Any White Sox fan has to be thrilled about not having to face Francisco Lindor 18 times next season (assuming there's a 162-game season), as he's one of the best players in baseball. Given 2021 is his final year of arbitration eligibility and Cleveland's front office was unable and/or unwilling to dole out a contract suited for a face of baseball, Lindor will head to the New York Mets along with Carlos Carrasco in exchange for three prospects.
However, the total impact this trade has on the White Sox is a bit more nuanced and can be broken down into a few pieces: on the field this season, on the field in the future, and on the hot stove. Let's dive into all three areas.
On the Field This Season
While the entire White Sox pitching staff has to be excited about no longer facing Lindor, the Cleveland organization has proven to be too formidable over the years to simply be taken for granted. Prior to this trade, Cleveland had traded away All-Star pitchers Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger all in the past 18 months. And still there they were in the playoffs, even ahead of the White Sox in the standings when it was all said and done last season.
Yes, Cleveland’s lineup did struggle last season and now they are trading away a stalwart from the heart of their order after losing Carlos Santana to the Royals in free agency. But that organization knows how to develop talent, and Jose Ramirez, who finished right behind Jose Abreu in 2020 AL MVP voting, is signed through 2023.
Even if their lineup does struggle again, Cleveland has become an All-Star starting pitching factory. As previously alluded to, every time they have traded away an ace they seem to have his replacement locked and loaded, as was the case with Shane Bieber winning the AL Cy Young award last season. They also have the likes of Zach Plesac and Triston McKenzie, who appears to be next in line for Cleveland aces. As long as the current regime is still in Cleveland, those series will never be a walk in the park for the White Sox.
On the Field in the Future
Cleveland received the Mets' ninth and tenth ranked prospects in addition to a 20-year-old shortstop not ranked in the Mets top 30 in the Lindor deal. Josh Wolf is a 20-year-old right-handed pitcher who is expected to reach the major leagues in 2023, according to MLB.com, and he certainly seems to have gone to the right organization. 2020 second-round draft pick Isaiah Greene is a 19-year-old outfielder who is expected to reach the major leagues in 2024.
Between this trade and the midseason Clevinger trade to the Padres, Cleveland has rebuilt their farm system. Expect them to stay consistently competitive for the foreseeable future.
What does this mean for Rick Hahn and company? The White Sox will have to build the team to win now while also having pieces to contend 2-3 years from now if they hope to maximize the window that Hahn regularly refers to. Specifically, this trade makes the development of Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease that much more important.
The top of the White Sox rotation for 2021 looks solid. But given the ages and contract statuses of Keuchel and Lynn, the development of the White Sox younger pitchers into consistent starters will be essential to keep up with Cleveland in the AL Central arms race.
While it does appear that Cleveland is taking a step back this season, be aware that they will be back very soon and the White Sox will need to stay ahead of the game.
Hot Stove Implications
As things currently stand, the White Sox still need a closer. They have clearly made Liam Hendriks their top target and have reportedly shown interest in Brad Hand as a fallback option. Alex Colome appears to be on the way out but that is a separate discussion. With the Lindor trade essentially making the AL Central a two-team race between the White Sox and Twins in 2021, finding the right guy to lock down the ninth inning is of utmost importance.
The White Sox are also in the market for one more starting pitcher assuming Kopech begins the season in the minor leagues. While a veteran free agent seems the most likely route, in the aftermath of the Lindor deal there is speculation that Cleveland may potentially listen to offers on Zach Plesac.
This should not come as a total surprise. Cleveland made their feelings about Plesac pretty clear last season when he and Mike Clevinger broke COVID-19 protocols during a series in Chicago. After that incident, Clevinger was shipped out of town. Could Plesac be next?
Zach Plesac certainly has some maturing to do based on his Chicago rendezvous and subsequent “apology” -- or lack thereof -- in a video he released. But he is also a 25-year-old starting pitcher and his talent is undeniable. He broke into the major leagues against the White Sox in 2019 and carries an ERA of just 3.32 for his career, including an ERA of just 2.28 in his eight starts in 2020, supported by a 3.39 FIP.
If the price is not too high -- and it could be hampered by the off-field issues -- the White Sox should absolutely check in on the young righty. However, the notion that Cleveland would not want to deal him to a division rival and would instead use the White Sox as leverage as they likely did in the Clevinger deal also has merit.
Nonetheless, this saga is certainly something to monitor, and if nothing else could bring down the price of other starting pitchers around the league by adding to the supply side.
The Lindor trade will have ripple effects throughout baseball. Ideally, one of those ripple effects will be jump-starting the glacier-like pace of the free-agent market. But as far as the White Sox are concerned, this trade, while not a surprise, adds to the calculus they have to think through in terms of roster construction.