Shaping up the Southsiders – Part One: Jose Abreu

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals

 

By Anthony Rescan

Part one of Anthony Rescan’s series as he proposes ways to turnaround the Chicago White Sox

 

Introduction

No American League team left the offseason with more hype than the White Sox. After acquiring Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, and others, the White Sox seemed to be positioning themselves for a run at the AL Central crown. Things have not gone that way. The White Sox have emerged, not as a contender in the AL, but as its worst team. It has quickly become clear that what Rick Hahn put together this offseason is not working. That said, I do not believe they have a long road back to prominence if they complete their rebuild correctly. One of the biggest pieces of this movement will be moving Jose Abreu at either the trade deadline or in the offseason.

Jose Abreu is easily the most talented position player that the White Sox have. Abreu’s season at the plate last year was monstrous. He amassed a .411 wOBA and 165 wRC+ while maintaining an average walk and strikeout rate. Though his defense was porous, he still managed to rack up a 5.2 WAR season over 145 games. That great season combined with his fantastic contract left Dave Cameron naming him the tenth most valuable player in baseball in mid-2014. Fast forward to mid-2015 and that viewpoint may have taken a bit of a hit. Abreu, much like many White Sox position players, has not been nearly as effective at the plate. His wOBA has dropped to a .361 clip and his wRC+ is at 129. This drop in aggregate, batting performance can be attributed to four things, BABIP, ISO, HR/FB and walk rate. From 2014 to this point in 2015, Abreu’s BABIP has crashed from .356 to .327, his walk rate fell from 8.2% to 5.1%, his HR/FB dropped from a Ruthian 26.9% to an exceptional 20% and his ISO went from a colossal .260 to a still fantastic .200. On the other end, Abreu has improved defensively, struck out less, and he’s improved his plate discipline by making more contact and having less swinging strikes. Needless to say, Abreu still has a metric ton of value. Maybe not the tenth most valuable player in the league, but one who will garner a handsome offering to acquire.

Identifying Suitors

With Abreu’s impressive play, his premium contract, and the White Sox’ need to milk him for talent, the White Sox cannot be tied to any strict parameters in moving him. Strictly limiting themselves to the trade deadline competitors, offseason builders, or NL teams will leave the market less appealing for them. The White Sox must effectively source their suitors in order to receive the best possible package. Moreover, Abreu’s contract leaves the White Sox in the very enviable position of being able to trade him almost anywhere, excluding maybe just Tampa Bay.

With the timeline expanded and the net cast wider, we can identify teams with needs at either first base or DH, a rich base of youth, and, preferably, hitters to supplement the incredibly strong foundation of pitching in the White Sox’ system. Under this criteria, I have identified three optimal clubs to trade with. They are as follows: the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Boston Red Sox.

Trade Partner: St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are one of the most well run franchises in baseball. Their skills with drafting, player development, and asset management have built a long-lasting tradition of success since the turn of the millennium. Due to that, the Cardinals always seem to find themselves in the conversation for the game’s best players as they become available to acquire via trade. The White Sox will find them picking from both the Major League and Minor League rosters in order to find the most suitable package.

The Cardinals’ offer likely starts with a very significant Major League asset. The three potential headliners stand out as Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and Kolten Wong. Wacha would be the most expensive of the group. He has established himself as one of the top ten arms under 25 and will require minimal additions to make an attractive package. With his shoulder issues and the fact that the White Sox need to add a massive amount of talent, they should turn their eyes elsewhere. Carlos Martinez, so far, has performed similarly to Wacha this season; however, he does not have his history of success in both the regular and postseason. He has posted a 2.80 ERA, though there will be slight regression with 3.53 FIP and 3.19 xFIP. His strikeout rate and velocity are both elite level and he is still only 23 years old. On the position player side, Kolten Wong has emerged as a potentially elite second baseman. He has a combination of speed, power, defense and the ability to play a scarce position. To date, he has accumulated 2.4 WAR with a .352 wOBA, 126 wRC+, a fantastic 15% strikeout rate, and 1.4 UZR at second base. Though his BABIP is a tad high at .319, I am less worried about that given his 24.7% line drive rate and his speed to maximize that number. All in all, the Cardinals have two high quality pieces who can headline a maximal package.

Next, the question comes of what to add to either of those players. I think the response is pretty simple. The White Sox should immediately target Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty is a high floor type player who’s currently held back by a crowded St. Louis outfield. He, according to Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs, is a 50 FV grade outfielder who can provide average fielding and a strong-arm with approximately 20 home run power and an above average bat. On top of that, the White Sox should also ask for 21-year-old catcher Carson Kelly. The White Sox have struggled with the catcher position since Pierzynski left. Kelly delivers a very advanced approach at the plate with an 8.9% walk rate and 13% strikeout rate in 2014. He also brings the tools to at least be an average defender behind the plate with the upside to be one of the better ones in the league.

