We Are Regal Radio co-founder and former Los Angeles Dodger scouting personnel Sean Terry breaks down the off-season moves for the Cubs and White Sox in preparation for the 2017 season.
Baseball’s second season kicked off two weeks ago at Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings in the quiet outskirts of the Washington D.C. metro.
Before teams and front office personnel had a chance to exchange pleasantries and that first evening cocktail, the White Sox got the drop on everyone by making the type of moves that spell “complete rebuild underway” to a fan base that has been clamoring for as much for the past five seasons.
The Winter Meetings are typically a week long sprint to trim the fat on far-fetched trade scenarios concocted earlier in the week, whittling these ideas down to formidable trade possibilities that ultimately exchange during the back end of the week.
However, the Southside threw conventional thinking out the window and shook up the baseball world by making two splashy moves within the first 48-hours of the week’s festivities.
Admittedly, I am life-long fan of the Chicago Cubs but those closest to me know that I have a slightly less fanatical albeit equally genuine affinity for the South Siders, which dates back to the days of Bo Jackson’s Bionic hip replacement and dramatic return, as well as the cover of Dr. Dre’s iconic album The Chronic, so the Sox moves immediately drew my interest.
Having been around long enough to mature and understand the nuances of business in general, as well as witnessing Jerry Reinsdorf, Chairman and CEO of both the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, obtain championships in both sports; I’ve grown to understand the manner in which the boss involves himself in the direct business handlings of both clubs and the manner in which he communicates to and thru the media at-large.
That said, the Chairman dropped the gauntlet on change to come at the Winter Meetings by setting the bar on his expectations in impending deals and providing an official sign-off on the rebuild.
In his December 5th monologue, Reinsdorf let it be known that Chris Sale was on the table and that when a club decides to move one of the games top pitchers, the haul in return must be no less than four prospects – a substantial enough return to allow for the unforeseen whether that is injury, unmet expectations, or unpredictable depreciation.
Prospects and the Hit Rate: Sum of the Parts
And so it went with the makings of a Chris Sale deal already underway, a fact suspected to come to fruition by most Sox fans. What was less known of, or understood at that time by many Sox fans was that a subsequent deal was in place for outfielder, Adam Eaton.
Interestingly enough, before the ink dried on the Sale deal and before I was able to blast the Sox for not getting enough in return for Sale, a latter deal involving Eaton was finalized which made up the difference for the Sox desire to get a handful of prospects to play with and jump-start the talent pool down on the farm.
In total, between both the Sale and Eaton deals, the Sox landed a total of seven prospects: most notably a top-5 MLB infield prospect, Yoan Moncada, whom many in the game expect to be doing heavy lifting on the big boy club by mid-June next season; and a top pitching prospect, Michael Kopech who very easily is capable of doing the same.
The remaining players received have varying degrees of experience and all appear to be some ways away from making an immediate impact on the parent club: Lucas Giolito (already one Tommy John surgery in will likely be moved along slowly), Reynaldo Lopez, Victor Diaz, and two A-ball level prospects in Dane Dunning and Luis Alexander Basabe.
When dealing with prospects there are no guarantees, nor a standard measure for success of a trade. The proof ultimately is in the results and the fact that the Sox dealt Adam Eaton, a top-10 Wins Above Replacement player last year (6.2 WAR, 10th best in the AL), will put the pressure on the Sox to find a top defender to play the corner outfield and set the table for the offense.
I still personally would have like to see one more ready to contribute Major Leaguer in the Sale deal. Specifically, I thought the Sale trade could have been constructed to include Boston outfielder Andrew Benintendi. Had the Sox decided to haggle with Boston a bit longer, Benintendi would have been a net-able return amongst the Sale haul, as the Red Sox had already let it be known their other two outfielders: Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. were both untouchable.
Benintendi would have immediately solved the corner outfield question for the Sox, but instead they will lean on the development of their youth to fill the hole in right field.
The good news on that front is that quietly, the Sox already made viable steps at the end of last season to jump start the rebuild by laying new infrastructure at the minor league levels, tweaking their coaching staff at multiple levels to bring former players with familiarity to the organization and the type of name recognition and pedigree that will resonate with today’s young players.
In strategically placing first time managers Willie Harris (A-ball, Winston Salem, NC) and Mark Grudzielanek (AAA-ball, Charlotte, NC) at the first and final stops before the parent club, the Sox have found two gritty former middle-infielders who will be charged with acclimating developing players with the new philosophy and identity the parent clubs wants the entire organization to play with.
Perhaps this approach to culture building was the tell-tale sign that many fans overlooked over these past three years when we kept hearing about Kenny versus Rick Hahn in-fighting preventing the organization from “just tearing it all down and starting from scratch.”
It’s kinda hard to do that when the coaching infrastructure isn’t in place to build young players up the right way but it appears the Sox at least have an idea on how they’d like to proceed with their new imprint.
Nonetheless, the million dollar question now that the coaches are in place is how long will it take before the pipeline starts knocking?
Next Up: More Trades & Free Agency?
Copycat efforts in sports never quite seem to go as planned so I’m of the logic that the Sox are in a solid place heading into 2017 to give 3-4 young players an opportunity to crack the starting lineup while remaining mildly, so long as they keep the remaining starting pitching staff in place.
While many Sox fans suggest the organization follow the Cubs blueprint by taking their recent moves a step further by unloading Quintana, I’m of the belief that such a move hardly seems like a smart baseball move.
Left-handed starters are at a premium in the game and in the aforementioned Sale and underappreciated Jose Quintana, the Sox touted two solid, at times dominant starting left-handers — a luxury for the Sox over the past three seasons that most other teams likely envied.
