The Carlos Quentin trade was hardly based on the worst rationale ever. Franchises that are lucky enough to come across natural advantages should emphasize them, and with the Sox having a well-grounded belief that their pitching development is superior (tops in all of MLB in fWAR over the last nine years), targeting pitching prospects with big raw talent that have become devalued due to struggles is a sound way to try to find bargains.
Such was presumably the idea when the White Sox cashed in their biggest trade chit in the post-2011 offseason–oft-injured and erratic slugger Carlos Quentin–for two arms from the San Diego Padres farm system. Pedro Hernandez was a plucky, undersized left-hander with good results, but not much of a ceiling, whereas the obvious jewel was the hulking right-hander Simon Castro, who was a Baseball America top-60 prospect for two years-straight, including heading into 2011.
Friday, the White Sox outrighted Castro to Triple-A Charlotte for the sake of clearing roster space off the 40-man, which also grants him the right to reject the designation and declare free agency, like fungible LOOGY David Purcey already did earlier this offseason. After making his White Sox debut earlier this season, Castro’s disastrous second half in Charlotte (1.092 OPS against!!!!!) arguably has placed him further from Chicago than he’s been during his entire tenure with the organization. If he departs, the Sox are looking at something close to null in their return for Quentin.
Hernandez had one disastrous start for the big club, before being included with Eduardo Escobar in the Francisco Liriano deal. Liriano was replacement-level and Hernandez entered into the discussion of “who was the worst starter in baseball?” this year, so until the ability the quantify how much chemistry the White Sox lost when little Eduardo departed for the North moves beyond the nascent stages, that half of the Quentin trade might as well have not happened from a value perspective.
Castro was supposed to be a high-leverage reliever even if the White Sox magic didn’t rub off on him, but Triple-A has proven such an obstacle for him that the organization didn’t place any faith in him to keep a foothold with the big club. This kind of swing-and-miss by the pitching development team is comparable to Herm Schneider’s role in 2013′s Sox injury troubles: it’s certainly not impressive but it’s laughably insignificant when compared to their larger record.
However, a trade return of prospects that was only legitimate if coming to the Sox made them more valuable tastes even more sour with the way the offense has withered since his departure. Just saying that Quentin was traded to make room for Dayan Viciedo is enough to provoke winces, but that boils down to the stalled development of a single player. What’s become more absurd is the idea of Quentin–permanently capable of hitting for power in the worst conditions–being an expendable commodity for this organization.
Despite playing only 82 games last season, Quentin’s 14.7 wRAA (his weighted runs above-average, which represents his total offensive value produced relative to his ballpark and league produced in a year, not the rate) would have led the White Sox. It would have led them by a ton. If he had replicated his 2012 production, he would have doubled up Adam Dunn, who actually somehow led the 2013 club.
In sum, the White Sox traded Quentin away because they no longer had room in the outfield corners for him, only for things to deteriorate to such a degree that they could have used him anywhere. Hell, since Josh Phegley and Tyler Flowers managed to combine for -24.7 wRAA, it might have been worth it to see if Quentin could catch*.
A lot of disasters had to happen at once to create the 2013 White Sox offense. It was a perfect storm that probably is too much of anomaly to teach us a lot about actual evaluation, but in its wake, this is the type of trade–jettisoning a quality bat because there’s not clear fit–that already seems anachronistic two years later.
*Not really. First of all, any non-catcher has the potential to be hundreds of runs below-average, but Quentin could break down baseball as a functional enterprise. They might run out of baseballs for all the ones he’d allow to skip out of play. Second, this is an example of an argument that might be interesting from looking at stat sheets, or be fun to plug into a simulator, but not something you would ever actually recommend in real life. It would be brutal for the morale of everyone involved.
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