Tough Decisions: White Sox have to Spend Money to Make Money

We all assume that the White Sox will compete for a postseason berth in 2021, but really that’s just an assumption at this point. The White Sox broke their decade-plus postseason drought last month with a wild card berth after they choked away the American League Central in the final two weeks of the season, but their glaring flaws were exposed in the process.

The White Sox themselves had zero confidence in any starting pitcher behind Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, and they proved it when they were ousted from the playoffs by Oakland after taking a 1-0 lead in their Wild Card Series matchup.

We’ve entered the Thanksgiving holiday now, and all the White Sox have done this winter is enrage a large portion of the fan base by hiring Tony La Russa — and failing to mention that he was charged with a DUI the day before the introductory press conference. That press conference, of course, featured the 76-year-old manager being pelted with questions about his past comments on issues of race and social justice.

Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman are off the board after accepting their $18.9 million qualifying offer in New York and San Francisco respectively, and we’re seeing tier-two/tier-three starters come off the board now. Robbie Ray, Drew Smyly, and Charlie Morton have all inked new deals, leaving the White Sox with a medley of uninspiring options on the board beyond Trevor Bauer to fill their gaping hole in the rotation.

Unless the White Sox are hoping that a couple guys “find it” in 2021, or are planning on spending $100 million on Bauer, they’re really limiting their options here.

One place the White Sox could look for help is the trade market. Mark Feinsand reported that the Rays are fielding calls for Blake Snell on Monday night, and I wrote about what it might cost to acquire him on Tuesday morning. With both scenarios starting with Andrew Vaughn, the price is no doubt steep. But that’s the cost of competing for a World Series.

Not a wild card spot, a World Series!

Photo: Getty Images

Sonny Gray is reportedly available in Cincinnati, and would likely cost less than Snell, but isn’t going to be had for some combination of fringe major league players and prospects hanging out around the back-end of the White Sox top-30 on the farm.

While Gray might not command Andrew Vaughn as a headliner in the deal, Baseball Trade Values lists his median estimated trade value at 36.9. Coming off a solid 2020 campaign (3.70 ERA/3.05 FIP in 56.0 IP) and considering the thin pitching class on the open market, we’ll use Gray’s high estimated value (44.3) like I did for Snell on Tuesday for the same reasons.

According to MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon, the three biggest needs for the Reds this winter are an impact bat, a shortstop, and starting pitching.

That trade would likely have to include either Michael Kopech or Dylan Cease as the headliner if you insisted on keeping Andrew Vaughn out of the deal, and since beyond Vaughn there isn’t much in the way of bats in the system, it’ll be an overpay on pitching prospects.

You gotta spend money to make money, folks. You want a proven starting pitcher on the trade market? You’d better be ready to feel a little uncomfortable with the names heading out of town in exchange. Unfortunately, Rick Hahn fleecing everyone like he did the Cubs in the Quintana for Jimenez/Cease deal back in 2017, just isn’t going to happen again.

One thing that I will never understand is the obsession that White Sox fans seem to have with prospects. Maybe it’s because the farm system was in a dilapidated state for so long, or maybe it’s seller’s remorse watching Fernando Tatis Jr. turn into a superstar in San Diego, but it’s irrational either way.

If the White Sox want to fancy themselves as legitimate World Series contenders, then they have to trade players with real value for proven commodities.

Andrew Vaughn has a great hit tool and might turn out to be a good — or even very good — ballplayer in the next couple of years, but right now he’s a 22-year-old first-baseman who hasn’t had a single competitive at-bat beyond High-A, and even that came over a year ago at this point.

Photo: Allison Lee Isley / Winston-Salem Journal

For whatever reason, White Sox fans are just penciling him in for 140 games in 2021 and deeming him untradeable, dismissing the idea entirely that Vaughn might be more valuable elsewhere if he can net the White Sox a 28-year-old starting pitcher with a Cy Young Award and World Series experience.

This concept is one that I just can’t wrap my mind around.

The Cubs dealt Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman in 2016 to win a World Series. The Astros did the same in 2017 when they shipped Franklin Perez, outfielder Daz Cameron, and catcher Jake Rogers — Houston’s No. 3, 9, and 11 prospects at the time — to Detroit in exchange for Justin Verlander. Verlander went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five regular-season starts, and then won World Series MVP honors.

In 2018 the Red Sox won the World Series with a guy named Chris Sale leading their rotation, the same Chris Sale that they traded Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech for in 2016.

The Nationals didn’t have a signature trade like the previous three World Series Champions, but they went the route of a $185 million payroll that was largely allocated to a rotation that featured Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin.

In 2020 the Dodgers finally got over the hump and won their first World Series since 1988, led by superstar outfielder Mookie Betts. The Dodgers had to give up Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, Kenta Maeda, Connor Wong, and Jair Camargo to land Betts, and then hand Betts a monstrous 12-year, $365 million extension to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Photo: Kelly Gavin | Major League Baseball | Getty Images

If the White Sox want a seat at the adult table in 2021 and beyond, they’re going to have to make the tough decisions necessary to get there, and since they’re never going to outspend the field, they’re going to have to pull the trigger in the trade market.

If the White Sox are comfortable clinging to their prospects and making the playoffs a bunch of times during this contention window, then they’ll take their rightful place at the kid’s table. Celebrating their lightning-in-a-bottle 2005 World Series run every ten years to sell some tickets and line Jerry Reinsdorf’s pockets will get old, all while fans spend the next decade whining about what could have been.

What could have been if they would have brought the big stack to the high stakes table that is the upper-echelon of Major League Baseball, instead of over-valuing cute feel-good stories about their precious prospects.

Let’s hope that’s not the way this plays out, but that’s the blunt reality of the way this game works. Make no mistake about that.


Featured Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images


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