of Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal for extended periods.
“What we are dealing with is a first-place team that has overcome numerous challenges already this season,” Hahn says. “We have seen various guys stand up and do well with the opportunities that have been provided. There does remain optimistic views that some of these players will return at some point of the season.”
Nick Madrigal has recently been placed on the 60-day injured list and he’ll miss the remainder of the 2021 season after having surgery on his hamstring. Jiménez is participating in baseball activities in Arizona, however, and Robert is expected to join his outfield mate in rehabbing soon.
“Regardless of the injuries, we were going to engage in trade talks as to how to improve the 2021 club,” Hahn says. There have been some questions about whether Hahn’s organization being desperate for help puts them at a disadvantage.
The GM disagrees: “We always reserve the right to say no to someone when something proposed doesn’t make sense in the short and long term ... You can always say no to any proposal. Teams know where we are at, and teams know what we are trying to do in the long term. There is no secret what the vision is for this organization both for 2021 and beyond.”
The bullpen that came into the season as one of the league’s very best has struggled to build a bridge to Liam Hendriks at times. While the overall numbers are pretty stellar, additions will likely be made, because contenders always add bullpen help in July. The relief corps is fourth in the sport with an fWAR of 3.0 while posting a 3.53 FIP and averaging 10.76 K/9 despite some regression.
A premiere setup man may ultimately be the club’s biggest need, but the offense could use some help as well. The White Sox offense is also fourth in fWAR. It is sporting a solid 109 wRC+, but only a .151 team ISO% with 67 home runs. This collection of players often struggles against right-handed pitching, prompting a need for reinforcements.
Starting center fielders are rarely available at the trade deadline, but outfield help should be available. The argument can be made that another player on the infield is the more pressing, need but while trying to add to the trophy case no stones should be left unturned.
Bruce Levine of 670 The Score mentioned Miami’s Starling Marte along with Mitch Haniger of the Mariners and Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier as potential trade targets for the White Sox. Frazier and Haniger both have another year of team control, and would likely cost a premium to acquire at this juncture. Marte makes quite a bit of sense for a team in the White Sox’s situation, though.
The 32-year-old outfielder is having a career year for the Marlins, hitting .331/.429/.534 with a 170 wRC+. Marte can play center, and is stellar in the corners. He’s also hit five homers this year. The White Sox have had interest in him in the past, but Miami is likely looking to extract some real value in a potential trade.
Haniger has bounced back nicely for Seattle so far this season. The right-handed outfielder isn’t on base as much as the White Sox would prefer, but he’s hit 16 home runs and posted a 125 wRC+, which would be a welcome addition to the lineup on the South Side. Frazier has primarily played second base for Pittsburgh, and he’s been outstanding. The left-handed infielder is hitting .324/.386/.458 with a 136 wRC+ and has hit 23 doubles in 66 games.
Joey Gallo, Charlie Blackmon, Justin Upton and Corey Dickerson are other potential options that the front office could look to acquire in the right deal. Dickerson hits left-handed and has provided league-average offensive production for the Marlins. Blackmon and Upton are both expensive. Blackmon, a 34-year-old Rockies lifer, also hits from the left side and has provided power and walks throughout his career. He has always been better at home (similar to other Colorado players) but he’s posting an xwOBA of .380 in 2021.
Upton may not actually be available, but he’s roughing up southpaws to the tune of a 168 wRC+. The 33-year-old outfielder has smashed 14 homers and produced lots of walks with his 121 wRC+. Gallo is a bit of a different story. The Rangers would benefit from the prospect haul for someone with deteriorating contract control. The 27-year-old has posted a .375 OPS with 11 homers and a wRC+ of 122. Gallo would be a great fit for the White Sox, but the acquisition cost could prove to be prohibitive.
There are other options in regards to the infield not named Adam Frazier as well. Eduardo Escobar and Asdrubal Cabrera are both readily available from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Josh Harrison of the Washington Nationals, Freddy Galvis of the Baltimore Orioles and Jonathan Schoop of the Detroit Tigers could all make some semblance of sense.
The 31-year-old Galvis has been playing shortstop in Baltimore, and the switch-hitter has posted a 107 wRC+ with nine homers in 2021. Harrison has posted a 107 wRC+ as a 33-year-old. Schoop has played lots of first base in Detroit, but he’s capable at second base as well. The 29-year-old veteran has belted 12 homers and posted a 116 wRC+. Any of these three would help the infield depth in Chicago.
Figuring out a deal and compensation package seems the most likely avenue, however. The 32-year-old Escobar is a former White Sox, and the front office had reservations about sending him to the Twins all those years ago. The infielder doesn’t walk, but he’s a solid defender who has hit 15 homers so far. Cabrera appears to be ageless as he just keeps hitting. The 35-year-old has posted a 121 wRC+ and he’s walking 13.9% of the time. Asdrubal would be another great fit on a team attempting to win a title.
Danny Mendick and Leury García are the infield depth in Chicago. García is versatile, but Mendick is the new second baseman. He may be capable of holding down the fort, but acquiring another infielder will likely be necessary. Jake Burger is playing some second base in Charlotte and Tim Beckham has the cloud of a suspension hanging over his services. A deal for an infielder seems likely at this rate.
Adam Eaton is on the injured list, and he’s the one blemish on the ledger of the professional scouting staff this offseason. The additions of Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks and Carlos Rodón have all worked out in a huge way. Billy Hamilton, Jake Lamb and Brian Goodwin have kept this operation afloat, and whether those signings were influenced by Tony La Russa’s previous relationships or not, the pro scouting has been a positive factor.
The White Sox are one of the best teams in the sport and they aren’t at full strength. It’s been a herculean effort from many. All contenders add relief pitching for the stretch run, and the White Sox will likely do the same. This offense needs to improve to win a championship, and namely, the ball needs to start flying out of the yard more consistently.
The farm system isn’t what it was and a lost 2020 season thwarted some trade value, but Rick Hahn and company have enough in the system to get what they deem necessary. It’s now up to who fits best. There isn’t a prospect in the system who should be considered untouchable, but the organization is trying to build a sustained winner.
When opportunities to win present themselves though, the White Sox typically attempt to enhance their chances.
“It’s our nature to look at every opportunity to get ourselves better,” Hahn says. “Chances to win are sacred, and we’re going to treat this one accordingly.”
With July creeping up on everyone, we’ll soon find out if the juice is in fact worth the squeeze.