Despite a record of just 48-54, the Chicago White Sox are only 5.5 games out of the Wild Card and right in the middle of the race as the trade deadline approaches on July 31.
After finishing the 2013 season with the third worst record in baseball, the idea of being in contention a year later was not expected by most White Sox fans. However, the Sox surprisingly find themselves in contention thanks in large part to a career year by Alexei Ramirez, not to mention the breakout Cuban superstar of the year, Jose Abreu.
Admiring Abreu’s stats so far this season is a thing of beauty. He is already one of the most feared power hitters in the game, having hit 29 home runs in 369 plate appearances so far this season to go along with an enormous .327 ISO, by far the best in the league. Abreu is also hitting .292 with a .961 OPS and .405 wOBA. Baseball fans knew that Abreu had this kind of potential, although no one saw him tapping into it this fully in his rookie season, if at all.
On the other side of the diamond, Chris Sale continues to be one of the top three pitchers in baseball. Sale has incredibly lowered his walk rate yet again this year to a minuscule 1.50 BB/9, having lowered it each consecutive season since entering the league in 2010. Also, for the second consecutive year Sale has raised his strikeout rate which is now at 9.71 K/9, giving him an incredible K/BB on the season of 6.47, by far a career high.
The White Sox are clearly not lacking for star players, but the rest of the roster is not without it’s faults. Most notably, the White Sox have no closer after trading away Addison Reed in the offseason. GM Rick Hahn made an astute trade in moving a (thought to be) replaceable relief pitcher for a potential cost-controlled power third baseman in Matt Davidson, but he probably did not expect it would be this difficult to replace Reed, or that his team would be this close to contention. Davidson was coming off of a season at Triple-A in which he hit .280/.350/.481 with 17 home runs and it seemed reasonable to believe that he would eventually take over at third base for the White Sox in 2014.
Instead, White Sox current third baseman Conor Gillaspie won the job and ran away with it. Gillaspie may be under-appreciated due to the attention given to Abreu, or it could just be the fact that he has not hit many home runs. You can forgive a lack of power though, when a player is hitting .326/.377/.484 with a .375 wOBA. Even the power has begun to come around for Gillaspie, who went the first three months without a home run before hitting four in July.
The reasons behind Gillaspie’s success come down to a low strikeout rate and a high line drive percentage. Gillaspie is currently striking out in just 14.1 percent of his plate appearances (top 50 in MLB) while hitting line drives at a rate of 24.4 percent (top 20 in MLB). Gillaspie has also seen his BABIP rise from .270 last year up to .364 this year, which explains his rise in batting average from .245 a year ago to .326 today. A BABIP of .270 last year was extremely low for a player with Gillaspie’s batted ball profile, and while his current mark of .370 won’t last, his baseline BABIP may still end up around .330 each year.
With Gillaspie locking down third base, Alexei Ramirez having an All-Star season at shortstop, and Jose Abreu playing out of his mind at first base, that leaves Gordon Beckham who may be feeling the pressure to perform. Going into the season, 2014 was already seen as a make-or-break year for Beckham but the results have been pretty much more of the same from the perennially disappointing second baseman who is hitting just .227/.277/.360 with 7 home runs in 327 plate appearances. That kind of output simply isn’t going to cut it, even at second base, and it has become clear that the White Sox need to be looking for a new second baseman.
Luckily for the Sox, they have a second baseman sitting next to the phone waiting for the call up to the Big Leagues in lighting-quick Micah Johnson. Johnson began the year at Double-A and was quickly promoted after hitting .329/.414/.466 with a .404 wOBA through 37 games. Johnson has now been in Triple-A for 38 games and another promotion may be in order if the White Sox are willing to sacrifice some development time in order to put the best team on the field at the Major League level. In 75 games and 348 plate appearances this year Micah Johnson is hitting a cumulative .312/.371/.421 with four home runs and 16 stolen bases.
The White Sox appear to have enough talent to have a chance at competing for a Wild Card spot down the stretch, and for that reason I believe they should be buyers at the trade deadline on July 31. It simply is not in the Sox DNA to sell when the team has a chance to reach the playoffs.
The first area the Sox should address in a trade is starting pitching. It really doesn’t matter who the pitcher is or where he’s coming from, if he can pitch in the rotation the White Sox can use him. Next, the Sox should end the Gordon Beckham Experience once and for all and find a short term-replacement. If the team is willing to call up Micah Johnson that would be ideal; however, if the Sox would rather keep Johnson at Triple-A there are some intriguing options on the trade market with varying levels of acquisition cost:
- Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers – The Rangers are surprisingly already in sell-mode after their roster has been devastated by injuries this season, and Andrus may become expendable with Rougned Odor and Jurikson Profar set in the middle of the infield for the foreseeable future. Andrus won’t come cheap though, and has a salary of $15 million annually to consider, but he has experience playing second base and would look great at the top of the order next to Adam Eaton.
- Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays – Zobrist is a long-shot due to the Rays probable asking price, but his versatility in the field and his still potent bat make him an attractive trade target for the White Sox if they’re willing to pony up with their offer. Zobrist has been linked to the Mariners for weeks though, and is not a likely target for the Sox.
- Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies – Chase Utley would be another pipe dream, and even more so than Zobrist. Utley is near the end of his career so he won’t necessarily block prospects a few years from now, but he does not want to be traded and Philadelphia has been stubborn in their attempts at relevance in the standings.
- Martin Prado, 2B/3B/OF, Diamondbacks – Trading for Prado would have nearly the same impact as trading for Zobrist. While I’m sure the Sox would love to have his versatility and line drive bat, the asking price from the Diamondbacks may get in the way.
- Daniel Murphy, 2B, Mets – I’m not sure why the Mets would want to trade the 29-year-old Murphy who is following up a breakout season with another very solid season offensively, but his name has come up and if the Mets are listening, the Sox should seriously consider making a move for the multi-dimensional Murphy.
- Aaron Hill, 2B, Diamondbacks – Aaron Hill is one of the more realistic names on this list and should not cost much to acquire from the D-Backs. Hill has just seven home runs this year in 90 games but hit 26 home runs as recently as 2012 and U.S. Cellular may be just the place for him to re-discover his power stroke.
- Darwin Barney, 2B, Cubs – OK seriously White Sox fans, hear me out. The question the White Sox need to ask themselves is, “does Darwin Barney give us a better chance to win than Gordon Beckham?” and the answer to that question is “Yes.” Through 70 games this season Gordon Beckham has been worth a total of 0.0 WAR this year. That’s zero point zero. Barney meanwhile hasn’t been much better, at 0.2 WAR but Barney also possesses the most reliable and valuable skill among the two players and that’s Gold Glove defense. Gordon Beckham is currently having his worst season defensively and has managed to regress offensively from a pitiful wOBA of .306 last season down to .296 this season. If he finishes with a wOBA under .300 this season it will be the third time in four years that he has failed to reach that mark. The nice part about trading for Darwin Barney is that the cost to acquire him will be minimal, and he could simply split time with Beckham, or provide a fallback option to Micah Johnson.
Categories: White Sox