The White Sox have lost a lot of baseball games this season. They rank in the bottom half of the league in every facet of the game: offense (29th in MLB), defense (22nd), and starting pitching (18th). While this year has been largely unwatchable sans every Chris Sale start, the most exciting part of the season is approaching: the trade deadline.
Recently, the Sox shipped out Matt Thornton to Boston in return for Brandon Jacobs. Thornton, who had been one of the premier set-up men over the past few seasons, has regressed into nothing more than a lefty specialist these days. Jacobs, who is described by many as “toolsy,” has seen his production fall off the past couple seasons in the minors (here is a more in-depth write-up for those interested). Jacobs has potential and is essentially a boom-or-bust type of prospect that the White Sox can afford to take a risk on.
Despite being almost 20 games under .500, the Sox still have numerous pieces that contending teams will be looking to get. New General Manager Rick Hahn recently discussed his satisfaction with the team’s pitching, but noted the team has a lack of run-producers. Years of ignoring the development of a minor league system in hopes of contending has really begun to rear its ugly head. The White Sox are devoid of any top-notch talent to the point that they were one of only two teams to not register a top 50 prospect on Baseball America’s mid-season report.
While Hahn may be hesitant to deal some of the pitching, there’s no glaring reason why he shouldn’t at least listen to trade offers for every player on the team, with the exception of Chris Sale – although an argument can be made for him as well. Contending teams are always searching for pitching, and the Sox should take advantage of their one “strength” by trying to re-tool the farm with higher-end talent.
ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that the White Sox have been scouting Arizona Diamondbacks games recently. The Diamondbacks have numerous young pitching prospects such as Randall Delgado, Tyler Skaggs, and Archie Bradley. Skaggs and Bradley are likely off-limits, but if the Sox are able to send Peavy and net Delgado in return, the Sox would get a young pitcher with a lot of potential and someone Don Cooper would love to work with.
Beyond Matt Garza, who appears to be the premier starting pitcher on the market, Jake Peavy is the next best option. The Sox will likely activate Peavy from the DL after the All-Star break, and teams like the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, or the San Francisco Giants, who might end up balking at the steep price of Garza, will probably turn around and place a call to Hahn about Peavy.
The other major trade chip the White Sox have is Alex Rios. Rios is making $12.5 million this season, and will make $12.5 next season, with a club option for $13.5 million the following year that comes with a $1 million buyout option. In return, Olney reports the Sox are looking for “major-league ready or near-ready prospects.”
The Texas Rangers have had internal discussions regarding Rios, and possess one of the deepest minor league systems in the league. A few prospects that make sense in a Rios trade would be third baseman Mike Olt. He is one of the more advanced bats in the minor leagues, but with Adrian Beltre firmly entrenched in Texas, he could be a great solution at a position the Sox have struggled to fill since Joe Crede’s departure. The Rangers also have another third base prospect, Joey Gallo, who has one of the strongest power tools in the minors, grading out as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Beyond these two hitters, the Rangers have numerous other prospects that could intrigue the Sox.
Beyond the Rangers, the Pirates finally look like a team that can sustain their winning ways and will likely go all-in this season to try to contend. Rios would be a perfect fit in left field, as the current platoon of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider has hit a paltry five home runs and holds a combined slash line of .259/.324/.381. If the Sox were to package Rios and Gordon Beckham to upgrade another hole at second base, they could potentially net a top-level prospect like outfielder Gregory Polanco, or two mid-level guys like shortstop Alen Hanson, right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia, or outfielder Josh Bell.
As October nears, a bullpen’s struggles and successes begin to magnify significantly. Contending teams looking for bullpen help will likely target Jesse Crain and, to a lesser extent, Matt Lindstrom. While Crain is currently on the DL, he is having the best year of his career, and was named to his first All-Star team. The Detroit Tigers could desperately use bullpen help, but it’s doubtful that Hahn will trade anyone within the division. The Diamondbacks, mentioned above, have one of the worst bullpens in the league, having blown 19 saves this season, and they will likely be one of the most aggressive teams in the bullpen market. Other teams in search of bullpen help are the Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The White Sox are in a great position to improve their minor league system, to an extent, over the next couple of weeks. With a bevy of motivated trading partners stocked with deep minor league systems, the Sox should jump at this golden opportunity to get both younger and deeper.
It happens every single year. Players who deserve to make the All-Star team don’t, and players who don’t necessarily deserve to make it do. Part of it has to do with stupid or biased fans, part of it has to do with the Player Ballot — a vote of the players, managers and coaches — voting just because they have to, and part of it has to do with the manager being forced to fill a roster with at least one player from every team. As unfair as it may be, all-star voting in sports will probably never change. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t still bitch about players like A.J. Pierznyski and Jake Peavy being left off the team. With the All-Star game actually having meaning (the winner gives its league champion home-field advantage in the playoffs), you’d think that Ron Washington’s formerly coked-out mind and the players’ around the American League would want two of the best players at their respective positions to be a part of their roster. Guess they don’t care as much as we’d like.
