Approaching midnight on Thursday, the White Sox announced a trade of Aaron Bummer to the Atlanta Braves that yielded five players: right-handed starter Michael Soroka, infielder Nicky Lopez, southpaw starter Jared Shuster, 2023 draft pick/righty starter Riley Gowens, and shortstop Braden Shewmake.
While those five players (four of whom are now on the 40-man roster and likely seeing the 26-man active roster in 2024) seem underwhelming, we’re the White Sox. No haul, short of one for Luis Robert Jr. or Dylan Cease, can be scoffingly scrutinized.
Soroka is the default headliner here, surely sliding into our one-man (Dylan Cease) starting rotation. Now, Soroka has had one full season in the majors, and a brilliant one ... in 2019. He has pitched in just 10 games over the four seasons since, due to a Jake Burger Special: two Achilles injuries. Plus, he was shut down in 2023 due to forearm inflammation, which often signals something, well, much worse to come. Finally, Soroka’s comeback season in 2023 was atrocious (seven games, -0.4 WAR, tagged for two earned in three innings vs. the eventual 101-loss White Sox in July). On a normal team with real, actual players, Soroka would be in the pen, perhaps a swingman; on the 2024 White Sox, he slots as the No. 2 starter. If that stings, just imagine Soroka as salary relief for Atlanta taking on the Bummer deal (Michael’s projected arb deal is $3 million, and the White Sox will for-sure lowball offer on that).
Lopez is from Naperville Central High, and at this stage of his career, that might be the most appealing thing about him. But kidding and suburbia references aside, Lopez is a solid infielder whose 2023 looks worse than it was; a defense-heavy 1.8 WAR in less than a half-time role is production that will play on the South Side in 2024. Whether Nicky wilts under the heat of the 600 PAs he’s certain to get, time will tell. (One of our ace analysts, Luke Smailes, targeted Lopez in his offseason plan, estimating a cost of Terrell Tatum, one that would well pay off in defense alone in 2024.)
The remaining three players are best imagined as lottery tickets, and when you buy those in threes, there’s a near certainly one will scratch off into some production. Lefty Shuster was Atlanta’s top choice in 2020 and got his first taste of the majors in 2023. The 25-year-old split his time starting at Triple-A and the Braves last year, with a mid-5 ERA overall; not great, but challenged by pitching older than his age. Statistically (if not stuff-wise), imagine if Jake Eder was rushed to Charlotte/Chicago. If you’re eye-rolling Soroka as the No. 2 starter in the 2024 rotation, then imagine Shuster there instead; while neither inspire at the moment, Shuster has a lot of ceiling.
Shewmake, Atlanta’s first-rounder in 2019, got a two-game cup of coffee in 2023. The lefthander raked at Texas A&M, but has struggled to get his footing in the upper minors: In 122 Triple-A games in 2023, Shewmake put up a .706 OPS with some decent power (16 HRs) but woeful on-base (.299). It’s a little hard to divine what Chris Getz is seeing in the shortstop, although fourth-guy-in-massive-five-player-package-for-Aaron-Bummer-(!) is good enough, honestly. The fact that Lenyn Sosa and José Rodríguez have been patiently awaiting MLB PAs does make Shewmake an interesting/confusing pickup.
Finally, Gowens is a righty starter taken in the ninth round last summer. But let’s not bury the lede here, he like this author is a Libertyville High product, and if the ascendant career of Evan Skoug tells you anything, it’s that Wildcats don’t disappoint. But seriously, Gowens has some stuff, getting his feet wet in five games in ACL and Low-A ball and crushing his younger (~two years) competition (1.15 ERA, 0.957 WHIP). We’ll see where he ultimately lands on our list, but Gowens could slot as high as the 30s among our 100 Top Prospects and seems a lock for High-A Winston-Salem in April.
Bummer, for his part, was a luxury the White Sox couldn’t really afford ($6.75 million for 2024, assuming a 2025 buyout). And quite frankly, peripherals and couldve-shouldves aside, the tall lefty is a definite relocation project given a horrendous 2023. If I was a smart analyst, I’d point to his 3.58 FIP as proof his backing seven triggered his -1.0 WAR (for a reliever!), but sorry, that 6.79 ERA and lack of control spells doom for a club that still looks worse on paper in 2024.
Bummer’s 2.4 WAR in 2019 was elite, and alone covers the near-$10 million the White Sox paid him in his career. It may seem that Bummer underperformed his contract — and the southpaw himself would say he expected more elite summers in Chicago than a mere one — but there should be no beef with what he provided the White Sox in his career.
This is a sharp move for Atlanta, as it not only alleviates the roster crunch for the club but gives this contending club a killer setup man in Bummer (presuming the control tightens back up). The deal comes with significant upside for the White Sox, however; while neither Shuster nor Shumake are can’t-miss, the opportunity to grab two recent first-rounders in the same deal, and that deal being for a reliever you no longer really want (or, at least, want to pay), is impressive. The odds that a top-notch org like Atlanta whiffed completely on two consecutive top picks seems unlikely.
Pending non-tenders that become known on Friday (Soroka, honestly, would be a prime candidate to drop if the White Sox had, say, more than one established starting pitcher ready for 2024), this trade fills the 40-man roster (only Gowens was not added in the deal). And that fill was predicated by the addition of Jake Eder and Cristian Mena to the 40-man earlier in the week.
While on the surface the additions of Eder and Mena simply keep the two from being stolen away in the Rule 5 draft next month, the additions signal both pitchers as possible first-starters-up from Charlotte in 2024. While Nick Nastrini seems to have the competitive edge on both heading into the season, Eder and Mena move up as equals in consideration at this point, given roster dynamics.
We’ll update this story, or conjure up a new one, once Chris Getz gets his beauty rest and the White Sox send out a press release and/or talk to writers about the deal.