White Sox fill another black hole with acquisition of Frazier

Another glaring hole in the White Sox lineup has been filled.

The team announced Wednesday it has acquired third baseman Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team trade. The Sox send three prospects to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the deal — outfielder Trayce Thompson, infielder Micah Johnson and pitcher Frankie Montas.

What Frazier brings the White Sox is legit power — his ISO in 2015 was .242 — and above average defense at a position the White Sox have struggled to fill since Joe Crede left town after the 2008 season. 

An infield that featured the likes of Mike Olt, Conor Gillaspie, Gordon Beckham and Tyler Saladino at third base in 2015 just added a guy who has combined for 64 home runs over the last two seasons and made back-to-back All-Star teams while being worth 9.3 bWAR. He also hasn’t played in fewer than 150 games in any season since his rookie year of 2012. He’s owed $7.5M in 2016 — his age 30 season — and will be eligible for arbitration in 2017 before becoming eligible for free agency in 2018.

The concern that comes with Frazier is that his offensive skill set is very much reliant on his ability to hit the ball out of the park. His on-base skill is average and if the power doesn’t age well, you could see a player who declines more rapidly than some.

That said, this move is a net positive for the White Sox for a number of reasons. The first, most obvious reason is that Frazier upgrades what was the team’s most grim position in 2015 (and that’s saying a lot), as they ranked last in the majors in OPS by third basemen and 29th in both BA and OBP by third basemen. The acquisition of Frazier means the White Sox can move Brett Lawrie to second base and have thus upgraded at two positions in an infield that was miserable both offensively and defensively a year ago.

Likewise, while the possibility of Frazier dropping off in the near future is real, the White Sox don’t have big money committed to him long-term. If Frazier proves to be a legit commodity, they have the inside track on bringing him back and at very worst have a very good third baseman for the next two seasons. If he shows signs of decline, well, it’s back to the drawing board. But they’re not stuck with him in the same way they’ve been stuck with declining sluggers Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche in recent years.

That last point is important because not only did the White Sox not take on a significant financial commitment (which is always important when you’re discussing a Jerry Reinsdorf-owned team) but they also acquired an All-Star-caliber third baseman without giving up prospects who profile as anything more than adequate major leaguers.

The most jarring thing about the deal as far as the players the White Sox gave up is that all three spent time with the big club in 2015, so you’ve heard of them, which isn’t something that always happens in a prospect-for-star deal. However, while this definitely puts a dent in their minor league depth, all three have shown legit flaws that make you question their ability to have sustained success at the major league level.

In Johnson, you get plus-plus speed but a player who doesn’t seem to have a position he can fit defensively. In Thompson, you get an uber-athletic outfielder who showed promise in 135 MLB plate appearances but was also a career .241 hitter in the minors. In Montas, you get a guy with an amazing fastball who has struggled with command and the ability to develop secondary pitchers. All three have promise, but none are can’t-miss, and as has been written on this blog countless times in the past, the White Sox window with the Chris Sale-Jose Quintana-Adam Eaton-Jose Abreu raises the urgency to field a winner. 

The White Sox are a better team in 2016 and 2017 with Todd Frazier than they are with Trayce Thompson, Micah Johnson and Frankie Montas.

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