Following up on our Adam Engel discussion from Wednesday, there’s a certain calculus that goes into finding somebody, anybody better in center field, as fruitless as it may seem. There’s a difference between throwing in the towel on contending and giving up on positions. The former is inevitable because the math just isn’t there. The latter is much harder to excuse if you can dig out from under all the ennui.
After all, the White Sox’ most valuable currency is major-league auditioning time. They can’t trade that to anybody else, and there’s no rolling that over into the following season. It’s best to put it to use somehow, so calling for fresh blood at a position of need is more than change for change’s sake.
We saw that with the Yonder Alonso trade, at least in a different way. The White Sox have at-bats available at DH, and maybe first base if Jose Abreu’s groinular misfortune follows him into 2019. Alonso isn’t exciting and might end up being inconsequential, but his brand of production is a better fit than those who came before him.
To acquire that better use of DH at-bats — at least setting aside the White Sox lacking the benefit of the doubt in such limited-upside acquisitions — the White Sox traded Alex Call.
Call has his selling points, but not a calling card, ironically enough. Until he can develop a true strength or two from a well-rounded but low-impact skill set, he didn’t really fit on any timeline. If everybody made it through spring training in full working order, Call was going to be a victim of the Birmingham logjam. Without opportunities, he wasn’t going to get protected on the 40-man roster afterward. Perhaps he’ll thrive with sunlight and oxygen in Cleveland’s system, but it’s not like the White Sox were wrong to move him, not with some combination of Luis Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo and Blake Rutherford keeping him down.
This being the case, it was sensible to convert a player in Call’s situation into somebody who could make better use of those plate appearances higher up. Is a low-ceiling first baseman in his early 30’s the best use of that roster spot? Only time will tell, assuming “time” is an obscure nickname for Manny Machado.
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When talking about the kind of late-winter/early-spring moves the White Sox might execute to get more use out of the playing time at the top, the upcoming 40-man crunch is a good place to start.
I originally wrote “next” instead of “upcoming,” but the White Sox only had mild pressure on their bubble over the last month, and it didn’t pop. They drew the line as expected, and it didn’t cost them anybody in the Rule 5 draft.
At this point, here’s how I see the 40-man picture 12 months from now:
- Locks: Zack Collins, Zack Burdi, Dane Dunning
- Likely: Alec Hansen, Blake Rutherford
- First ones off: Jimmy Lambert, Bernardo Flores
- Low minors, higher ceiling: Corey Zangari, Amado Nunez
- Probably not, but since we’re here: Joel Booker, Jameson Fisher
Hansen shows how much things can change in a year. At this time in 2017, we were wondering whether he would warrant a call to the big leagues this past September. After his junior year at Oklahoma resurfaced in his junior season with the White Sox, he’s been caught in a vicious cycle of shaky healthy and high-maintenance mechanics.
Lambert and Flores are heading right into that Call-shaped sweet spot, as he would’ve been on their same tier. It’s a bit different with pitchers, as they aren’t costing more deserving starters their jobs since it’s hard and probably inadvisable to fill a minor-league rotation entirely with prospects. The prevalence of injuries forces teams to accrue depth, but Jordan Stephens shows what kind of fight lies ahead to make the cut on a full 40-man, and guys like Lambert and Flores have guys like Lincoln Henzman, Tyler Johnson and Kade McClure coming up behind them.
This college clustering is one of the byproducts of Nick Hostetler’s college-heavy draft strategy, but it’s not necessarily a drawback if these players can be dealt to fill other gaps on the three-year board. It seems like there are natural forces that could compel a move, because it’s happened in two other areas this offseason.
Back on Oct. 16, I wrote about the Birmingham logjam giving the Sox an opportunity to deal an outfielder. Call finished off that particular call sheet, but only because I had more transformative deals in mind.
A couple weeks later, we talked about the White Sox having an uneven catcher situation that flies in the face of league trends, which could make them an appealing partner for a team that could use offense behind the plate. The Sox ended up dealing Omar Narvaez to Seattle for a proven high-leverage reliever.
There’s a fine line between “depth” and “redundancy,” basically, and the White Sox have been sensitive to the latter so far this winter. The returns — two years of Alex Colome, one to two years of Alonso — have failed to capture the imagination, although nothing will as long as Harper and Machado remain possibilities. Still, if they have another such move in them, hopefully it’s for a little more athleticism and upside, even if such center fielders are out of options for a reason.
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Speaking of Machado and Harper, here’s the New York Post’s Joel Sherman to meet the quota:
The White Sox have not been as publicly bold with their plans. But they are in on Harper and Machado, and executives and agents reveal that they have been aggressive in trade and free-agent discussions. Some within the game expect White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to rein in any outsized bids for Harper or Machado. But Reinsdorf turns 83 in February and wants to win again in his lifetime. He knows he is fighting the dominant Cubs for interest in Chicago. And this is the guy who, despite being a labor hawk who was leading the charge to curtail salaries on players, signed Albert Belle to a record five-year, $55 million deal after the 1996 season. Reinsdorf said he wanted to win fans back. White Sox average attendance had fallen to 20,703 in 1996, the lowest in seven years. In 2018, White Sox average attendance fell under 20,000 for the first time since 1999.
So if this is about the last dollar, then my money would be on the White Sox for Harper and the Phillies for Machado — or vice versa.