Should the White Sox Hold or Fold?

It’s hard to imagine the White Sox having a more depressing start to the season. They are stuck in last place in the American League Central, and their hitting has been abysmal. When you remove pitchers’ hitting from the equation, the White Sox wRC+ is tied for dead last in baseball with the Marlins, who are not even trying to field a competitive team. And while usually the team has fan favorite Paul Konerko to look to as a bright spot, even he has stumbled badly out of the gate. With the AL Central suddenly seeming rather competitive, the question arises — is it time for the White Sox to blow it up and sell?

First thing’s first — we have to figure out who the White Sox actually have to sell. Because as it turns out, many of their long-term contracts are un-sellable. The player on the books for the most money, John Danks, is essentially stuck in Chicago. He is due $14.25 million during this season and then the three seasons after it. And since he hasn’t pitched in a major league season game in nearly a year thanks to a shoulder injury, his isn’t a contract that teams are going to be excited to acquire.

The next-highest contract belongs to Adam Dunn. Since signing with the White Sox in advance of the 2011 season, Dunn has compiled a -2.4 WAR, and it is now questionable as to whether or not he achieves a positive WAR during his contract at all. That contract doesn’t expire until after next season, and he is due $15 million in 2014. Now, if he was hitting in the manner that we associate with Dunn’s career that might be a contract that someone would take a chance on at the trade deadline. But right now, Dunn is hitting .137/.235/.308. His six homers are nice, I suppose, but it’s also not special — 40 players have hit more homers than has Dunn thus far, and 20 other players have hit the same six that Dunn has.

Next up on the hard-to-trade list is Alexei Ramirez. Now in his age-31 season, he has not been a league average hitter since he was 26, and over the last year-plus, he has been nearly 30 percent worse than league average with the stick. And while sometimes one can look at a player who is underperforming in the early going and point to a miniscule batting average on balls in play as a reason for optimism, Ramirez is not one of those players. His .296 BABIP this season is right in line with his .292 career BABIP, and most of his other peripheral stats are in line with his career norms as well. Simply put, Ramirez just isn’t that good. He plays some nice defense, and his UZR/150 of 9.0 ranks fourth among shortstops since 2010, but no one is going to pick up his contract just for that defensive value. Ramirez is owed $7 million this year, $9.5 million next year and $10 million in 2015, when he’ll be 33. Shortstops are hard to come by, but if you take on that contract you want to make sure you’re not getting a black hole offensively. White Sox shortstops are 18th in WAR overall, and 24th in wRC+. It’s highly likely that only a team that finds itself desperate following an injury would make a deal for Ramirez.

This leaves us with two players that both have substantial contracts that could be traded and are players who would definitively not be part of the future if the team decided to tear down and rebuild — Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. Peavy has an incredibly friendly deal — two years, $29 million — and even though he has been brittle in the past, he is durable and productive right now. Some team will gamble if he is dangled. Rios may not be as easy to move as Peavy, since he can block a deal to six different teams, and Rios has in the past run hot and cold, but he was pretty consistent last year and is owed even less than is Peavy.

The question then becomes, is that enough? Would dealing both Peavy and Rios be enough of an incentive to jumpstart the rebuilding process? On the one hand, unless the team wants to dip its toes back into what will be a very shallow free-agent poll come this upcoming offseason, a rebuild seems inevitable. After the season, Konerko, Gavin Floyd and Jesse Crain all come off the books after the season, and Matt Lindstrom and Matt Thornton likely will as well. And other than Danks, the only player definitively signed past 2015 is starter Chris Sale. Unless the team finds several diamonds in what has consistently been billed as one of the roughest farm systems or without significant free-agent investments, the team will be in a full-scale rebuild by 2015 at the latest. So Rick Hahn and company have a good mind to hasten the rebuilding process as soon as possible. By 2016-17, the Tigers will likely be older and grayer, and the rest of the teams in the division are run either cluelessly or thriftily.

