Earlier this week, Mark Polishuk examined the potential trade market for Jose Abreu. Another White Sox player who’s likely to receive calls this offseason is right fielder Avisail Garcia, who is coming off a 4.2 fWAR season and is signed through 2019.
Prior to 2017, Fangraphs rated Garcia below replacement level for his career. But last offseason, the Venezuelan native shed some weight and got off to a hot start in April. He continued to crush the ball throughout the first half en route to his first All-Star selection. Although Garcia had a rough July, he finished the season strong, resulting in a .330/.380/.506 batting line. That performance was good for a 137 wRC+, which tied Justin Upton for the 22nd-best mark in all of baseball.
During a season’s end press conference, White Sox GM Rick Hahn admitted that the team is unlikely to win any time soon. “Even under the most optimistic projections of our ability to contend, certainly ’18 and ’19 don’t include the bulk of the time when we anticipate having a window open to us,” Hahn told reporters. This would make Garcia a prime candidate to move for young talent, especially coming off a career year.
The process of putting an approximate trade value on Garcia, however, is incredibly complicated. Unlike teammate Abreu, the outfielder doesn’t have a long track record of success, and it’s not certain he’ll be able to muster something resembling his 2017 production in future years.
One could point to a change in batted ball profile as an indicator that this past year’s success is sustainable. Garcia improved his hard contact and medium contact rates by small margins over his 2016 figures, in addition to increasing his fly ball rate by four percentage points. The most dramatic change was probably his pull rate; Garcia pulled the ball 25% more often this past season than he did the year before. All told, he ranked 53rd in baseball in hard contact rate (35.3%), and 36th in average exit velocity (90.1 MPH).
Of course, those improvements don’t entirely justify an 83-point jump in batting average on balls in play. His .392 BABIP led all of baseball by a large margin, topping second-place Charlie Blackmon’s figure by a 21-point margin. That number is likely to regress significantly, which makes it tough to buy Garcia a legitimate .300 hitter.
That being said, Garcia’s contract will certainly have some surplus value in the eyes of rival teams. He may not have the reputation necessary to bring back a truly elite minor-leaguer, but it’s not hard to imagine some team forking over a top-100 or even top-50 prospect in hopes that Garcia can be a 3-win player for them for each of the next two seasons. When looking at potential suitors, it’s probably best to examine those teams for whom he would provide an obvious upgrade even if he were to regress a bit.
The Blue Jays have the resources to swing a deal and a need in the outfield, but might prefer to find another left-handed option. It also might not make much sense to trade for Garcia when Anthony Alford will probably debut at some point in 2017.
The Rays could use a righty-hitting outfielder, and they have a number of prospects in a more appropriate range to headline a deal for Garcia. Making such a trade would be a more realistic alternative to spending money on a right-handed outfielder in free agency, as Tampa Bay obviously isn’t known for their ability to spend.
Although their outfield is fairly crowded already, the Indians saw right-handed-hitting Austin Jackson reach free agency this offseason. With questions surrounding the health of Brandon Guyer, the Tribe would probably be well-served to add another righty option to their outfield group. They won’t be inclined to give up Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie, but they do have a number of intriguing upside youngsters; they might be able to lure Garcia away from their division rivals with some combination of those players.
The Rockies seem like a really good match on paper; they’re in need of an outfielder who bats from the right side, and have prospects they could afford to give up if they believed in the new version of Garcia.
The Diamondbacks seem like the best match to me. They have a J.D. Martinez-sized hole to fill in the outfield, and they’re ready to push for contention again in 2018. With Pavin Smith and Jon Duplantier at least a full year away from contributing, Arizona could opt to trade one of them as a cheaper alternative to the nine-figure contract Martinez would require in order to return. Because he’s such a defensive liability, Martinez actually finished 2017 with a lower fWAR than Garcia, who played roughly average defense for Chicago. That’s obviously not to say that Garcia should be the more coveted player, but he’s definitely got his pros as an alternative.
Other options that make some level of sense include the Giants and Rangers. But the conundrum here is that it’s hard to predict exactly how teams will value Garcia, including the White Sox themselves. It’s not often that career sub-replacement outfielders suddenly become All-Stars, so it will be interesting to track rumors surrounding Avi this offseason and see what develops.