Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Chicago White Sox are interested in moving Mark Teahen. With rookie Brent Morel seemingly slated to start at third this season, Teahen (last season’s third baseman to start the season) doesn’t have a place to start, and he’s a bit expensive to sit on the bench. However, the question is whether any other team has a place for Teahen to play or the desire to pay him what he is owed.
Teahen (along with $1.5 million) came to the White Sox from the Royals in a “six of one…” trade for Chris Getz and Josh Fields last off-season, and Chicago rather quickly gave him a three-year, $14 million extension. Teahen then rather quickly put together a disastrous 2010 season in Chicago, hitting .258/.327/.382 (85 wRC+) with terrible defense at third base (-10 UZR, -8 aggregate) for a total of -0.6 WAR over 77 games interrupted by injury. That performance probably sealed Teahen’s fate as a starter.
Things didn’t always look so bad. Teahen first came to public prominence in Moneyball, in which a member of the A’s front office (who drafted Teahen with the 39th pick of the first round in in 2002) is quoted as saying that Teahen could be another potential Jason Giambi. Teahen later came over to the Royals along with John Buck and Mike Wood as part of the 2004 three-way trade for two months Carlos Beltran. Teahen was slated to start 2005 in the minors, but after an injury to Chris Truby (ah, the Royals…), Teahen started the season in Kansas City, where he bombed spectacularly both at the plate (.246/.309/.376, 80 wRC+) and in the field (-18 UZR, -23 DRS) to the tune of -1.1 WAR over 130 games. He started poorly in 2006, but after a “wake-up-call” demotion, came up and killed the ball (.290/.357/.517, 127 wRC+) with average-ish defense at third during his age 25. Things were looking bright.
However, despite some of promising moments years ago, going into his age 29 season, Teahen looks like he is is slated for a career on the bench. Moved to the outfield in 2007 to make room for Alex Gordon, Teahen’s bat, while not collapsing, was barely average. While his UZR in the outfield for 2007 looked promising, in retrospect almost all of that was his rating for throwing out and holding baserunners, and one wonders how much of that is runners testing the arm of a newly-minted outfielder. Teahen moved between the outfield and third (with brief sojourn at second) for Kansas City to account for injuries, and his bat never again reached league-average level. With the bat, the “next Jason Giambi” not only never showed anything like his 2006 power levels again, and even more troubling, dropped to below league-average walk rates in 2008 and 2009 as his plate discipline seemed to fall apart.
What kind of player is Teahen now? In 2010, his walk rate jumped back above average but despite his move to a friendler environs for home runs and posting the highest walk rate of his career, his isolated power and strikeout rates were his career worst. Combined with his terrible defense and Morel apparently being ready for the big leagues, the White Sox, with their eyes on contention, understandably don’t seemed inclined with hope for an “age 29 breakout.” Could the White Sox could get anything back for him? Most projection systems (excluding the seemingly-always-optimistic Bill James projections) have Teahen somwhere between just league average and minus 6 runs over a full season. That wouldn’t be that bad, actually, if Teahen could play third base acceptably. As we’ve seen, that probably isn’t the case — he’s probably a minus five defender over a full season at the very best, and it’s probably worse than that. On the outfield corners, he’s average at the very best, probably a bit below. Altogether, Teahen is probably a between one and 1.5 WAR over a full season. Assuming half that as a backup, the White Sox understandably don’t want to pay that salary. However, it isn’t clear that any other team needs a starter of Teahen’s abilities at this point at any of his possible positions, and paying him like that as a bench player wouldn’t make sense for them, either.
Chicago is probably stuck with Teahen. It isn’t the end of the world. With Dayan Viciedo injured to start the season, and Morel needing some days off, Teahen will have his uses as a fill-in third baseman. Moreover, with Carlos Quentin starting in right field, it isn’t as if Teahen wouldn’t have his opportunities to play out there, either. It’s a lot of money for a mediocre-hitting and poor-fielding backup corner-man, but the White Sox are gong to be on the hook for it either way (if they do manage to find a trade partner, they are likely to have to eat a good portion of Teahen’s contract), and in a contending season, they could do worse for a bench player. He’s a better option than either Brent Lillibridge or arch-lich Omar Vizquel. All things considered, at this point the White Sox might be better off loving the one they stuck themselves with.