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Taking Stock: Who is Nomar Mazara, and How Does He Fit the White Sox Puzzle?

Mazara can be “a guy” in the puzzle for now, but he can’t be “the guy” if the White Sox plan on meeting their 2020 goals.

While most were fast asleep, and while the New York Yankees were making the move of the winter — inking Gerrit Cole to a record-breaking nine-year, $324 million deal — the Chicago White Sox were making a move of their own late Tuesday night.

As reported by Rangers’ beat writer Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the White Sox acquired right-fielder Nomar Mazara in exchange for 2018 second-round pick, Steele Walker.

The reaction thus far?

Luke-warm — at-best — if you survey White Sox Twitter.

I’m not here to tell you that you should or shouldn’t like this trade, but I’m here to help you sort out the wave of emotions I’m sure you’re filled with today.

Let’s put the panic button away momentarily and start by taking stock this morning. We’re going to talk a bit about Mazara, and what we need to see moving forward before the club makes the annual trek to Glendale.

What we know about Nomar Mazara

Mazara — who will turn 25 this season — has spent the last four seasons on the Rangers’ big-league ballclub. He put together one truly solid campaign in 2017 when he hit 20 home runs and drove in 101 runs in 148 games played (career-high).

In 2019, Mazara slashed an underwhelming .268/.318/.469/.786, hit 19 home runs, and drove in 66 runs on his way to a sub-one WAR campaign (Baseball-Reference).

A campaign, that according to Evan Grant on the White Sox Talk Podcast, had the Rangers reminding Mazara that he still has minor-league options remaining.

Mazara comes to Chicago with two years of contract control remaining, with a $5.7 million price tag in his second arbitration year (according to Spotrac).

While 2019 was down and none of his four seasons really jump off of the charts, Mazara is an upgrade in right field for the White Sox as of today. In 2016, he finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting, and he’s essentially a guaranteed 20 home runs in your lineup, as he hit 19 in 2019 and 20 in each of the previous three seasons with Texas.

In 2019, the White Sox trotted out a bevy of players in right field, all of whom combined for a dismal .565 OPS. Even in a down season in 2019, Mazara’s OPS was .786.

Mazara’s splits are the first thing that jumps out at you when digging into his early years in Texas. Against left-handed pitching, Mazara struggled to the tune of a .646 OPS in 135 plate appearances in 2019.

On the flip-side, Mazara absolutely mashes right-handed pitching. In 2019, Mazara posted an .834 OPS in 334 plate appearances and hit 13 of his 19 home runs against righties.

We know he can hit, especially right-handed pitching, but what about his defense?

Mazara’s defense has never been above average, but it’s better than Marcell Ozuna‘s and Nicholas Castellanos‘. In 3,500 innings in right field, Mazara has only made eight errors and boasts a respectable .990 fielding percentage, but his lack of range has been his demise.

Spray Charts Courtesy of Fangraphs

As you can see in the spray charts above (2019), Mazara almost always makes the routine plays (plays with a 90-100% fieldable rate) but struggles to make the difficult plays, especially on balls where he has to move forward/backward.

Evan Grant said the same in his discussion with Chuck Garfien this morning, pointing out that Mazara has a tendency to pull-up on balls that he needs to come in on.

Mazara is not going to be burning up the highlight reels in right field, but he can make the plays that he has to make out there, making him more than serviceable defensively.

How does Mazara fit into the South Side Puzzle

If Mazara was the last outfield/offensive addition this winter, then he’ll be slated as the everyday right-fielder in 2020.

His offensive splits and defensive shortcomings will likely set up a semi-platoon situation with Leury Garcia, who hits left-handed pitching well and can be a late-game defensive replacement even on days that Mazara starts.

Over his four-year career, Mazara has a 103 wRC+ hitter against right-handed pitching, and a sorry 59 wRC+ versus southpaws. Leury Garcia hit .311 and .330 against lefties in his last two seasons, his only seasons as a regular option in the White Sox lineup.

I envision the left-handed Mazara playing every day against right-handed pitching in Chicago, finding himself somewhere in the middle of the White Sox order. Garcia would get the bulk of the at-bats against left-handed pitching and see plenty of time in right field as a late-game defensive replacement for Mazara.

It’s still December 11th, and Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna are still on the open market, so the White Sox could still add one of the two to the mix before the dust settles.

If they do, it’ll likely be Castellanos later in the winter if he’s still available and his market has shrunk. Castellanos would enter the fray and spend the bulk of his time at DH, essentially just adding more pop and depth to the Sox lineup in 2020.

It’s perfectly plausible that the White Sox would add Castellanos at the right price and create a timeshare at the corner outfield and designated hitter position. The rosters now allow 26 players in 2020, and adding Mazara and Castellanos creates depth and internal competition.

Either way it shakes out, the Mazara move in itself doesn’t really excite me, and shouldn’t be looked at as a long-term solution in right field. By itself, it’s as “White Sox” of a move as there could have been this winter, and with that, you will have angry fans. Those fans will be totally justified in their anger if this is the final trick up their sleeve for the outfield situation in 2020.

However, if Rick Hahn and company add another bat, one (at least) or two more starting pitchers and some bullpen pieces to the mix before it’s all said and done, I personally won’t be overly disappointed in the Mazara trade.

Quite simply — Mazara can be “a guy” in the puzzle for now, but he can’t be “the guy” if the White Sox plan on meeting their 2020 goals. But before we all lose our minds, let’s see how this shakes out in the coming weeks.


Featured Photo: Getty Images

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