As I said a couple of weeks ago in my “White Sox Candidates for the 2012 All-Star Game” post, I knew it would be difficult for Pierzynski to break his six-year all-starless streak, because Rangers fans are all over Mike Napoli’s nuts and made sure he’d (undeservedly) start behind the plate for the American League. Unfortunately, it was the players, and not the fans, who voted for Matt Wieters over Pierzynski to back up Napoli instead. How dumb are they, you ask? Well, Pierzynski has Wieters beat in batting average by 36 points (.287 to .251), slugging percentage by almost 100 points (.524 to .431), hits, home runs, RBIs and runs. It’s not like the second-place Orioles had no one else to send to the game; Adam Jones is a legitimate candidate for AL MVP, and Jim Johnson has been one of the best, if not the best, closers in baseball with an ML-leading 25 saves thus far this season. There’s been a lot of talk about AL manager Ron Washington screwing up by picking Joe Mauer, but I can’t blame him. The Twins needed someone, and if it wasn’t going to be Josh Willingham, then Mauer and his .327 batting average would have to do. Regardless, A.J. was upset with Washington anyways and gave him a good ‘ol “eff you” on Tuesday night with a three-run bomb in the fifth inning of a 19-2 beat down of the Rangers. He should’ve made the team. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
As for Jake Peavy, let’s just say it’s a travesty that he didn’t make the All-Star team this year. Forget the Final Vote – it’s not the fans’ fault that Peavy didn’t make it. Yu Darvish had the entire continent of Asia voting for him. No one else on the final ballot stood even a puncher’s chance. We can blame Washington for whiffing on this one. I don’t mean to take away from the great season that Rangers’ starting pitcher Matt Harrison is having, but this couldn’t have been a more biased pick. Peavy has a better ERA (2.96 to 3.10), WHIP (0.99 to 1.24), strikeouts (101 to 70), K/9 (8.07 to 5.06) and opponents’ batting average (.215 to .263). Pretty much every single pitching category, besides record (Harrison is 11-4 and Peavy is 6-5), belongs to Peavy, so the decision to leave him off the roster is just stupid. Not to mention, the great Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated has Peavy as runner-up to Justin Verlander for AL Cy Young midway through the season. That’s gotta count for something.
After battling injury after injury and almost calling it quits before having experimental shoulder surgery performed on him a few years back, it would have been one hell of a story to see a suited-up Peavy in Kansas City for his third all-star appearance. Instead, like Pierzynski, he’ll be watching the game from his couch like me and you. The difference is they wipe their asses with $1 bills; I wipe my ass with toilet paper and the occasional baby wipe. Pierzynski and Peavy will get over their snubbings if they haven’t already. It just seems ridiculous that the best catcher (statistically) in the AL and a potential AL Cy Young candidate will not be making an appearance at Kauffman Stadium this year.
If you had told me last winter that the Chicago White Sox would essentially be in first place in the AL Central (only a half game back) and 2.5 games ahead of the pre-season overwhelming favorite Detroit Tigers by late June, I would have considered hosting an intervention for you in which the possibility of sending you to an insane asylum would have been discussed. To think that the Sox would be this good halfway through the season was unfathomable, and I’d bet that most Sox fans would agree. Players who were seeing the baseball as a golf ball last year are seeing it as a beach ball this year. The runs are up, the bullpen ERA is down, and there’s many guys worthy of making the All-Star team. It’s an exciting time to be a Sox fan, and there’s a lot to look forward to over the next few months and beyond. That being said, let’s take a look at who those worthy players are:
Chris Sale, Starting Pitcher
Given the way he has pitched this season, one would have to think that Chris Sale has been pitching at the major league level for years. His path to stardom is well ahead of schedule, as he has looked nothing short of magnificent thus far this season. Sale ranks second in the American League in wins (tied at 8), third in ERA (2.47), fourth in WHIP (1.00), third in opponent’s batting average (.197) and fifth in K/9 (9.19, ranking him ahead of C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander AND Felix Hernandez). He has, without question, been one of the two or three best pitchers in the American League , and I don’t see him slowing down. Don’t be surprised if he not only makes the All-Star team but also starts for the AL come July 10. Clearly, most baseball fans would like to see Justin Verlander take the mound, but if he ends up making a start for Detroit less than five days before the game (or just decides he doesn’t want to pitch), Jim Leyland would have no problem telling him off. That would leave Sale, who deserves the starting nod as much as anyone.
Jake Peavy, Starting Pitcher
You can’t mention Chris Sale without mentioning Jake Peavy these days. The other half of this dynamic duo is in the middle of a coming of age season as he attempts to win the second Cy Young Award of his, what many would consider a very unlucky, and somewhat disappointing, career. After a number of shoulder injuries and a nearly career-ending experimental surgery in which the surgeon had to reattach a key tendon to the rear of his right shoulder, Peavy is finally back to old form. At 6-3, he ranks fourth in the American League in innings pitched (98.2), sixth in ERA (2.74), second in WHIP (0.97), fourth in opponent’s batting average (.198) and ninth in both strikeouts (83) and BB/9 (2.10). Of his 14 starts, 12 (repeat: 12) of them have been considered quality. Coincidentally, those other two are the only two starts in which he has given up more than three earned runs all season long. Amazing.
