There’s no denying that the White Sox are engaged in an aggressive rebuilding plan. After all, the organization has now traded away two of its best, established MLB assets in Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, and is said to be engaged in talks to do the same with Jose Quintana. If those affordable, controllable players can be had, then surely it stands to reason that more expensive, shorter-term assets are also on the table.
While players like David Robertson and Melky Cabrera make good sense as trade chips, perhaps no single player on the ChiSox roster carries a “trade me” sign quite as visible as that of third baseman Todd Frazier. Unlike Robertson, he’s entering the final year of contract control. And unlike Cabrera — who’s owed $15MM in the final year of his deal — Frazier is still projects to be useful in the field.
Frazier did take a big step back in the eyes of defensive metrics last year after consistently rating as a plus gloveman at third. And his .225/.302/.464 batting line represented his worst offensive output since a down 2013 season. But Frazier is young enough (31 in February) to think that he can regain his lost step at third, and perhaps its unwise to put too much stock in one year’s worth of defensive ratings given his strong track record. Also, he still swatted forty home runs in 2016 — rather an impressive total from a player capable of playing the hot corner — and boosted his walk rate to a career-high 9.6% (though his K rate also crept up). Frazier still runs well, too, as he swiped 15 bags in 2016.
Really, if you’re looking for a solid everyday player who could bounce back to being an All-Star-level performer, there aren’t many better bets than Frazier. His .236 BABIP makes him an obvious candidate for some positive regression, though it’s fair to note that he earned that mark to some extent by putting the ball in the air more than ever before (48.7%) and posting-career worst line-drive (15.7%) and soft contact (20.7%) rates. With Frazier showing greater selectivity than ever and maintaining his career swinging-strike rates, there’s hope that he can boost his OBP while retaining much of the power he has achieved by gunning for the long ball.
Even if he remains much the same hitter he was in 2016, Frazier would look to be a more defensively useful version of Mark Trumbo. Frazier will only require a single-season commitment, which is appealing. And he could also allow a new acquiring team to recoup a draft pick after the season, if he proves himself worthy of a qualifying offer.
Still, there’s probably a reason that it has mostly been crickets on the demand side for Frazier. In particular, there just isn’t that much demand for third basemen around the game. The Dodgers were rumored to have interest, but ended up bringing back top-available free agent Justin Turner. And the open market still includes at least two useful options at the hot corner in Luis Valbuena and Trevor Plouffe. Then, there’s the fact that MLBTR projects him to earn a hefty $13.5MM, which would make a dent on any team’s balance sheet.
Under the circumstances, the Sox could take Frazier into the year and hope he becomes a summer trade chip (or, perhaps, a QO candidate after the season). Holding onto him is hardly an unfathomable outcome if there’s truly no serious interest, particularly since there doesn’t appear to be a major salary-trimming imperative behind the team’s sell-off. Indeed, many of the teams discussed below seem rather unlikely to offer enough of a return to force the White Sox’ hand. But several organizations that might not give prospects and take on $13.5MM or so in salary right now may well end up having a need in the middle of the season.
It still makes eminent sense for the South Siders to explore all avenues for a trade this winter, but a deal probably isn’t as likely as it might seem at first glance. Let’s take a look at some hypothetical suitors (listed in alphabetical order):
Athletics — Sure, Oakland has Ryon Healy at third, and he’s more than entitled to a full-season run after his impressive debut. But he has never been viewed as much of a defensive player, and could simply be shifted over to first to make way for Frazier. The A’s have already shown a somewhat surprising amount of payroll availability in pursuing Edwin Encarnacion; adding Frazier could have nearly the same overall impact at a lesser cost (at least, in dollars) because of the defensive upgrade he’d bring.
Braves — While Atlanta seems amenable to going with Adonis Garcia at third, there’s little reason to expect much out of him. The organization can also plan to bump Sean Rodriguez to the hot corner if and when Ozzie Albies rises to the majors. And it’s fair to wonder at what point the Braves will stop taking on 2017 salary. Still, after expending some resources for near-term improvements, perhaps pursuing Frazier would be a finishing touch that could make Atlanta a plausible contender (with a few good breaks).