On the other hand, if the team doesn’t get as much as they want for Peavy and Rios, will it have been worth it? After all, they can trade them just as easily in the offseason or at next year’s trade deadline and still get something, without having to bail on Konerko’s last season in black pinstripes. Konerko isn’t a guy who gets much play nationally, but White Sox fans love their “Paulie.” By WAR, he’s the 12th-best position player and 22nd-best player overall in team history, and it really would be 13th and 23rd if not for Shoeless Joe Jackson getting himself banned. But since he arrived in Chicago in 1998, only Mark Buehrle was/has been better in a White Sox uniform. So the idea of sticking it out for one last run with Konerko might have some sentimental value.

It might have some actual value, too. The White Sox enter today’s action with one of the best run prevention units in the game. As we can see from our handy and quite dandy new standings page, we see that only five teams are allowing fewer runs per game than are the White Sox, with only one of those teams (Rangers) counting themselves as an AL team. As you scroll to the right, you can see that it’s not something that is expected to continue, but as the Orioles showed us last year, just because we don’t expect something to continue doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Perhaps Sale and Peavy can keep carrying the rotation, and the bullpen has room for improvement too, particularly from Thornton and Nate Jones. If Konerko starts hitting, and if Jeff Keppinger can manage a few more good results, and maybe one or two other guys heat up and who knows, maybe they can find enough offense to support the pitching staff. After all, the team isn’t losing by much. They’ve only lost three games by five or more runs, and they enter play today with the same run differential as the Nationals. Crazier things have happened.

The White Sox are probably not a good team, and don’t have much chance of a postseason run — Cool Standings gives them just a 10.9 percent chance of reaching the postseason today. However, since the team has few tradeable assets (and the ones that they have can be traded at a later date) and the fact that it is the last season under contract for the 37-year-old Konerko, there is reason to think about putting the rebuild on hold for one more summer. Obviously no decision has to be made in mid-May, but if the Sox are hanging around come the trade deadline, don’t be surprised if they stand pat.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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SeaBass
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SeaBass
3 years 1 month ago

Sell Sell Sell.

MikeS
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MikeS
3 years 1 month ago

If I am Rick Hahn, the only guy on the major league roster who I wouldn’t let go is Sale. Literally anybody else is available. OK, literally everybody is available for the right price, but nobody is going to meet my price for Sale. I will talk about anybody else. That may be true for the entire organization. When I look at that team and ask myself “who is going to be there when they are good again?” the list goes: Sale…uh…uh…uh.

Make me an offer.

TIF
Guest
TIF
3 years 1 month ago

Consider, though, that Chris Sale is about the only player the White Sox have that would garner a return large enough to help jumpstart a rebuild. You say Sale might be there when the next “good” White Sox team comes together through said process, but I am not so optimistic. With the Sox having virtually nothing in the minors right now, they’re going to have to draft and develop, and then have those players hit the ground running at the major league level, in order for Sale to still be around.

Naturally, they could extend Sale to a lengthy contract, but who knows if he’ll still be good / healthy by that point. History has repeatedly demonstrated the riskiness of hanging onto arms. Might be a better idea to snag some team’s Tavaras / Myers / Profar and jump start the rebuild.

Urban Shocker
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Urban Shocker
3 years 1 month ago

Interesting-“the rest of the teams in the division are run either cluelessly or thriftily”. Who would you put in each one?

La Flama Blanca
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La Flama Blanca
3 years 1 month ago

Indians – Dumb
Twins – Cheap
Royals – Both

Wobatus
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Wobatus
3 years 1 month ago

Actually, I think people thought the Indians did a good job this winter. Spent a little on Bourn and Swisher, lucked out on Kazmir so far (and Reynolds), Masterson snapping back, even Ubaldo. Good defensive outfield.

asdfasdf
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asdfasdf
3 years 1 month ago

The Indians have a smart front office. The owner is cheap so they haven’t been able to field a competitive team all that often.

