White Sox Need Help at Third

The Chicago White Sox are one of baseball’s biggest surprises. While the team didn’t have high expectations entering the season, they currently have a .5 game lead in the AL Central. And with the Detroit Tigers currently struggling, the White Sox could find themselves buyers at the trade deadline. If they hope to stay in the playoff race, they might want to look at upgrading third base.

Though many of the players on the White Sox are off to surprising starts, third base has been a huge problem. The team has produced just -0.9 WAR at the position, the worst mark in all of baseball. Due to the team’s refusal to define themselves this off-season, the team entered the year with Brent Morel as the starter.

Morel’s performance as a rookie was underwhelming, but some analysts hoped that a strong September was a sign that he had figured things out. That hasn’t been the case. Before injuring his back, Morel was one of the worst offensive players in the league. Morel looked absolutely lost at the plate, striking out 31.2% of the time. Behind that terrible strikeout rate, Morel hit just .177/.225/.195 in 125 plate appearances.

When Eduardo Escobar failed to impress in 56 plate appearances, the team signed Orlando Hudson to replace Morel. Hudson — who was cut by the San Diego Padres in May — hasn’t been much better. Hudson has done little to show that he’s the answer at third this season, hitting just .182/.274/.309 with the White Sox. But unlike Morel, Hudson no longer provides solid defense.

For a team in the race, their lack of production at third base could be their undoing. The Cleveland Indians are just .5 games out of first, so every win is crucial. Upgrading at third could be the difference between making the playoffs, and watching them from the couch. Since the White Sox have no legitimate replacements in the farm system, they will likely be scouring the trade market for available third basemen.

It’s still early enough in the season where few teams are in full-on selling mode, so it’s unclear who might be available next month. That said, there are many people who belief Kevin Youkilis could be on the block. With Will Middlebrooks holding his own in the majors, and Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz first and DH, the Red Sox don’t have a need for Youkilis. And while he’s struggled this season — hitting just .231/.314/.372 — he would be a major improvement over the White Sox current options. Trading for Youkilis also comes with some risks. He’s 33-years-old, injury prone and a poor defender at third. If he fails to reach his previous levels of offense, he’ll be nothing more than a $6 million drain on the payroll. But Kenny Williams is no stranger to taking risks.

The real question is whether the White Sox have anything to offer. The team has one of the worst farm systems and baseball, and few players with favorable contracts. While pitching has been the strength of the team for the past few seasons, the White Sox find themselves very thin in the rotation. John Danks and Gavin Floyd have both regressed, and Phil Humber’s spot is in jeopardy. The White Sox could consider dealing one of their relievers, but the bullpen has been below-average this season. Unless Hector Santiago can turn things around, the team might be stretched if they deal away Matt Thornton or Jesse Crain.

Offensively, the team has little to offer. They’ll want to keep most of their starters, and the other players on their roster just aren’t desirable. The team could try and dangle former first round pick Jared Mitchell — who is having a solid season after injuries hampered his development — but it would be foolish to deal years of control of Mitchell away for just a half-season of Youkilis. And since the team has so few impact players in the minors, they may want to hold Mitchell now that he’s finally producing.

But that’s never stopped Kenny Williams in the past. Even though it looks like the White Sox don’t have a lot of tradable assets, Williams has routinely surprised analysts at the trade deadline. And more than any other general manager, Williams is willing to take significant risks for a shot at the playoffs. Even if Youkilis isn’t the answer for the White Sox, you can bet Williams won’t stand pat at the deadline.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.