Third base is at the top of the list of priorities for the White Sox offseason, per the latest reports from CBS' Jon Heyman. Absent is any mention of corner outfield/DH options in an offseason full of great free agent options, but the Sox third base situation is awful without any reasonable in-house solutions, so by all means, go fishing in this pond first. The offseason is long, and I'm not nervous, and am in fact, never nervous.
(As just the briefest review, current in-house options are Tyler Saldino, a glove-only utility infielder, Mike Olt, who wishes he could upgrade to being glove-only and Matt Davidson, a bat-first prospect who can't hit Triple-A pitching. They should get someone else)
Free Agents: This is...not a great group, but a decent group. It's a theme.
David Freese, 33 - A surprisingly not awful solution for the right price. Freese's performance took a step down in Anaheim, but he's never had a below-average year at the plate in his MLB career. Someone who is as familiar as Freese is with disabled lists probably doesn't project well for their mid-30s, especially for defense, but as we go through this, you'll see that there's no great home run option, making the approach to lock in someone not terrible seem more and more appealing. If Frese could be had for 3/36 or less I would have a hard time getting unreasonably upset.
Daniel Murphy, 30 - In an alternate universe, the Mets playoff hopes fade in the second half in face of the onslaught from that Nationals juggernaut, the cheapo Wilpons are too spooked by risk to even extend their long-time second basemen a qualifying offer, and the Sox provide a nice home for the single-slapping Murphy, and a well-timed move to third base to save his bad and waning defensive range. Nnnnnow I'm not so sure he's going to be worth the expense, since both he had Freese had near identical offensive years in 2015 (110 wRC+ each), and Freese has had a slightly superior career (115 wRC+ to 109) . Evidently an AL Executive thinks Murphy may command upwards of $75 million this offseason. I am skeptical that the difference between Murphy and Freese is $40 million, but someone should at least see if Murphy's current pace of homering in every single game is sustainable.
Ben Zobrist, 34 - Came back from offseason meniscus surgery and kept on being awesome. hitting .276/.359/.450 in 535 PA in 2015 while continuing to fill in all over the place for the A's and throughout the Royals playoff run. This would be a hell of an aggressive upgrade for the 2016 season and a real three-year window move. He's also the easily the most expensive option, and I don't know if you notice this, but 35-year-old players (which Zobrist will be in May) can tend to get all the way bad in a hurry. Zobrist could easily command over $15 million for three or four years, but I don't want him to be the Sox biggest buy of the offseason much more than I would want Freese to be.
Juan Uribe, 36 - "He'd be fun!" is the repeated refrain to justify signing the 36-year-old utility guy who has been out for the whole playoffs because he dove for a ball and fell on his face and it hurt his chest real bad. Uribe is a great clubhouse guy, future coach and would be a gem as a utility man, but I'm not sure I'm on board with banking on him being an everyday third baseman in 2016. Juan Uribe--Starting Third Baseman, was an emergency situation in 2008, and having it be an offseason plan for 2016 seems like fate laughing at us. I don't like being laughed at.
Jae-gyun Hwang, 28 - I don't know. He could be good. He hit 26 bombs last year. Send Rick Hahn on a flight to South Korea. Or send Kenny, just to get him out of the building.
Semi-realistic trade options
This is not a perfect group, either, which is sort of my point
Todd Frazier, 29 - I had a purpose in putting Freese up front. He's a guy who is easily pegged as an underwhelming stopgap, and then he's followed by a series of more interesting guys with equal or worse career numbers. An incredible first half cast Frazier as a potential franchise centerpiece going forward, and an awful second half put him right around his career averages of just being a very good third baseman. Frazier is also on a ridiculous contract where he's owed only $6 million for 2016 with one last year of arbitration left after that.
Frazier is a good, but not outstanding long-term piece. His power isn't going to get a boost in US Cellular that The Great American Ballpark hasn't already given him. If the Reds are moving him, it's because they're tearing it all down, and a super reliever/swingman like Montas who could excel in high-leverage isn't nearly as appealing as a long-term positional solution like Tim Anderson. Which, ehhhhhh.
Martin Prado, 31 - So here's the crux of the matter: I think it will be hard to find a huge difference-maker out of this crop. The solace is that someone who can stand at third and hit his way out of paper bag will be a difference-maker for the Sox, so acquire one of those dudes for cheap and go after a stud corner outfielder. Prado is owed $11 million for 2016 and is a free agent after that, and the Marlins are a burning sea barge, so let's make a cheap deal and move on. Prado is pretty much league-average offense or bust, but eating the payroll should make him cost little enough that we wouldn't rue his failure like Keppinger. You--average TCS reader--have probably never even seen Tyler Danish pitch! What do you care anyway?!
Ideally, with all trades, it'd be most fun to give the Marlins Absolutely No One We Care About At All, but they kinda need someone to eat innings right now. Mat Latos was second on the 2015 team in fWAR and he only threw 88.1 innings AND was Mat Latos. They probably would have an unnaturally high interest in Erik Johnson if the Sox were trying to build a package that included persona non grata Marcell Ozuna.
Trevor Plouffe, 29 - Today I learned that Trevor Plouffe is a Super Two. Presumably the Twins would do this to free up third for Miguel Sano, but after leg problems hampered Sano's 2015 and a garbage season for Kennys Vargas, are they really trying to do this? In the division? I dunno, man.
Neil Walker, 30 - A second baseman throughout his career, but someone who at least has the tools and bat to make a transition to the hot corner. Walker had a down year slowed by lingering back problems in 2015 (.269/.328/.427) after a career year in 2014 (.271/.342/.467) but has been an above-average bat every year he's been in the majors. The Pirates are reportedly getting rid of him to duck out on his final year of arbitration cost, so he's another one-year commitment. The health issues aren't encouraging, but the Sox have enough holes that someone who switch hits and could fill a weak spot at second just as easily could have some appeal, and the Pirates are in the sort of place where adding a Frankie Montas to their bullpen could have real competitive meaning for them.
Luis Valbuena, 29 - There's an undeniable fan-trolling element to reaching out for a guy who hit 25 bombs last year but hit for such a low average (.224, after a late-season surge) that he barely scratched out an above-average season at the plate. I'm up for the versions of fan-trolling that involves acquiring actually decent players. Valbuena is also on his final year of arbitration after making $4.2 million in 2015, is very stable about drawing walks at 10% or above, has played every infield position, and could cover some second base. Once you get over the whole part where he was a busted prospect for two separate organizations, struggled to transcend a utility role with the rebuilding Cubs, and was sort of thought as evidence that the Astros weren't really trying when they traded Dexter Fowler for him this year, this is another decent-ish rental option. Who knows what timeline the Astros are living on, but young pitching seems like the sort of thing they'd be interested in. It'd be nice to avoid dumping Montas for friggin' Luis Valbuena, so maybe the younger arms like Danish and Spencer Adams can come into play.
Me, I'm just glad that the Sox have prospects good enough that someone will get mad at me for suggesting they trade them for competent major leaguers.
Qualifiers aside, I would really be down with getting any of these guys for the right price. The eagerness with which the Marlins would dump Prado's $11 million salary is inviting, Ben Zobrist would kick ass in 2016, Todd Frazier would hit tons of dingers, and David Freese would be the baseball equivalent of eating a moderately priced, rich in fiber diet every day for three years. All of these would be aggressive and competent stabs at solving a problem, except Juan Uribe, but even then hahaha Juan Uribe, baby!
Now, if the Sox wind up signing Ben Zobrist, who ruptures his Achilles while signing his contract, and trading Tim Anderson for Trevor Plouffe, well, then I deny everything written here.
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