If Chicago White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn doesn’t already have Colorado Rockies GM Jeff Bridich’s phone number on speed dial, then he should.
The calculus is pretty simple. The White Sox are starved for offense and the Rockies are suddenly infatuated with building a pitching core they can write home about. These two teams don’t need a baseball version of Match.com to find a partner because quite honestly, their trading soul mate is right in front of them.
The Rockies are a very interesting team in that they play in the offense haven that is Coors Field. The high altitude in Denver, Colorado adds a little flight to the ball and by a little, I mean a lot. According to ESPN’s Park Factors, Coors Field ranked first in triples and hits, second in doubles, and fifth in home runs, while steadily favoring the hitter in all categories
A more encompassing stat, is that Coors Field had a 1.436 Runs mark, which was the highest of any stadium and considerably cleared the 1.000 benchmark required for a venue to be labeled a hitter’s park.
This data paints the picture that for Colorado, building offense isn’t as taxing as it is across the rest of the game. Even marginal hitters will play up at Coors, and this is evidenced by a tendency for Rockies hitters’ home splits to outweigh their road ones.
This has an inverse effect though when it comes to generating capable arms. The Rockies had the worst team ERA in all of baseball last year, posting a putrid 5.04 mark. Remember that the pitcher hits in the NL, so that ERA looks especially bad.
So the formula for winning is clear: Colorado can live with an average offense because park factors should provide some “juice” to their line-up, but they absolutely need to construct an above average pitching staff if they have any chance at being competitive.
In recent years, offensive stars like Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado, and Troy Tulowitzki haven’t been enough to keep Colorado afloat. The last place Rockies finished with a -107 run differential despite scoring the most runs in the National League.
The average amount of runs allowed by teams in 2015 was 689, per Sportingcharts.com. So had the Rockies had just an average pitching staff, they would have posted a +48 run differential. That run differential leads to a Pythagorean record of 86-76, which is in stark contrast to Colorado’s actual 68-94 record.
If the Rockies could leverage their star position players into an above-average pitching staff then the margins would look even better for them, because their park allows them to capitalize on a market inefficiency in terms of what it costs them to deploy a playable bat.
Under that premise, the Rockies will pay a premium for young and controllable pitching, which gives the White Sox an early edge in any deal.
The Troy Tulowitzki trade signaled that Colorado is making a concerted push to stockpile a fleet of young arms, and thankfully for Brichich, Rick Hahn has a few to offer.
Here are a few Rockies hitters the White Sox should look to bring to the South Side.
OF COREY DICKERSON
Sep 18, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder Corey Dickerson (6) hits an RBI single in the second inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Corey Dickerson slashed .312/.364/.567 in 2014, with 24 home runs, 27 doubles, and six triples as a 25 year-old outfielder, so it would seem unfathomable that he could be had for the above package but as you’ll see with a lot of the Rockies players I discuss, there’s a bit of smoke and mirrors with his production.
Dickerson followed up his breakout ’14 with an injury-riddled 2015 campaign. He still produced an .869 OPS but played in only 65 games after missing a month with plantar fasciitis and then sustaining a rib injury in late July that landed him on the DL yet again.
Still, Dickerson is just 26 years-old and until club control through 2019. He doesn’t even hit arbitration until after next season. Why would the Rockies move him?
Well first of all, look at his home/away splits from his stellar 2014 season.
Coors Field: .363/.415/.684 (1.099 OPS)
Away: .252/.305/.431 (.736 OPS)
Those are two entirely different players.
His career away split is even more daunting: .249/.286/.410 (.696 OPS). You’re not fetching a bundle of top prospects for someone who has an OBP of .286 on the road.
Then there are the platoon issues. Dickerson mashes against righties (.935 OPS does the talking), but his .246/.299/.377 line against southpaws leaves a lot to be desired.
Then there’s his defense. I’ve been outspoken about how I’m not a huge fan of defensive metrics, but in Dickerson’s case they might be a little more accurate.
I’m going to compare Eaton and Dickerson’s 2014 seasons because Dickerson’s ’15 sample is too small.
The difference is that Adam Eaton is rated as a terrible defender but he still made 82 out of zone plays in 2014, per FanGraphs.
