Gordon Beckham has been a disappointment. The consolation prize for the disaster that was the 2007 season, Beckham was the White Sox’ highest draft pick since Alex Fernandez in 1990. The pick was praised when it was made, and the Georgia shortstop shredded the minors in his rapid ascension to the major leagues. Just one year later he was in the majors hitting .270/.347/.460 as a 22-year old. Beckham’s short, simple swing generated excellent power to opposite field, blasting doubles to right-center with regularity.
We know that since then, Beckham has struggled mightily at the plate, posting a .244/.306/.364 triple slash line in ~2000 PAs. Every offseason there’s some story about how the second baseman has re-tooled his swing, or his mentality, and so on and so forth. In 2013, on the surface it looked like some of it was coming true. Beckham had adopted a deep crouch, vaguely reminiscent of Jeff Bagwell‘s batting stance, and posted high averages to start the season – even around a broken hamate temporarily derailing his season.
The problem is, batting average was pretty much all he was providing, and without power and patience, a bunch of singles is often an empty, fleeting thing. There was not a single month where Beckham posted an OBP higher than .344. Don’t get me wrong – a second baseman who hits .308/.344/.396 is a very good player, but Beckham has not demonstrated the hit tool for such batting average-dependent production to be sustainable. Here is the month by month breakdown of Beckham’s 2013:
So, despite some illusory indices of improvement, Gordon Beckham has pretty much settled into a pattern of producing similar seasons with OPS scores in the mid-.600s and good defense at second base. The problem is that it feels so inadequate – we had all thought he was going to be a star instead of just an okay major leaguer. Even worse, fans hear their home announcer Hawk Harrelsen relentlessly insist that he is an elite glove, and that he is just around the corner from morphing into a right-handed Chase Utley any day now. Gordon Beckham is a good defensive second baseman, but he is not Red Schoendienst or something. Exacerbating the frustration is that over the past few years, the White Sox have really, really needed Beckham to hit better. Teams with better lineups can certainly afford to have a light-hitting, glove first second baseman, but on a team that has struggled so mightily to score runs in recent years it can feel like a luxury that cannot be afforded.
However, the position of second base is extremely weak around the majors. Major league second basemen collectively hit .257/.316/.376 last season, which Beckham slightly bettered in 2013. Beckham stands to make $4.18 million in 2014, and will have one last year of arbitration in 2015 before hitting free agency.
So essentially, as an asset, Gordon Beckham has two cost-controlled years, and looks on the whole to be a roughly league average or better player at his position. I suppose theoretically there is also still a non-zero chance that he improves in his age-27 season, as the pedigree and performance were there once.
As far as the White Sox roster goes, although there is a chance the White Sox are somewhat competitive next year, they’re probably looking at a season with a win total in the mid-70s, which then consumes half of Beckham’s remaining value as an asset. Meanwhile, there are teams in dire need of help in the infield right away. What’s more, players like Marcus Semien, and to a lesser and more remote extent Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez, are pushing Beckham out the door internally. Then of course, there’s the presence of Jeff Keppinger, which is unfortunate, but a reality. This year – indeed, perhaps even before the season starts – might be a great time to convert Beckham into assets that can be used in the future and turn over second base to Marcus Semien full time.
So – who needs a second/third baseman right now and what might they give up for one of Beckham’s caliber?
The most noteworthy thing the Orioles have done this offseason is to humiliate themselves by their handling of a failed attempt to sign Grant Balfour. Although their win total didn’t show it, the 2013 Orioles were better than the 2012 Orioles – they just didn’t have historic good luck with 1-run games. They are a legitimate dark horse Wild Card candidate team, but they’re going to need something to change if they’re going to stay that way – some of their pitching prospects actually sticking and reaching their potential, or some sort of influx of talent. They certainly can’t afford to have a sub-replacement level black hole eating up hundreds of at bats for all of 2014 if they want to get back to the postseason.
The problem is, Baltimore is looking at just that situation as they enter 2014 with Jemile Weeks and Ryan Flaherty as the leading candidates to win second base. Weeks, like Beckham, was a 1st round pick who hurried to the majors and posted a strong debut season. He likewise took a step back, except while Beckham settled in as an underwhelming but competent major leaguer Weeks imploded into an unplayable mess. Weeks only beat Beckham’s 2013 OPS by about 100 points – and he did it while playing in AAA in the Pacific Coast League, an absurd collection of hitters parks. And, y’know, off minor league pitching. Although Jonathan Schoop has been the second baseman of the future for the Orioles for what seems like an eternity at this point, and although he still projects to eventually be a good player if he can get healthy, he has struggled in the high minors and cannot seem to stay healthy. If he helps the Orioles in 2013 at all, the overwhelming odds say it won’t be until September.