Proposal: The White Sox acquire Kolten Wong, Carson Kelly and Stephen Piscotty for Jose Abreu

Trade Partner: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have traditionally been hamstrung in the trade market by budget constraints. Conversely, Jose Abreu’s contract situation would allow them to effectively use some of the smaller space that they have available. This season, the Pirates have gotten awful production out of first base with Pedro Alvarez struggling to reach replacement level and backups Corey Hart and Sean Rodriguez struggling to be considered major league quality. This trade also gives the Pirates the perfect opportunity to maximize the return on some of their prospects and turn them other long-term assets.

The centerpiece of this trade is boiled down to two guys and how the strategy around it will be shaped. The first is Tyler Glasnow. Glasnow is a potential TOR starter with a live fastball that touches the high 90’s, a plus curve and a changeup that keeps getting better. Glasnow is in competition for the best pitching prospect in baseball and could potentially see the big leagues as soon as next season. On the flip side, there is Austin Meadows. Meadows, a former top 10 pick out of high school, provides an advanced approach, good raw power, and a 60 grade FV hit tool. There are concerns about Meadows’ ability to stick in center as he has gotten a bit slower, but he would still profile well in left field. Given the White Sox need for hitting and my skepticism that the Pirates would even make Glasnow available, I am willing to go forward with an offer centered on Meadows and more quality pieces than they would have received with Glasnow.

The perks of the Pirates’ farm system is that an offers around quality or quantity are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The secondary pieces start with Josh Bell. Bell, who was recently moved from the middle infield to first base has crushed it in Altoona. He has churned out a .327/.397/.445 slash line with a .380 wOBA and 145 wRC+. The most impressive thing he has put on display is his plate discipline. Bell is currently boasting a strikeout rate lower than his walk rate, which are at 9.5% and 10.8% respectively. Though Bell still hasn’t shown the game power he is projected to have, he looks to be developing nicely and living up to that mid-tier, top-100 ranking that Baseball America gave him. The next big target would be Reese McGuire. The former first round pick still has a bit of development to go, especially with how catchers develop, but he is already very highly touted at his young age. McGuire provides an advanced approach at the plate, where he only strikes out about 10 percent of the time. McGuire also has a bit of raw power, which may improve, and above average wheels for a catcher. Defense reigns over all his skills. McGuire is highly regarded in each facet of catching. McGuire has the potential to be one of the game’s best catchers if his bat develops correctly because the defense will be there.

Proposal: The White Sox acquire Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Josh Bell and JaCoby Jones for Jose Abreu

Trade Partner: Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox, as a recurring theme in this article, are run like a well-oiled machine. This machine seems to have, like the White Sox, depended a bit too much on their offseason acquisitions to become a better team. That said, this is a team with an embarrassment of riches and a roster that will likely return some good pieces if they decide to reshuffle as well. They may make more sense for another White Sox star, but they can certainly swing a deal for the slugging first baseman.

The Red Sox offer, given how things have shaken out with development, would likely start with Henry Owens. Owens is currently having a rocky year. His control has been off with him putting up a 13.3% walk rate and compounding it with a career low 18.8% strikeout rate. Yet, there is a reason for all of this. Apparently, his best pitch, his changeup, has been shelved for most of the year, seemingly to work on his developing curveball. This does not fully explain these peripheral stats, but it gives me less pause to start the offer with Owens, who has TOR potential. His poor performance should give the White Sox more bargaining power. If they feel similarly about his long-term projection not changing, this could end up being the best route for them.

The Red Sox offer, in my opinion, is most interesting with its “other guys”. First, Rafael Devers is a high upside, 18-year-old corner infielder, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. Devers has true bat talent. He can spray the ball to all fields with power. Going on with his power the other way, Kiley McDaniel remarked that “scouts and analysts agree that opposite field game power at a young age is one of the best indicators of a prospect that has a good chance to become an elite big league bat; Devers has all the makings”. Devers could be a huge boon for the White Sox if developed correctly. Next, Manuel Margot is another international sign, but he’s quite a bit closer to the big leagues. Margot is another one of those advanced approach types with an insanely low strikeout rate. Margot also boasts plus speed and some power potential. He’s another prospect with a lot of potential. Seeing that he’s now in Double-A, he doesn’t have much further to go and would help accelerate the White Sox rebuild.

Proposal: White Sox acquire Henry Owens, Rafael Devers, Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra for Jose Abreu

Notes:

I originally started with eight teams. I decided to omit the Rangers, Astros, Mariners, Nationals, and Twins. If you would like to know my reasoning why or a potential offer from them, feel free to contact me.

You can find Anthony on Twitter @AnthonyRescan or join in the conversation @CTBPod or on our Facebook Page and don’t miss Anthony on Monday’s edition of the Effectively Wild Podcast

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