In the same year, Dickerson only made 55 such plays. Eaton’s revised zone rating stood at .931. Dickerson’s, a mere .811. Eaton made 312 put outs in ’14, compared to Dickerson’s 171.
Eaton’s UZR in 2014 was -3.3, which was still ahead of Dickerson’s -5.6. Considering the stats I just laid out and that Eaton was a Gold-Glove candidate in 2014, it’s easier to buy into Dickerson’s numbers being legit because the actual advanced peripherals as well as the old-school stats looked much worse (still floored why Eaton rates poorly despite actually solid stats, so enlighten me in the comments).
All of this is to say that despite his breakout 2014, Dickerson is bordering on platoon-player status, has miserable defense, and is coming off a spell of plantar fasciitis to boot.
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But he tears up righties to offset the poor platoon split and the Cell is a hitter’s park, right?
Yes, the ball carries at U.S. Cellular field but it doesn’t touch the Coors effect. Just for reference, Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera had pretty even home/road splits last season, while Adam Eaton’s .742 home OPS was actually substantially worse than his .843 OPS away from the Cell.
You just don’t see the same home/away split discrepancies anywhere other than Coors. Now, the Rockies are in the same division as the San Francisco Giants (AT&T Park) and the San Diego Padres (Petco Park), which are both pitcher’s havens so that does exacerbate the splits a bit, but I don’t think enough that Birdich can demand an arm like Spencer Adams for Dickerson.
So what can he demand?
I think the package has to start with righty Tyler Danish. Even away from Coors Field, Dickerson is still an above replacement player and an upgrade for the White Sox.
It’s a player worth getting and his platoon splits match up nicely with Trayce Thompson, so Chicago could actually run a pretty formidable platoon in left field for ’16.
Danish is rated as the White Sox’s seventh best prospect by MLB.com. He was a second round pick in 2013, and would be a great get for the Rockies. His 2015 season didn’t live up to expectations as he posted a 4.50 ERA in Double-A, which paled in comparison to his 2.08 ERA in A-ball during his first season as a pro.
He’s just 21 though, so there is still time for the learning curve to play out. He has a low arm slot and a smaller build, which leads some to think he’s destined for the bullpen but he very well could be starter material.
Per MLB.com, he can consistently repeat his delivery, get exceptional movement on a fastball that can touch 95 mph, and also shows promise with a developing slider and change-up. If those secondary offerings pan out, the Rockies will have a very good pitcher on their hands.
Thad Lowry rates as Chicago’s 15th best prospect, but he’s got the “stuff” to entice Colorado. A 5th round draft pick in 2013, Lowry is the kind of bet the Rockies need to make.
The righty’s 6-4, 215 lb frame fits the mold of a starter and while he’s raw, his fastball can tough 97 and he has the capacity to develop secondary pitches as he’s shown movement in both his slider and change-up, per MLB.com.
Lowry is a nice lottery ticket for the Rockies to balance out their growing arm portfolio.
Finally, the White Sox can find a taker for Adam LaRoche. The Rockies need a first baseman and LaRoche actually still has a plus glove.
The White Sox would eat about $8 million of LaRoche’s contract and rightfully so, but the Rockies would be left with a dead cat bounce candidate for just $5 million. Not a bad trade chip in July if LaRoche takes advantage of Coors, which I think is a realistic possibility.
2B DJ LeMahieu
Aug 25, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Colorado Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu (9) throws a runner out at first against the Atlanta Braves in the ninth inning at Turner Field. The Rockies defeated the Braves 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
DJ LeMahieu is another great player for Rick Hahn to target. He won a Gold-Glove in 2014 and followed that up with an All-Star appearance in ’15.
LeMahieu hit .301/.358/.388 last season with 26 doubles and five triples. He doesn’t have a lot of pop and that’s a little concerning for someone who played at Coors but he’s only 27 and under team control through 2018. He’s been above replacement every year as a starter, and was worth 2.3 WAR last year, per Baseball Reference.
That would have made him the third best position player on last year’s team based solely on WAR, putting him behind Adam Eaton (3.6) and Jose Abreu (3.0).
