Most of my Twitter frustration during the past few weeks has come from people who insist Dexter Fowler isn't a big enough upgrade to justify sacrificing both money and a draft pick to sign.
There are a number of problems with this mindset, but the bullet points are that A) Fowler's ability to get on base is a skill that is sorely needed, even after the acquisitions of Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, B) the upgrade from the player Fowler would replace — Avisail Garcia, who was the worst starting right fielder in baseball last year — is enough to justify the cost, and C) a draft pick that will be 28th overall, while not completely devoid of value, is not worth hanging on to at the expense of accepting mediocrity if you are a team that plans on contending in 2016.
So what does any of this have to do with Ian Desmond?
Like Fowler, Desmond is a free agent who would represent a presumed upgrade at a position that is expected to be an offensive weakness for the White Sox in 2016. Also like Fowler, Desmond received a qualifying offer and the White Sox would have to forfeit a draft pick if they wanted to sign him. ALSO like Fowler, there has been nothing but speculation connecting him to the White Sox or any other team.
Desmond is just six months older than Fowler. One of the main differences between the two as they look for a new team, however, is that while Fowler is coming off of arguably the best season of his career, Desmond is looking to rebound after finishing 2015 with his worst season since 2011.
In a nutshell, these are similar situations for the White Sox:
- The White Sox have a hole at shortstop, and it would be an upgrade to sign Ian Desmond in place of Tyler Saladino.
- The White Sox have a hole in the outfield, and it would be an upgrade to sign Dexter Fowler in place of Avisail Garcia.
So they should sign Desmond and Fowler. Great, let's move on.
If the White Sox have these two moves up their sleeves, holy shit what an offseason this would be. They would go from having question marks in right field, third base, shortstop, second base, catcher and DH to having presumed above-average situations in all of these spots except probably DH.
Of course, nobody expects this to happen for a number of reasons, namely because it doesn't seem like they'd be willing to increase their payroll that much, and because I'm sure they'd prefer not to sacrifice two draft picks (a comp first and a second), like they did a year ago when they lost a second and third rounder by signing Melky Cabrera and David Robertson.
OK, so I've taken a long way to answer a question: Would it be beneficial for the White Sox to sign Ian Desmond?
The short answer is yes, Desmond gives the White Sox a better chance of winning in 2016 than Saladino.
The thing I'm hung up on, however, is that I'm worried they will opt to sign Desmond and NOT Fowler.
As I mentioned above, the White Sox have made enormous strides to improve their lineup already with the acquisitions of Frazier and Lawrie. But while those two excel at many things, getting on base is not one of them. Frazier's OBP in 2015 was .309 (coincidentally, the exact same as Garcia's), while Lawrie's was .299. Desmond's OBP in 2015? .290. His career mark is .312.
Fowler, on the other hand, had a .346 OBP in 2015, which would be right in line with Jose Abreu for second on the team behind Adam Eaton. And that .346 was actually the lowest of his career, as his career mark stands at .363.
If you add up the 2015 OBP of the current projected White Sox lineup based on their 2015 numbers (an imperfect practice, I know), you're looking at a team OBP of .315, which would have ranked 15th in the majors last season. While this is still an upgrade over last year's team, which got on base at a .306 clip (27th in baseball), there's still work to be done.
Desmond represents an upgrade at the position in a number of ways. Offensively, he's better than Saladino pretty is basically every way. But regardless of if you take the 2015 numbers or the 2016 projections, I'm not confident he represents enough of an upgrade to justify whatever the cost ends up being. (For what it's worth, Steamer actually projects Desmond at .236/.294/.390 with an 87 wRC+ and Saladino at .243/.301/360 with 80 wRC+).
In Fowler, on the other hand, you're looking at a massive upgrade offensively, specifically in the on-base department, and a significant upgrade defensively from, again, the worst starting right fielder in all of baseball last season.
If the White Sox want to go all-in (I know, I still shudder at the term, too) and get both Fowler and Desmond, I'm all for it. But in reality, I hope if they have one more fix to make this offseason, they go with the outfielder over the shortstop.