The fallout from Yoenis Cespedes signing with the New York Mets late last night is palpable throughout the White Sox community. From outraged fans on social media to pundits alike, the general consensus is that the White Sox whiffed, and that they whiffed big time.
For now, I’m holding back criticism as it applies to Cespedes, because there is so much ambiguity as to how his market actually played out. The moment trusted names like Bob Nightengale, Ken Rosenthal, and Jon Heyman all started echoing the claim that the White Sox were adverse to go over three years on any free agent, optimism fizzled along with those reports.
To be honest, I was very skeptical of the three-year mantra at first. It had appeared at face value like bona fide agent posturing. However, the narrative simply never went away. Rosenthal stated the White Sox did not go over three years on Alex Gordon after the fact.
This could have been a case by case basis for Alex Gordon considering he was 32 years old, but then USA Today’s Bob Nightingale also reported Chicago had not been willing to go over three years on Justin Upton either, and he’s just 28. Once again this was after the fact, so where’s Nightengale’s personal agenda at that point?
As for Cespedes, we’ll never know. He took an extremely player-friendly deal with the team he had wanted to go to all along. People are quick to point to the fact that Cespedes reportedly turned down a higher offer from the Washington Nationals that was in the five-year, $100 million range with considerable deferrals and an opt-out after two years but in reality this was a worse deal
Sure, the guarantee was greater, but with the Mets, Cespedes was getting 3/$75 million guaranteed and the chance to opt-out after merely one year and enter 2016’s free agency as the cream of the crop on the position player end. Even if he flops in 2016, he can still take the guarantee and I doubt that in 2018 he won’t be able to find at least 2/$30 million somewhere, which net net would equal the Nationals deal.
The fact is, Cespedes had multiple higher offers in hand and considering that the White Sox were frequently connected to him, they very well could have been one of them.
The truth is that unless the White Sox were willing to also include a one-year opt-out clause on a three-year deal with a team option or two tacked on, they were never getting Cespedes.
Maybe they didn’t like that risk/reward and it’s hard to blame them because it’s so team unfriendly. Now had he taken the five-year deal with the Nationals, it’d be much easier to point the arrow of blame.
The past is the past. Did the White Sox likely blow it on Justin Upton by not offering a multi-year deal? Probably, but who is to say he still wouldn’t have chosen the Tigers at equal money.
Hometown boy Alex Gordon would have needed 5/$100 million to purge the Kansas City Royals like that, so even if the White Sox had matched the 4/$72 million offer from Kansas City he wasn’t donning a Chicago cap.
Jason Heyward‘s eight year, $184 million pact with the Chicago Cubs with opt-outs at years three and four should have interested the White Sox and regardless of what dismal financial picture people want to paint for a team that makes cushion profits year-in-year out and has one of the sweetest stadium deals in the league, it was something they could have swung.
So give them a pass on Cespedes and Gordon, and their true misses were Justin Upton and Jason Heyward. At that point, my answer is no excuse unless those two players had absolutely zero interest in coming to the South Side. Although, money talks so even that is a flimsy excuse to fallback on when capital is often the most persuasive currency.
What’s disconcerting is that if the White Sox really did overplay their hand, it could serve as a colossal mistake because they allowed competent safety plans like Gerardo Parra, Denard Span, and intriguing Adam LaRoche platoon option Steve Pearce go by the wayside.
Span in particular stings because I honestly prefer him to current option Dexter Fowler. Span was derailed by a hip injury in 2015, but looking at his 2014, that .302/.355/.416 line with 39 doubles and 31 steals is just what this line up ordered.
Why Span over Fowler? The glove and pick are a big reason. But all of this is moot because he’s off the table anyway.
Dexter Fowler is still a good add at this point and despite a deep draft class, considering the OBP issues still plaguing this ball club, he’s worth that pick for win-now purposes but it’s not the type of thing you necessarily feel good about doing.
I can sell myself on Fowler and if he signs I’m sure I’ll be writing a piece on how his addition will really make him and Adam Eaton a force at the top of the order, but I just wish the glove was better.
I absolutely do not believe the metrics on Adam Eaton, but aside from him, the outfield defense is absurdly weak and to give up the pick I’d rather be paying a premium to help run prevention as well as OBP.
Unfortunately, this type of player is no longer on the market with Upton, Heyward, and Gordon gone.
Austin Jackson is out there and he has the glove to handle centerfield in a pinch to insulate against an Eaton injury but he doesn’t do a lot for me. He’s undoubtedly an upgrade but his fairly even splits don’t make him a natural platoon partner for LaRoche, so he’d basically play full-time in CF shifting Eaton to right. That could improve the defense but at this point he’s really just a league-average bat that can tread water.
He’s a really good 4th outfielder option and injury insurance policy, but not too much of a needle mover.