What I like about LeMahieu is that he’s had even L/R platoon splits over the last three years. In that same span, he’s also posted a .607 OPS away from Coors so every player comes with their pros and cons.
Then again, LeMahieu had an away .281/.337/.358 line last year, which quells some of my concerns that he’s totally a Coors product. His hot April (.968 OPS) and July (.965 OPS) paint a potentially higher ceiling for the infielder.
He will be entering his prime this season, which fits the bill of what Hahn is supposedly looking for.
The low power output doesn’t concern me too much because the White Sox need a competent bat that can at least stay above water and LeMahieu’s floor is already above what the entire bottom of the order did last year. Also, having a plus glove at second and a guy who can swipe double-digit bags (23 in ’15 with a high success rate) doesn’t hurt either.
Due to the empty power, and the fact that LeMahieu’s numbers aren’t hard for the Rockies to replicate with a filler at second next year, I think they’d be open to a straight up swap in exchange for right-handed starter Erik Johnson. Johnson has a few extra years of club control than LeMahieu and gives them something they can actually call a major league arm.
DJ LeMahieu’s floor is already above what the entire bottom of the order did last year.
Johnson had built up a nice pedigree before the 2014 season. His cup of coffee in ’13 had gone well (3.25 ERA in five starts) and he was the organization’s number two prospect going into the year and number 63 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list.
Then the floor fell out from under him. He lost his velocity and mechanics, and his 2014 rotation spot. Simply put, 2014 was a year to forget.
But in 2015, he was named the International League’s player of the year after delivering a 2.37 ERA in 22 starts at Triple-A Charlotte and a 9.23 SO/9 ratio. His call-up to the big leagues went well (3.34 ERA), although the peripherals weren’t great (5.93 FIP) and he did show a propensity to give up the long ball.
Still, his velocity is back (92-95 mph again) and his command has been restored. He’s got four pitches (fastball, slider, curve, and change-up) so Colorado could plug him in immediately as their number three starter and probably not be disappointed.
It would hurt to lose the depth in Johnson, because he very well could be a #4 on Chicago’s staff in ’16 but LeMahieu has an All-Star ceiling and has shown he’s a real bat, so it’s a move that’s good for both teams.
If you isolate the Brad Miller for Nathan Karns part of the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariner’s 6-player deal, this doesn’t feel much different. It’s a win for both clubs.
OF CARLOS GONZALEZ
Sep 29, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez (5) hits an RBI single in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Okay, so this is the big-ticket item. One CarGo to go please.
Carlos Gonzalez is far removed from his MVP-caliber 2010 season, but the 29 year-old is still a star. He may not be a Gold-Glove defender in the outfield anymore, but he can still rake with the best of them.
Gonzalez was in the midst of a very solid 2013 season before he was suddenly sidelined with a finger injury in July. He would go on to essentially miss the rest of the year. His .302/.367/.591 line with 26 home runs in a truncated ’13 engineered lofty expectations for his 2014 campaign.
2014 turned out to be a disaster as Gonzalez was dreadful on the road, posting a .160/.224/.319 line away from Coors. He was hampered by ankle and finger injuries all season, and a torn tendon in his knee finally required surgery in August, effectively ending his season.
In 2015, Gonzalez looked like a shell of himself in April and May but then the potent slugger caught fire. A 1.279 OPS in July turned around his season for good and he would go on to hit 27 home runs after the All-Star and ride a robust .975 OPS. into the offseason, leaving a career high 40 home run season behind him.
Carlos Gonzalez needs to be this offseason’s big-ticket item. One CarGo to go please.
Berdich will point to his MVP-caliber play past the All-Star break as a reason any deal for Gonzalez has to include a blue chip prospect or two.
However rival general managers and Hahn will point to the .195/.222/.308 (.530 OPS) line against lefties in ’15 as a major red flag that Gonzalez could be destined for a platoon role as he moves into his thirties. Not to mention the injury history to go along with a .780 OPS away from Coors over the last three seasons.