David
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David
3 years 1 month ago

that was a strange sentence. the Royals, Indians, and Twins are presumably the thrifty teams, which leaves the Tigers as the clueless team? but they have the best pythagorean W-L in all of baseball (23-12). they rank 9th in offense with an underperforming Avila, Jackson, and V-Mart. their pitching staff has the best xFIP, FIP, and ERA in all of baseball.

I suppose they do have the worst farm system in the majors (according to John Sickels’ preseason rankings), but that might just be an issue of timing – over the past few years they’ve graduated Smyly, Ortega, Avila, and Porcello. Brantly and Turner (whose presence in the system would probably have helped their rankings significantly) were both sent to the Marlins in return for veterans who have performed well. So I think “clueless” is a bit of an exaggeration IMO.

David
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David
3 years 1 month ago

I just proved I don’t have elementary school reading comprehension. That sentence was referring to the teams in the division other than the Tigers. Whoops.

gnomez
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gnomez
3 years 1 month ago

I’m also not sure how Sickels ranked the Angels over the Tigers. Both have weak systems, but only the Angels’ I look at and say “If I squint hard enough, I can maybe see some future bench pieces here.”

gnomez
Guest
gnomez
3 years 1 month ago

Tigers – clueless at times (although it’s more overvaluing sentimentality than Dayton Moore-esque idiocy)
Indians – thriftily
Royals – both
Twins – both

Steve
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Steve
3 years 1 month ago

Are you kidding? This shouldn’t even be a question. Sell and sell hard. They’re done.

Semi Pro
Guest
Semi Pro
3 years 1 month ago

The White Sox have somehow stayed competitive for the last several years. Now, the core is old and unproductive, and the farm system is barren. They need to sell. They’ve neglected developing young players (via trading them away and being cheap in the draft) for years and it’s finally caught up to them.

Rickj
Guest
Rickj
3 years 1 month ago

If they were going to rebuild, they should have started a couple years ago, or even last season but being in 1st before the implosion destroyed that. I just do not see that as an option anymore.

Besides, this “barren” farm system keeps producing contributing players. Their high ceiling high risk guys that people love to follow get hurt or are more risk than reward. However, mostof these prospects in other organizations are busts as well.

gnomez
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gnomez
3 years 1 month ago

Konerko has 10-and-5, and unless I’m mistaken, Rios will get 10-and-5 before the season is over.

Mike
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Mike
3 years 1 month ago

You are. Rios has only been with the White Sox since August 2009.

Chris K
Guest
Chris K
3 years 1 month ago

How could this article omit mention of Quintana and Santiago? Both are being paid peanuts, are under club control, and are already viable back-of-the-rotation starters. A ton of value to be had there.

As a Sox fan, they’ve come very close in a bunch of games, but this offense is just abysmal. When I think it through I know they won’t catch the Tigers, and there are 3-4 teams who will likely take the WC spots ahead of them, but I’m also loathe to see them blow up what will be their last chance at a playoff run for the next three seasons (or whenever Courtney Hawkins hits the majors, assuming he doesn’t turn into just a TTO player). Maybe sit on it for another month and if the record doesn’t bounce back, start making trades at the All Star break?

K
Guest
K
3 years 1 month ago

lol it’s way too early to be talking about Hawkins in the majors. He has 45 k’s in 79 AB’s in high A…..

marlins12
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marlins12
3 years 1 month ago

Should fangraphs write more about the White Sox? Pr should they stop since there have been three articles about them today already?

marlins12
Guest
marlins12
3 years 1 month ago

*Or

Neil
Guest
Neil
3 years 1 month ago

The most surprising thing about this piece was realizing Ramirez is 31. Woah.

Chickensoup
Member
Member
Chickensoup
3 years 1 month ago

Fold, though it wont be popular with fans in Chicago to have 2 teams attempting to rebuild its always for the best IMO.