Cardinals — St. Louis was reportedly lingering around on both Turner and Encarnacion, suggesting that the club is intrigued at the prospect of boosting its infield productivity. Like those possibilities, adding Frazier would likely mean trading another player (Jhonny Peralta, Kolten Wong, or Jedd Gyorko) to create space. And it’s not clear whether the Cards would see enough upside in Frazier to go through with all that. Still, it’s a reasonably plausible landing spot.
Dodgers — Any continued interest depends upon whether the Dodgers would consider playing Turner at second base. He has seen less and less time there over the years, and didn’t make a single appearance at second in 2016, so there’s no particular reason to think that Los Angeles would move him to make way for Frazier. Adding a true second baseman still seems much more likely.
Giants — Eduardo Nunez remains the odds-on favorite to man third, in concert with Connor Gillaspie. But if San Francisco feels it’s better able to improve its offensive production with Frazier than by adding a corner outfielder, with Nunez turning back into a quality utilityman, then perhaps the Giants could make for an interesting fit.
Orioles — The O’s are said to be looking at sluggers, and may prefer one that plays the outfield, but there still could be a fit here. Frazier could spell Manny Machado at third and Chris Davis at first while lining up as the DH. If shortstop J.J. Hardy needs a rest, is hurt, or isn’t effective, then Machado could slide in for him and Frazier could return to full-time duty at the hot corner. It’s not a perfect fit, but Frazier could be a more appealing target for Baltimore than the remaining open-market options.
Rangers — Texas is in the market for a first baseman and/or DH, and might not hate the idea of adding someone who could fill in for Adrian Beltre at the hot corner at times. But there are plenty of hitters in free agency, and the Rangers have other infielders who could man third, so this doesn’t feel terribly likely as things stand.
Red Sox — Boston has given signals that its offseason is largely in the books, but a pivot can’t be ruled out. As things stand, the organization appears to be putting an awful lot of trust in Pablo Sandoval. There’s room for Frazier’s salary, perhaps, after dealing Clay Buchholz. He could split time between first and third (with Mitch Moreland), allowing Hanley Ramirez to be a full-time DH while increasing the Sox’ platoon opportunities.
Rockies — Somewhat like the Orioles, the Rockies could potentially have interest in Frazier to fill a different need. If Colorado trades an outfielder and moves Ian Desmond to the outfield, it would need a regular first baseman. While Frazier’s true utility is somewhat wasted there, that’s perhaps less true than it is in Desmond’s case.
Yankees — Chase Headley has underwhelmed with the bat, so perhaps Frazier could mix in with him and first baseman Greg Bird to inject some pop and increase the Yanks’ overall versatility. But New York still has other needs, and Frazier would represent a pretty significant cost to function in that kind of capacity. Unless Headley were to be dealt, the fit is something of a stretch.
Others — You could argue for the Pirates, especially if Jung Ho Kang is lost, though perhaps corresponding moves would be needed to make it even plausible that the Bucs would take on that much salary (particularly with David Freese and Josh Bell already on hand). The Indians might have made sense were it not for the acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion, but Frazier seems too costly and uncertain to justify relegating Jose Ramirez to corner outfield/utility duties. It’s hard to see the Rays coughing up the cash (and talent) needed to land Frazier, though he’d be a possible first base/DH candidate in Tampa Bay. The Marlins need a righty bat, but re-upped Martin Prado to play third and seem to like Justin Bour as at least a semi-regular at first; without a DH slot, there likely isn’t any kind of match there. Likewise, you could argue for the Mets to add Frazier (at least assuming they deal one or more outfielders); he could share time with Lucas Duda at first and otherwise play third, in theory, but this seems rather implausible unless/until New York trades one or more outfielders and the team has reason to believe that David Wright won’t be able to play in 2017. It’s at least somewhat more possible to imagine the Mariners or Blue Jays taking a look, but those also feel like iffy fits. Neither needs a third baseman or DH, and while they could stand to add Frazier’s pop at first, the presences of Dan Vogelbach and Justin Smoak reduce the utility of adding a fairly expensive piece like Frazier.