The Orioles are a bit of an awkward fit as a trade partner, because they dumped a lot of their mid-range prospects in trades last season. Their top 5 prospects are all way too good to trade for a guy like Beckham, and then there’s a pretty significant drop off. One name that’s intriguing is the Orioles’ second round pick in 2013, Chance Sisco. Sisco spent his first year in pro ball as an 18-year old who had just converted to catcher from shortstop. Sisco brings good athleticism and a left-handed bat to the table, though he is raw and very far away from the majors. But, as White Sox fans have learned to their sorrow, you can never have too many internal catching prospects around, and Sisco brings the possibility of being an above average backstop someday if everything works out.
The Orioles are a fit in the sense that they are extremely cash thrifty and are legitimate playoff contenders who need help. The problem is they are passive and risk averse, and may see the ~$10 million Beckham will make in the next two seasons as too expensive for the upgrade he provides over Flaherty.
New York Yankees:
The Yankees have made a clear statement that they do not want to miss the playoffs again in 2014. They have signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka, while bringing back Hiroki Kuroda in an attempt to bolster their suddenly dreadful lineup. The problem is, the infield was already a trainwreck and Robinson Cano is now gone. With Alex Rodriguez suspended, 2B and 3B look to be some combination of Eduardo Nunez, Brian Roberts, and Kelly Johnson for 2014. Not to mention the fact that Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have huge questions about their health and performance moving forward, this is an infield riddled with uncertainty, and the clear Achilles heel of a would-be division champion. Teixeira is still making ominous comments to the media about his wrist not being 100%, and that’s before considering the fact that he had hit steep decline for several years even before injuries settled in anyway.
Rumors are even spreading that the Yankees will sign Stephen Drew to try to address this shortcoming. Gordon Beckham would offer much-needed depth, his tendency to stay healthy, and the ability to offer solid competence at 3B, 2B, and even SS in an emergency. He will absolutely be cheaper than Stephen Drew, and there really aren’t any internal options for the Yankees when Brian Roberts inevitably gets hurt.
One name that I think might be attainable, given the dire situation in the Yankees’ infield, would be Luis Severino. The Dominican IFA won’t turn 20 for a few more weeks, and he has explosive stuff. However, his build makes it very likely that he winds up in the bullpen. Given the White Sox’ situation, having acquired a number of major-league ready position players this offseason, it wouldn’t hurt to start adding depth at levels further away from the majors if it means a net gain of talent for the organization. After all, one of the areas the White Sox have been able to improve their overall talent has been grooming closers internally and flipping them in trades.
Toronto Blue Jays:
Once again, a team in the AL East. I remember when every team in this had an All Star caliber second baseman, when Brian Roberts, Aaron Hill, Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Ben Zobrist were all doing their thing at the same time. Things have changed.
The Blue Jays pushed their chips in hard for 2013 and although it looked like a risk worth taking, it wound up blowing up in their face. The AL East looks less wide open for 2014, but any team whose second base options are Ryan Goins – who is 25 and has spent his time in the minors hitting little better than Beckham hits in the majors – and Maicer Izturis, you can see how Beckham would be an upgrade.
In another way, the White Sox may be a good trading partner for the Blue Jays as they currently employ Toronto’s former international scouting director Marco Paddy. There will be guys in the Blue Jays’ system that Paddy signed and knows extremely well. Perhaps there are sleepers that he believes hold more value than the Blue Jays do. Although the Blue Jays’ system has taken a step back in recent years, Paddy signed a number of shortstops out of Latin America. Dawel Lugo and Franklin Barreto are both teenage shortstops that made Keith Law’s Top 10 for the Blue Jays. Either one of those and a minor league arm would add talent to the White Sox organization.
Potential Problem: Emilio Bonifacio
The Royals just DFA-ed this gentleman, although I believe it is worth pointing out that in any given year there is a solid chance in any given year that he is better than Omar Infante, whom Kansas City just signed to a sizable 4-year deal. His presence mitigates the value of Beckham in trade in that he provides another option for teams looking to stop the bleeding at 2B for minimal cost.
Once you sift through all of the variables that impact Gordon Beckham’s perception, at the end of the day he is a solid, but unexceptional major leaguer who can play three positions of scarcity, who is under team control for two years, and won’t kill his team with his bat. Marcus Semien can certainly handle 2B defensively right away, although his bat may need another month or two in AAA, and the presence of Jeff Keppinger continues to crowd the 2B picture. With Matt Davidson, Jose Abreu, and Paul Konerko around, Keppinger is going to make even less sense taking at bats at 3B or 1B, leaving only 2B. Carlos Sanchez is only one year removed from being a hard-charging threat to stealing Beckham’s job anyway. So while the White Sox don’t have to trade Beckham, they can certainly afford to do so if the right deal came along, and there are a couple of teams that could really use his services. Whether Rick Hahn thinks he can get a better return on Beckham before the season starts or after remains to be seen.