Agree or disagree with the hot stove transactions thus far, no one can accuse the White Sox of not being aggressive. In a baseball offseason that has seen next to nothing by way of trades and free-agent signings to date, Rick Hahn is certainly jumping the market to acquire the players he wants.
And with the team now firmly in its contention window, each move comes with added scrutiny. In this article, wanted to outline some initial thoughts on the first two White Sox moves of the 2020 MLB Winter Meetings. And here’s to hoping that Hahn can wait on his next move at least until this piece is published.
In my last article, I discussed the possibility of adding Lynn as the option with the lowest cost among the trade candidates, but also with the fewest remaining years of control. I believed fair compensation for Lynn would have paired Jonathan Stiever with another prospect ranked below him within the White Sox system. So when the news broke that it was Dane Dunning headed back to Texas, it was unsurprisingly met with some distaste among White Sox fans.
Free agency and trade markets always have an element of randomness. And when the free-agent market is limited for top-of-the-rotation starters, the trade value for those types of players also has to increase. White Sox fans have been hearing about Dane Dunning for four years to the day, have stuck with him through Tommy John surgery, and gone on to see him have success at the big league level in 2020. Understandably, it is tough to see him go.
But we also know that established, top-of-the-rotation pitching was inarguably the White Sox biggest need going into 2021. And if that is the going rate, it was the right move. Beyond that, if there is one thing the White Sox are loaded in, it is talented young pitchers. The White Sox are dealing from a position of strength here and they still have the likes of Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Garrett Crochet, and Jared Kelley, among many others. As promising as Dunning appeared to be, he was an elder statesman among this group already at the age of 26.
While Lynn’s name might not elicit the same level of excitement as other names the White Sox were rumored to be interested in, he certainly fits the bill for what they need. Over the past two seasons, he has finished fifth and sixth in AL Cy Young voting, respectively. Over that same timespan, he ranks fifth in all of baseball in both strikeouts and WAR, according to FanGraphs.
Yes, these stats have been accumulated for a Rangers team that has been out of contention, but Lynn has performed at or near this level throughout his nine-year career. The only exception came in 2018 when he spent time with both the Twins and Yankees. As a rookie in 2011, Lynn mostly pitched in relief for a Cardinals team that won the World Series and was managed by… Tony La Russa. One would assume La Russa must have given his approval for the deal given his history with the player.
The two main gripes about this trade are Lynn’s age and contract status. Lynn will be 34 for most of next season but showed no drop-off in velocity over the last two seasons, with his four-seam fastball still averaging 94.0 MPH, which is actually above his career mark. And as we’ve seen time and again with aging elite starters, they regularly figure out a way to extend their prime even when their stuff starts to deteriorate.
With only one year remaining under contract, the contract status is a legitimate complaint. While $8 million for the season is a bargain if Lynn meets expectations, some would have hoped the White Sox found a longer-term solution.
I have two thoughts on this front. First, if the move is successful and the team wins a lot of games, re-signing Lynn should not be too difficult, especially if he has a good relationship with La Russa. Second, if one of the young White Sox starters takes the next step this season, Lynn is not as important to the rotation in 2022.
If the latter plays out, yes it is possible Dunning was given up for a one-year rental. But the team is in win-now mode, which means cashing in on prospect capital to acquire established major league talent. White Sox fans can breathe easier going into 2021 knowing that the team won’t be forced into a bullpen game with their season on the line.
I am less bullish on this move. If we were looking at a silhouette, a left-handed-hitting right fielder with World Series-winning experience and a career OBP of .360 who plays a capable right field is exactly what the White Sox needed. Unfortunately, Eaton has also been nagged by injuries for most of his Nationals career, he is already 32, and he left the White Sox on poor terms in 2016.
Taking a brief trip down memory lane. During the fiasco surrounding Adam LaRoche’s 12-year-old son Drake in the locker room, Adam Eaton went on the radio and declared the kid a “leader” on the team. That same 2016 season, Eaton got into a physical altercation with Todd Frazier. Now, in fairness, perhaps Eaton has matured, and long-time major leaguer Howie Kendrick even told Chuck Garfien that he thought Eaton was a great teammate with the Nationals. But nonetheless, Eaton certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of White Sox fans.
We have also been fed the line about the “grit” that Eaton brings to the game, and that maybe the young White Sox roster needs that. This is one line of thinking that I cannot get on board with. Sure, the White Sox lineup is still young, but to suggest that they need a kick in the butt to compete just seems ridiculous. Beyond that, if they do need an added level of professionalism, that will come with experience and perhaps a new coaching staff, not an obnoxious, in-your-face teammate. Todd Frazier, for one, didn’t seem to be a big fan of Eaton’s “grit.”
And about that improved maturity: within hours of the White Sox reunion becoming public, Eaton called into ESPN 1000 to talk with Carmen and Jurko. When asked a relatively benign question about his thoughts on the Tony La Russa hire, Eaton laughed and somewhat abruptly ended the interview. You can listen for yourself in the tweet below. Great start he is off to in his second tour on the South Side.
The 2021 season will likely feature a platoon of Adams in right field, and Eaton could serve as a decent platoon partner with Adam Engel. We will likely also hear that the Eaton signing a low-risk move for just one year and $7.5 million with a club option for the second year. But that is also the exact problem with the move. Outside of a few one-off seasons, the White Sox haven’t found a reliable right fielder year in and year out since Jermaine Dye.
With the team in win-now mode, most would have hoped that the White Sox weren’t just going bargain shopping again but instead were looking for a legitimate solution to the right field position for the foreseeable future — or at least a short-term solution that is a more obvious upgrade. Instead, we can already plan for right field to be a hole on the roster going into the 2022 season, barring any unforeseen acquisitions.
According to the now well-regarded Bob Nightengale, the White Sox now have their sights set on Liam Hendriks as their next closer. They are supposedly still interested in Joc Pederson and Michael Brantley as well, but both of those options don’t have much room on the roster at this point unless there is another trade in the works.
In my opinion, the most likely next move is another reunion with a former member of the 2016 club, Jose Quintana. To serve in the Gio Gonzalez role of long reliever and spot starter, this would actually make a lot of sense and add some quality depth to the pitching staff.
Rick Hahn has already stated that the pitching staff is not complete yet in his mind. After these two bargain acquisitions, the White Sox still rank just 15th among all MLB teams in payroll. There is certainly still room for another high-priced, splashy acquisition to really put this pitching staff over the top, whether that be in the form of a trade or free agency.