Did I mention that Gonzalez has only two years of control left, and it’s for a price of $37 million. The White Sox would be wise to absorb the entire contract to lessen the return. The fact is, the Rockies aren’t contending over Gonzalez’s last two contract years, so it’s time for them to recoup any value they can and his worth may never be higher than it is now.
Despite the poor L/R splits and the Coors factor lingering around, CarGo is the type of splash the White Sox need to make this offseason and putting him next to Jose Abreu drives home the statement that they mean business. So Rick Hahn will definitely call, and according to Jose Gastelum, who writes for the Fanatics Network, he already has.
Gastelum’s tweet was in spanish and it caught the eye of White Sox Twitter. Translated it said:
"Rumor: Carlos Gonzalez may be coming to @whitesox and one of the reasons is Frankie Montas #100miles"
Gastelum stands by his word that talks have taken place, with Frank Montas and potentially Avisial Garcia being discussed. It is important to note that this is merely a rumor at this point and not a “done deal.”
Colorado’s interest in Montas doesn’t surprise me honestly. When Miguel Castro was included in the package for Troy Tulowitzki, it became clear that Montas could be used to sway the Rockies into talks regarding one of their bats.
Like Castro, Montas is a power pitcher, which the Rockies seem to covet these days. Acquired as more of a thrower than a pitcher from the Red Sox in exchange for Jake Peavy in 2013, he’s climbed closer to his lofty ceiling in that last couple seasons.
A strong 2014 performance in high-A put him on the map, and his 1.60 ERA and 8.13 SO/9 were encouraging.
In 2015, Montas stepped it up a notch, posting a 2.97 ERA and 8.68 SO/9 in 23 starts at Double-A. He made the MLB Futures Game and flashed his 100 mph fastball in a relief appearance. The stellar campaign led to a September call-up, where he showed promise in two starts. He’s now ranked the White Sox’s number third prospect and the 56th best prospect in baseball, per MLB.com.
Montas keeps the ball in the park (0.24 HR/9) and misses bats, meaning his profile would play well at Coors.
If anything is holding Montas back, it is his control. The hard-throwing righty had a 3.86 BB/9)during his 23 starts with the Birmingham Barons.
But if he can refine his command and gain better control of his secondary offerings, you’re looking at a frontline starter. MLBPipeline seems to think as much as it claims that with more consistency he could be a viable #2, and probably an ace on the Rockies considering their thin pitching depth.
His fastball is already plus-plus and peaks at 102 mph while his plus-slider, which can touch 88 mph, has a chance to be a well above average pitch as well. Refining a deceptive change-up will be key to him sticking as a starter.
Either way, the Rockies can flip an injury prone Carlos Gonzalez with a prohibitive contract into an arm with an elite bullpen arm floor and frontline starter potential.
To mitigate some of the risk of Montas, Erik Johnson gives them an immediate middle of the rotation starter who is under club control through 2021.
You could throw in another arm, like 2014 third-rounder Jace Fry, who has two Tommy John surgeries under his belt, but I think Matt Davidson might intrigue the Rockies.
This position player could also be Avisail Garcia but I’m not quite ready to give up on a 24 year-old who only has one full season to his name.
So third base prospect Matt Davidson rounds out the package and the Rockies take a chance that the 2013 Futures Game MVP can thrive in a different environment. Questionable defense and hit tool aside, Davidson’s power at Coors field likely makes him an above replacement level player over a full season. The Coors effect at its finest.
This is a big package to give up, as the White Sox would be parting with two potential 2016 rotation pieces but the chance to pair Carlos Gonzalez with Jose Abreu in a tantalizing middle of the order just can’t be passed up.
Quick Note: Where’s Nolan Arenado?
Not on this list. He’s staying in Colorado.
Honestly, the White Sox could probably create a blockbuster package built around Carlos Rodon and it wouldn’t be the worst move because it would be like exchanging 2014’s 3rd overall pick for an MVP-calibar third baseman, but it would take more than Rodon.
Maybe even Spencer Adams or Tim Anderson would have to be in there as well and that would make Rick Hahn hang up.
Overall, Rick Hahn needs to push Jeff Bridich’s contact info right ahead of his favorite pizza joint, because if there’s one guy Hahn needs to call this offseason it’s him and Bridich would be wise to pick up.