So the trade market appears to be the best route. I’ve discussed the Colorado Rockies and their trio of outfielders in the past, but with them it all depends on the cost. Carlos Gonzalez for Carson Fulmer is beyond a non-starter for me. If Tyler Danish can pry Carlos Gonzalez or Corey Dickerson from Denver, then count me in.
With all three, and especially Charlie Blackmon, the home/road splits are scary and for Gonzalez in particular, he’s arguably unplayable against lefties based on his declining same-sided splits.
Other trade candidates could include Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Marcell Ozuna, Yasiel Puig, Ender Inciarte, or even a guy like Kevin Kiermaier but save for Braun, all of these players will come at a price ranging from considerable to steep.
Khris Davis is certainly interesting, and our friend Tom Fornelli over at Write Sox opined that Carlos Gomez is a player to look at considering Houston’s crowded outfield. Depending on the cost, I would be one-hundred percent on board with Carlos Gomez, but it would likely cost a player that could help the contending Houston Astros now or a prospect like Spencer Adams and after all, Gomez has just one year left before free agency.
If it’s Spencer Adams for Carlos Gomez straight up; great, but that is really my limit.
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I want to talk about a player that hasn’t gained much traction and someone I think is quite attainable. That’s Scott Van Slyke of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now don’t take this as me contending that Van Slyke is my number one choice. It’s just that if the White Sox would rather shop around at the dollar store than on Michigan Avenue, Van Slyke is an intriguing middle ground.
In a very crowded Dodgers outfield, he’s averaged just under 100 games the last two seasons.
His 2015 .239/.317/.383 line doesn’t exactly pop off the page, but he’s just a year removed from posting a .297/.386/.524 line over 98 games in 2014 making him a 2.7 WAR player, per baseball reference.
He has a career 26 percent strikeout rate, which is obviously not attractive but he balances that out with a 10.3 percent career walk rate, which has led to a career .337 OBP and there’s some pop in the bat too, as evidenced by a .190 career ISO.
The defensive metrics have generally loved Van Slyke (6.3 UZR in 2015), but the sample sizes aren’t exceptionally large considering he’s a platoon/bench player to really glean anything from them. But considering how harsh defensive metrics can be, this is a positive.
He certainly rates better in left field than RF or CF so that is probably where he’d find most of his at-bats late in the game, either as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement for Melky Cabrera.
However, I think Van Slyke can find his lion’s share of plate appearances as a platoon partner for Adam LaRoche.
His career (R/L) splits are .242/.265 respectively, but 2014 tells a different story.
In 2014, his line vs. lefties was .315/.415/.630 (1.045 OPS) over 108 at-bats. That’s a crumbs-worth of a sample but since it’s in line with his historical platoon-split, it’s not hard to imagine him being a really great option to pair with LaRoche or even Melky Cabrera, who was pretty awful hitting southpaws as a righty last season.
So we’re talking about someone who would hold his own against lefties and improve the outfield defense a bit, at least in left field. Sounds like a player Chicago could use.
Pegging Van Slyke’s cost isn’t an exact science because he’s 29 years-old but has four seasons of team control left. Having just hit arbitration, he’s making a very swingable $1.225 million in 2016.
Keep in mind that he’s also been an extremely valuable piece for the Dodgers, covering outfielder Andre Ethier‘s plate appearances versus lefties over the last few seasons.
However, the White Sox have actually helped out their own case a bit though by trading Trayce Thompson to the Dodgers in that three-team Todd Frazier deal. Thompson has essentially made Van Slyke expendable, because he can fill the exact same role, is a better defender, and holds the upside edge.
So that leaves us with this:
Despite adding right-hander Kenta Maeda to their rotation, Los Angeles is still flush with left-handers and dearth of righties even in their depth area. Mike Bolsinger is one but it certainly wouldn’t hurt for them to add another righty. Hello, Chris Beck.
Right-hander Chris Beck is ranked the White Sox’s number ten prospect, per MLB.com. He’s seemingly been around forever and made one less than desirable start for the big league club in 2015.
He was good for a 3.15 ERA over ten starts at Triple-A Charlotte before seeing his season get cut short with an elbow injury. As scary as that sounds, his nerve was repositioned and he did not require Tommy John Surgery. As a result, he’ll be good to go for 2016.
Of course, Carson Fulmer is also waiting in the wings, although he may start his career out of the pen or at the very least won’t be rotation material until the latter portion of 2016.
As a result, shipping Chris Beck west for Scott Van Slyke is a balanced move for both sides. The Dodgers make room for Thompson and get some RHP depth, while the White Sox add a player who can make some noise for them in a part-time role.
Even with Van Slyke, the White Sox would still be wise to also grab Austin Jackson, as he could cover RF if Avisail Garcia continues to bust. For all of Garcia’s potential, he has a very low floor (lack of a plus glove or playable speed) for him to truly be counted on. While I think the White Sox will try him out to start the season, I think his leash will be short.
Van Slyke and Jackson may not be the optimal way to fix the outfield, but they’re one avenue that could provide solid production at a really cheap price. Such is a post-Cespedes world.