Peavy’s miracle season has been one of the best stories in baseball this year. After all he has been through over the past few years, making the All-Star team would really be something special.
A.J. Pierzynski, Catcher
I can’t remember the last time A.J. Pierzynski had a bad season in the majors, if ever, but it sure as hell wasn’t while wearing a White Sox uniform. Year after year, the dude just puts up solid offensive numbers across the board and continues to stay vastly underrated. It has been six years since Pierzynski’s made the All-Star team, but this might be the year he finally breaks that streak. He leads all AL catchers in RBIs (41), total bases (110) and runs scored (32 — tied with Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and Texas’ Mike Napoli), and he trails only Mauer in hits with 62 and Boston’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia in home runs with 12. Who knew the 35-year-old backstop still had it in him? With Napoli undeservedly leading the way in voting so far, it’s going to be tough for A.J. to beat out two of three great catchers in Mauer, Baltimore’s Matt Wieters and Saltalamacchia, but stranger things have certainly happened.
Paul Konerko, First Baseman
Just another under-the-radar season for Paulie Konerko. Time and time again, Konerko seems to remind all baseball fans that, although he’s getting older, he has no intentions whatsoever of slowing down. If you sat here and told me that he will continue to hit like this until the age of 40, I’d probably agree. But regardless of how good we think he’ll be in four or five years, right now is all that really matters. Through the first half of the season, Konerko is leading the American League with an incredulous .354 batting average and .426 on-base percentage. He also ranks fourth in hits (81) and slugging percentage (.585), which are both good for first among first basemen. Konerko leads all first basemen in home runs with 13 (Adam Dunn and Billy Butler are designated hitters, so they don’t count in my mind) and total bases (134), and he’s fourth in RBIs (39). It never ceases to amaze me how great this guy continues to be. With Prince Fielder likely to get the starting nod at first base, Rangers’ manager Ron Washington will have slow-starting guys like Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, and Mark Teixeira to choose from in addition to Konerko. I’d like to think that the current AL batting leader will be at the very top of his list.
Adam Dunn, Designated Hitter
Everyone knows the Adam Dunn story by now – he batted .159 last season and sucked beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. But, 2011 proved to be a fluke, as Dunn has reverted back to old form, smashing baseballs out of any and every ballpark like it’s no one’s business. He leads the majors with 23 dingers and 55 walks. He’s also third in the AL in RBIs with 53 (first among DH), seventh in slugging percentage at .554 and tenth in total bases at 133 (both rank him third among DH). The only thing really holding Sox fans back from bowing down to this beast is his terrible .225 batting average and 109 strikeouts, which is 26 more than the next player. However, a low average, high strikeout totals and a boatload of home runs has been the story of Dunn’s 12-year career, so it just comes with the territory. He deserves to be considered for the All-Star team, that’s for sure, but there’s a lot of competition at DH this year. I smell a candidate for the Final Vote, but only time will tell.
Who I would pick: Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzysnki
There should not even be a debate about Sale and Peavy — they’ve been two of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball this year, and without them, the White Sox would arguably be a last place team right now. They’ve been that valuable.
If it was up to me, Paul Konerko would be starting at first base for the American League in a few weeks. But, seeing as how there are millions of other fans out there voting, my opinion pretty much means jack. Nevertheless, even when Prince Fielders wins the vote, Konerko should easily make the roster as the second or third first baseman. If he’s not, then Ron Washington is clearly still blowing lines during his free time and is only picking players based on name alone.
The most debatable guy on my list is Pierzynski. His stats alone should make him an All-Star, but because Mike Napoli is projected to win the starting gig, one spot gets taken from a guy who actually deserves to make the team. Both teams usually bring three catchers to the All-Star game though, so Pierzynski should still make it because of how valuable he has been to the Sox lineup.
I’m not picking Dunn because, assuming David Ortiz wins the vote for DH, there are still too many other guys at the position worthy of making the team. You have to remember that every team gets at least one All-Star. Coincidentally, the two best options along with Dunn (Kansas City’s Billy Butler and Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion) have each been the best players for their respective teams this season, so there’s a good chance that one of them makes it instead. Even if Dunn doesn’t make the team, he still has a shot at making Robinson Cano’s Home Run Derby squad and, as I said before, there’s a possibility he makes it to the Final Vote, which would leave his fate in the hands of the fans.
Who will be picked: Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski
Dunn won’t make it for the reasons I just stated. If Pierzynski doesn’t make it, it’s for reasons very similar to Dunn — there must be an All-Star from every team. Because of that, Joe Mauer who, as you know, plays for the horrific Minnesota Twins, should be a no-brainer for the American League staff as the backup catcher and lone Twin to make the team. But, assuming the AL goes with three catchers, Pierzynski should easily get selected over Wieters and Saltalamacchia. If he doesn’t, it’ll just go to show you how truly under-appreciated he is around the league.