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What Would a White Sox Fire Sale Look Like?

Posted By Joe Pawlikowski On July 26, 2011 @ 2:00 pm In White Sox | 34 Comments

For all the chatter surrounding this year’s trade deadline, we’ve seen a dearth of activity. To date only three transactions of note have crossed the wire: Wilson Betemit to the Tigers, Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers, and Jeff Keppinger to the Giants. Other than that we’ve had a lot of words and no trades. The words you’re reading are no different, in that it’s more trade speculation with no actions guaranteed to follow. But it might be the most entertaining rumor to date. Yesterday ESPN Chicago ran some quotes from White Sox GM Ken Williams, and the implications have transaction hounds licking their chops.

“On one hand, you can look toward potentially adding. We’d have to add creatively because of the financial situation right now. On the other hand, maybe this is the most opportune time to turn over the entire roster and get some young, exciting player in here and go that route.”

And away we go.

Before getting too excited, remember that Williams might have spoken out of frustration, and nothing more. In fact, after spending big this winter — $163 million on Matt Thornton, Alexei Ramirez, Will Ohman, Jesse Crain, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, and A.J. Pierzynski — it might not actually be the best time to blow up the whole thing. Williams couldn’t do a complete job, anyway, because of of immovable contracts. No one is taking on Dunn right now, for instance, and Konerko is a 10-and-5 player who signed at a discount to stay in Chicago. But we can still have some fun examining the actual movable parts on the roster.

Edwin Jackson. Perhaps no White Sox player has been mentioned as often this month as Jackson, and with good reason. He’s in the final year of his contract, during which he earns $8.35 million, and he will become a free agent after this year. He’s a Scott Boras client, too, which likely means an exit from Chicago following the season, anyway. While he’s likely to net them a draft pick or two, the White Sox could do better to trade him now as a rental and get players closer to the majors. They’re particularly lacking in upper-level starting pitching, and could net a decent project for pitching coach Don Cooper. He won’t fetch as much as some others on the roster, but he’s the most tradable.

John Danks. He’s perhaps the most intriguing name on the White Sox, probably because he’s successful and left-handed. Danks started off the year poorly, but he turned it around pretty quickly and now has a 3.92 ERA and 4.00 FIP after 16 starts and 101 innings. He makes about $2 million for the rest of this season and then enters arbitration for the final time in the off-season. He’d be a wonderful candidate for a team to trade for and then sign to an extension. It might be expensive, but he’d be worth a decent contract. The extra year of service, plus the left-handedness, will render Danks a more expensive proposition for potential suitors, but it’s not as though top-end lefties hit the market very often.

Gavin Floyd. His name has come up as well, but not with any seriousness. That’s probably because he’s in a slightly better position than Danks. While they have the same amount of service, Floyd is locked up for $7 million next year, with a $9.5 million for 2013. He might throw with his right arm, but the bargain of a contract renders him a bit more valuable than Danks. The White Sox clearly can’t trade all of their pitchers, and so it seems that they’d likely hang onto Floyd. He’d be a veteran presence among the crop of rookies taking over in the rotation.

Mark Buehrle. He’s having yet another Mark Buehrle season, which is unsurprising, given that we can tautologically define Mark Buehrle as Mark Buehrle-esque. If he’s traded the acquiring team would in all likelihood receive another Buehrle-esque year in 2012, since a $15 million option kicks in if he’s traded. That might limit his availability to larger markets, but many of them would certainly listen and perhaps cobble together an offer. But as a 10-and-5 player he can veto any trade, and when asked about his future he’s always seemed tentative about leaving. Maybe the Cardinals would be interested, since they’re always mentioned as a potential Buehrle suitor.

Matt Thornton. They just signed him to an extension this winter, but it’s not necessarily a great deal. He’s a guy who relies on his velocity to blow away hitters, and he’s signed through age 38. He’s a lefty reliever and will probably bring back the White Sox considerable value on the market. If they don’t intend to use Chris Sale as a starter, selling Thornton now, when demand is high, might net them a decent return. Let someone else worry when his velocity starts to dip in the years to come.

Will Ohman. Again, lefty relievers will probably bring back a decent bounty, since there are so few available on the market. Ohman is locked up for $2 million next year, too, so he would be valuable to another contender. Perhaps the Sox would like to keep him around as a true LOOGY, though, should they deal Thornton.

A.J. Pierzynski. Sometimes you burn your bridges in some place, and sometimes it comes back to bite you. Or, in this instance, your team. He’s a 5 and 10 player, so he can opt to stay in Chicago, where he seems comfortable. But if he were open to a trade, there is certainly a team out west that could use a catcher. As Eric wrote this morning, there’s no logical replacement for Buster Posey. If the White Sox were to clean house, Pierzynski could make sense. But he might not want to go, and Brian Sabean, who once traded three good players for him, might not welcome him back.

Gordon Beckham. This one is at least a little interesting, because we saw Beckham produce big-time as a 22-year-old in 2009. Problem is that he’s been pretty terrible since then, producing a .301 wOBA (81 wRC+) in 2010 and 2011. But he’s still just 24, and the potential is still there. He seems like a change of scenery candidate, but those types of players don’t typically net a solid trade package. Then again, the way he’s going, it might be best to cash in now, in case things get worse.

Carlos Quentin. While it might be hard to justify trading a hitter as gifted as Quentin, if Williams plans to blow up the roster the time might be right. In yesterday’s Hunter Pence post I listed all the teams that could use a corner outfielder, and Quentin could fill that role as well. He has one more year before reaching free agency, and he likely won’t make as much as Pence next year. If Williams is selling, he’ll likely have the ears or many GMs on Quentin.

Trading two or three of these players is probably all that’s realistic, and it certainly would net the White Sox a quality package of prospects that would help them contend in 2012 and beyond. It certain is fun to imagine the fireworks that would surround a Danks, Jackson, and Quentin trade. But as with most deadline affairs this is almost all for fun. If we take a step further back we can see how little this makes sense.

Despite their mediocre play, the White Sox are just 3.5 games back in the AL Central. The two teams ahead of them have considerably flaws, and could come crashing down at any time. If the Sox get expected performance from some of their guys, they could make a quick run to the top. It doesn’t make sense for a team in that position to blow things up, especially when their expected talent level isn’t quite meeting expectations. Again, even a slight turnaround could vault them into first place.

The other obstacle standing in the way of a fire sale is the immovability of the biggest contracts. Even if the White Sox moved every single player on this list and replaced him with a league minimum player, they would still have $73.75 million committed to eight players next year. While that might not seem bad, especially for a team in the White Sox position, that money would be largely due to injury prone or ineffective players such as Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, and Dunn. That’s not exactly a hugely promising foundation around which to build a team.

Part of why this week is the third-best part of the baseball season — trailing only Opening Week and the postseason — is that we can imagine the possibilities. What if this team got this player? What if that team swung a blockbuster? The neatest question of all is, what if that team had a mid-season fire sale? It’s not likely to happen, especially to a team in Chicago’s position. There are far more reasons to stand pat then to blow it all up. Still, Williams mentioned it, and so we can imagine it. The returns on even three of the above players would be astronomical and could set up the White Sox with a pipeline of young talent for years to come. It’s a dream, and it would quickly turn around what has been a slow deadline period. With apologies to White Sox fans, here’s to hoping Williams acts irrationally.


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