Going into the season, one thing many pundits noted about the White Sox was the holes in the roster.
Through 31 games, it seems those fears were quite warranted. Between catcher, third base, and second base, White Sox players have combined for a grand total of 0.0 WAR, ranking in the bottom seven teams in baseball for production at each position.
As a team teetering on the brink of contention with a 5.5 game deficit, such holes are too big to not work to fill them. Micah Johnson being replaced by Carlos Sanchez won’t do that; neither will any potential in-house replacement for Conor Gillaspie at third.
Though Tyler Flowers is likely the White Sox’ man at catcher, Gillaspie and Sanchez can probably be replaced in a trade. Though the trade market has yet to develop this season, the White Sox may have a few options soon, which I assessed and sorted into relatively arbitrary categories.
Well, sure, I guess that guy might work
INF Brad Miller (Mariners)
Miller is an interesting case, a guy who not too long ago was heralded as a top prospect at shortstop (a position that most scouts agree he is not fit to handle) who struggled greatly last year and is now working in a utility role for the Mariners. I am not a huge fan of the profile, as I think he’s a corner outfield glove with a middle infielder’s bat, but he’d presumably be able to slot in at second for the White Sox. Depending on how starting SS Chris Taylor performs in his return from the DL, the Mariners may be willing to cut bait with Miller at a reasonable price.
Let’s try to catch very old lightning in a bottle!
3B Aramis Ramirez (Brewers)
2B Chase Utley (Phillies)
On June 24, 2012, the White Sox parted with spare parts to acquire a 33 year old Kevin Youkilis, who was at the time hitting a paltry .233/.315/.377 in Boston. After changing Sox, Youkilis shored up third base like no player has done for the White Sox since Joe Crede, hitting a solid .236/.346/.425 and providing a huge upgrade over then-starter Brent Morel.*
In this vein, the Sox could pursue either Utley or Ramirez, former franchise cornerstones in the twilight of their respective careers. Utley’s contract is a problem, as he is owed $15 million this year with a $15 million option for 2016 that vests with 500 PA. On top of that, Utley has been one of the worst everyday players in baseball this year, so taking on that money would be absurd. But if the Phillies would eat some of the deal the potential for Utley to return to his 2014 form could make it palatable. Utley has 10/5 no-trade rights, so he'd have to approve any deal, but at this point of his career may be willing to leave a Philly team that looks years from contention.
Unlike Utley, there is no future obligation to Ramirez, who is retiring after the year and would be open to be traded to a contender. A return to the city where he was most productive could be appealing for the veteran, who has battled through a bad back and a slow start to 2015. Ramirez was a productive member of the Brewers as recently as last year, and could have just enough in the tank for a last hurrah. Of all options on this list, this may be the most likely, and also one that would not need to wait for July, as the Brewers are already way out of the race and would likely be willing to shed spare parts.
*Those numbers, if you were wondering, were good for the 4th-highest WAR total of any White Sox third baseman in a single season since 2007, despite playing only 80 games. The White Sox have been really bad at third base since Crede’s body fell apart.
Hey, he might be nice
2B Daniel Murphy (Mets)
2B/3B Justin Turner (Dodgers)
If the Mets were not off to such a hot start, trading for Murphy may have been more reasonable, but even so it’s not out of the question. Murphy is in the last year of his deal and really doesn’t fit the defensive profile of a second or third baseman, so his slow start could be enough for the Mets to cut bait with him for the right price. He still should be a very solid (if unspectacular) hitter, so that price may not be cheap — someone like Frank Montas, who could possibly pitch in an MLB bullpen this year would probably have to be included. If such a deal could get done, however, Murphy would be a strong addition to the Sox lineup.
Turner is an interesting case. A non-regular who has hit extremely well in limited action over the past two years, Turner is best suited in the bench role he has in LA but could probably start for many MLB teams. If Cuban signee Hector Olivera is ready to play at any point for the Dodgers, Turner may be out of a job and a reasonable pick up for the White Sox.
Let’s take on some bad money!
SS Elvis Andrus (Rangers)
2B Brandon Phillips (Reds)
2B Aaron Hill (Diamondbacks)
Each of these players has been solid relatively recently but have undesirable contracts. Phillips is unlikely to be moved, as the Reds are still on the periphery of contention right now and he’s a franchise mainstay, but if they falter they could look get out from the $27 million he’s owed in 2015 and 2016. Hill is only signed through 2016 ($12 million both this and next year), so the deal’s not terrible, but he was miserably unproductive in 2014, and despite an early-season resurgence, seems to be an unnecessary expense on a terrible Diamondbacks team. Picking up the money and a few fringy prospects could be enough to pry him loose, and add a guy who is a really solid hitter if he rebounds.
Andrus’s deal is a different beast entirely. He’s signed for the next 8 years and $120 million, which is more guaranteed money than the Sox have owed any player in franchise history. His and the Rangers’ underperformance may lead the team to want to get out from under the obligation for little prospect return, and would provide the Sox with an elite middle infield defense paired with Alexei Ramirez for now, and a shortstop of the future when Ramirez eventually leaves. This would be an enormous risk, of course — Andrus is a very light hitter who could become unplayable if the bat drops of more or the glove isn't elite — but would also provide the Sox with a 26-year-old shortstop with elite defensive chops.
A guy can dream
UTIL Ben Zobrist (Athletics)
3B Adrian Beltre (Rangers)
Zobrist and Beltre are both bona fide stars that would represent a tremendous upgrade on both sides of the ball for the White Sox. Of course, players like that don’t grow on trees, and the A’s and Rangers would likely not be very willing to trade either. However, both teams have gotten off to slow starts, so the Zobrist and Beltre may be available, if for a massive price tag. A free agent after the season, Zobrist will almost certainly be traded if the A’s fall out of the race, but should have many teams interested and thus cost a lot for a rental. Beltre, on the other hand, is under contract through 2016, so GM Jon Daniels would need to be wowed to trade the fan favorite. With an improving but still light farm system, the Sox would have to be pretty confident about contention to make this kind of deal, as the aftermath will leave the farm pretty barren.
SS Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies)
Tulo might get traded. Tulo will not get traded to the White Sox.
* * * * *
If a trade is to be made, it would behoove the Sox to make it relatively early in the season, rather than wait until poor play out of the positions of need sink the White Sox playoff hopes. There’s certainly precedent for that-the aforementioned Kevin Youkilis deal comes to mind- though the generally slow-developing trade market may be a hindrance. If the Sox can squeak into contention, however, these obvious holes can become somewhat of a blessing — simply acquiring a passable player is a huge step forward, and could be a massive boon for a team in the race.