Both the Cubs and the White Sox are in unique situations where they just have to wait for a bunch of bad contracts to come off the books then they can compete again given even a semi decent core of players. They have decent financial backing and the teams can generate tons of money. They have short rebuilding processes in comparison to other teams in all reality. Teams like the Brewers are going to be in dire straights for more than a decade when they finally blow the team up because they are in such a small town, wont be able to afford any kind of decent core of players outside Braun, and have one of the worst farms in the majors.

Hawk
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Hawk
3 years 1 month ago

They obviously don’t have TWTW.

Matt
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Matt
3 years 1 month ago

If Dunn or Konerko were producing at all, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. Keppinger has also been terrible and Flowers’ hit tool has not really developed at all. Looks like a poor man’s JP Arencibia right now. If they are gonna sell, sell for prospects not band-aids.

Grand Admiral Braun
Guest
Grand Admiral Braun
3 years 1 month ago

A poor man’s Arencibia is a hobo with zero baseball skills.

Matt
Guest
Matt
3 years 1 month ago

And that’s what he’s looked like.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 1 month ago

I think you have to Hold for at least a bit longer. There is enough of a chance for the hitting to come around that it is worth more than the prospects, plus Peavy/Rios can be traded next year, yes? I also feel like Rios continuing to do good this year would up his value and help reduce an inconsistant label and ergo be more profitable.

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 1 month ago

Kenny Williams promoted himself just in time to blame this trainwreck on someone else. That’s a terrible rotten lineup that can’t hit or take a walk…ouch…

Pinstripe Wizard
Member
3 years 1 month ago

I don’t think there is anything to gain by selling. If you ship out Peavy and Rios, you will get a little bit back, but it’s not like they are going to have any room for younger guys to get any playing time. They would be practically the same team with a slightly smaller payroll. They don’t have anyone but Sale that is going to get them a significant prospect haul in return. I think the Sox should focus on the draft and international signings. A low impact farm system with an aging major league team could really put them in a serious tailspin.

S. Urista
Guest
S. Urista
3 years 1 month ago

Konerko’s BABIP is .235, well below his average for the last 3 years (closer to .310). Everythign else seems at least broadly in line; I don’t see any significant deterioration in any other category such as contact % and such. Maybe we can expect a bit of a rebound if that BAPIB recovers even just to .270 or so?

Sophist
Guest
Sophist
3 years 1 month ago

The problem with saying the Sox should “Sell” is that usually implies getting value in return to rebuild. There’s not much to sell for real value.

I have hopes that their farm system will improve (they’ve changed their draft strategy in face of new rules that are more favorable to them; they’ve invested in Latin American development), but even if it becomes a pretty good system, it will take 3-5 years to have any impact. A tear-down and rebuild, a la the Cub, won’t happen on the South Side. Instead, it will be a re-shuffle.

And they seem to have the pitching to do that. Even trading Peavy, you come back with Sale, Quintana, Santiago, (hopefully) Danks, and then (maybe, eventually) Floyd comes back after rehabbing on a minor league contract. (Axelrod, Erik Johnson, Castro all fifth starter possibilities)

Trade Rios, Peavy, Thornton, Crain this year, with goal of finding more offensive talent. Konerko and Dunn if there are takers (and if Konerko feels like leaving). Even if they pay some of those salaries to get better prospects, they will have chopped up to $65 million from payroll. An OBP-challenged team should be first in line for Choo. And then Hahn will have to prove how smart he is with a couple more signings to fill out a roster with middle-tier free agents.

jim
Guest
jim
3 years 1 month ago

If 2 yrs 29 mil is “incredibly friendly” to this author, imagine if the deal was 2 years 10 million? The author would describe the deal as “so friendly, it invited you into its home to defile its teenage daughters, and then afterwards served you a breakfast of pancakes and bacon before filling up your gas tank and warming up the engine.”

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