The probability of a Qunitana move seems highly unlikely in my opinion and would appear to be a desperate move to do too much too quickly shifting the Sox from a position of strength to one of absolute weakness.
Perhaps fans should pump the brakes and embrace the idea of a moderate rebuild and support giving Ricky Renteria an opportunity pace things in a way that will not put too much pressure on young players and allow them to build clubhouse identity & confidence by actually being competitive?
That said, here’s a list of a couple moves out there for the Sox that would reinforce the clubs big picture approach while also giving them a fighting chance to avoid doormat status next season.
Heading into the winter meetings, Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen was drawing the interest of several clubs in a potential trade and could be had for the right price. McCutchen subsequently was not moved and as quickly as the rumors heated they quickly dissipated, but the damage may already be done as rumor in the baseball world has the former MVP being extremely displeased to hear his name involved in trade rumors.
Some may point to a down season last year, but in acquiring McCutchen the Sox would be obtaining a 30-year old player still in his prime, coming off four straight seasons as a top-5 MVP finalist in the National League (recipient of the award in 2013). In McCutchen, the Sox would be receiving a nearly a career .400 OBP%, run producer, gold glove quality CF, avg. 25 HR/90 RBI run generator.
The numbers dip last season were noticeable but instead of being on the decline, perhaps McCutchen is simply in need of a change of scenery and a reboot more than anything as playing in a cavernous ballpark for the past seven years while carrying the Pirates offense has likely had a toll on his legs as evidenced by the drop in his stolen bases over the past five seasons.
To me this looks like a perfect storm for the Sox to pull a heist and fill a glaring hole in center field, while bringing in the type of player who can naturally slide into the type of leadership role that every first year manager needs to get the arrow pointed in the right direction.
Via Free Agency:
One of the most quietly attractive free agent commodity not being talked about is Pedro Alvarez. The power hitting corner infielder is a potential fit for the Sox at 3rd base if they do in fact move on from the Todd-father experiment.
Alvarez is still a fairly young player whose trajectory catapulted to a fast start as a young player coming up at the age 23 and being dropped in a middle cog role for the Pittsburgh Pirates order, providing more than capable lineup protection for the previously mentioned McCutchen.
During his time as a Pirate, Alvarez notched an All Star appearance with a couple of 30+ HR seasons and a 100-rbi season to match. As is common with many young hitters, the game and advanced scouting will catch up giving pitchers enough fuel to figure out the holes in their swing. This is exactly what happened to Alvarez, leading to a few down seasons that triggered his departure from the Pirates.
But oddly enough, perhaps a change of scenery worked in Alvarez favor in his first season in the American League (Orioles) last year season allowing him to figure some things out offensively. For the first time since 2011, last season saw Alvarez reduce his strikeouts to less than 100 for the season, while he also experienced a slight increase in OBP%.
Perhaps a big offensive season is on the horizon once again for Alvarez.
The biggest knock on Alvarez has always been his defensive fielding. While in a Pirates uniform, Alvarez was routinely a 20+ errors a year guy at 3rd base, but strangely enough, Alvarez possesses the 4th highest range factor among all active MLB 3rd baseman, behind some of the game’s best: Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, and Josh Donaldson.
If anything, being a Cubs fan allowed me to witness a lot of Alvarez during his early years with the Pirates and more than anything I’m inclined to believe as a young player, instead of being a poor fielder perhaps his bout with the errors resulted from him being a young player who extended himself in an attempt to make too many plays, while likely also suffering from the fact that the Pirates had a revolving door at the short stop position during his most formative years as a professional.
To me, Alvarez screams smart money for the Sox as he’ll look to make a moderate pay increase coming four seasons removed from his most productive offensive numbers. Last season Alvarez only made $5.7M which means even with a slight increase for inflation he’s subject to land a salary that meshes well with the financial formula the Sox are looking to implement.
As an added bonus, not only is Alvarez a former teammate of McCutchen’s from their Pirates days, but he’s also a Vanderbilt University product. Recently the White Sox tapped into the wealth of talent via the Vanderbilt program that embraces former players remaining engaged with one another as well as the collegiate program.
This fact could prove to be a perfect comfort addition to the Sox clubhouse as they move to fully assimilate prospect arm, Carson Fulmer, into a much larger role next season.
Lastly, as a trade of last year’s closer David Robertson appears to be forthcoming, the White Sox appear to be leaning towards fully committing to grooming Fullmer into a future closer. Before they hand the reigns over to him completely, they’ll need to bring someone into the fold who can help set the standard for the back end of the bullpen.
The player that comes to mind who could adequately fill the role of bullpen mentor is Giants bullpen arm, Sergio Romo. Romo has thrived in a back end role for the Giants over the past several years, having spent time both as a primary setup man and closer.
During his peak across 2013-14 seasons, Romo was an All-Star and team closer, notching 61 games saved over the two seasons.
The Giants have confirmed they’re done with Romo and the setup man drew early interest from the Yankees, but that possibility likely went out the window with the Yankees reacquiring closer, Aroldis Chapman earlier today. With Romo likely priced beyond the Giants budget courtesy of his last deal (roughly $9M/year) he’ll be looking for greener pastures elsewhere in 2017.
Romo got touched up in the 2016 NLDS, with most fans remembering how Cubs hitters attacked him in the last two games of the series but I have a feeling his less than electric results had more to do with rust than lack of ability, as he missed time towards the end of last season due to injury.
Heading into 2017 free agency, Romo’s price tag should hover around that amount and could be a good option for closer if Robertson is gone.
The commitment to the rebuild is well underway on the South Side, and with season tickets now on sell and Soxfest on the horizon (January 27-29) expect the Sox to continue their remodeling during this holiday season. In the words of Hawk Harrelson, “don’t stop now boys!”
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; Sean Terry is a co-founder of We Are Regal Radio