On this date one year ago, the Minnesota Twins were 39-50, placing them 15 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central and 11 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot. They fell a little bit further back by the deadline and decided they had to do some selling. This was surely a disappointing result after two straight division titles and three postseason berths in four years, but they didn’t have much choice. Injuries and underperformance forced them to punt the season for the sake of the future. However, they still wanted to return to competing in 2022, selling only rentals like Nelson Cruz, J.A. Happ and Hansel Robles. The one exception was José Berríos, who had a year and a half of team control at the time.
The Twins traded Berríos to the Blue Jays, adding a couple of blue chip prospects to the system in Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson. The hope at the time was that they could bolster their farm but still leave the big league club intact enough to take another shot in 2022. Despite Kenta Maeda’s subsequent Tommy John surgery, it’s still largely gone to plan so far. The club added Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and Chris Paddack this offseason. Even though Paddack followed Maeda down the Tommy John path, the Twins are 49-41, tops in the division, 4 1/2 games ahead of the Guardians.
This year’s White Sox are in a somewhat analogous position to last year’s Twins, although not quite as desperate. They, too, are coming off two consecutive trips to the postseason and had hopes of competing that have been hampered by injury and underperformance. They are currently 43-45, five games behind the Twins in the division and 3 1/2 games out in the Wild Card race. With about three weeks until the deadline, there’s still plenty of time for them to gain some ground and get back in the thick of things. But if things go the other direction and they slip further back, they might consider following the playbook of the Twins last year, picking up some prospects but without destroying the team, and then giving it another go next year.
In a conversation this week between Alyson Footer, Mark Feinsand and Jon Morosi at MLB.com, Morosi shared this thought: “I think it would take a significant tumble for the White Sox for Lucas Giolito to become truly available, but that’s a situation worth watching.” It doesn’t seem like Morosi’s sharing any insider information there, merely speculating on what could become possible in that scenario. Giolito is in the same position as Berríos last year, being a year and a half away from free agency, making him perhaps Chicago’s best chance at recouping a significant prospect return. In terms of rentals, José Abreu is the biggest name but doesn’t seem likely to be dealt given his status within the organization. Johnny Cueto is having a nice season but is 36 years old and probably won’t net a massive haul. Vince Velasquez is doing his usual thing. AJ Pollock is having a poor season, giving him negligible trade value and making it likely he exercises his $10MM player option for next year. Josh Harrison is having an okay-ish season but the 35-year-old utility guy won’t be a hot commodity at the deadline. He also has a $5.5MM club option for next year that comes with a $1.5MM buyout.
Giolito, with his excellent results in recent years and extra control, is perhaps the team’s best shot at really cashing in. One slight problem is that Giolito, like the White Sox, is having a down season. From 2019 to 2021, he put up an ERA of 3.47 over 72 starts, with a 30.7% strikeout rate, 8% walk rate and 35.6% ground ball rate. This year, through 16 starts, his ERA has jumped up to 4.69. His 27.1% strikeout rate and 8.5% walk rate are a bit worse than recent seasons, but not by much. BABIP seems to be a factor here, as his .338 mark on the season is well above his .272 career rate. That’s not pure bad luck, however, since he’s definitely getting hit harder. His 10.4% barrel rate is well above last year’s 6.7% and the 5.6% from the year before. Giolito is only in the 19th percentile of pitchers in terms of hard hit percentage and 29th in terms of average exit velocity.
Those struggles will likely put a dent in the return the White Sox would get in any trade, but they might need to consider it anyway if they truly slip from the race, as their farm system is generally regarded to be in poor shape. Baseball America recently ranked them last in the majors in their most recent list of organizational talent. Ditto for The Athletic and ESPN and MLB Pipeline. FanGraphs places them 29th, ahead of only Atlanta, with no White Sox prospects on their Top 100 list. In the upcoming draft, they are selecting 26th overall and have the 28th-highest total draft pool.
This makes their position outside the playoff race particularly uncomfortable. Since they’re not that far out, they might want to make a big splash at the deadline in order to give the club a boost and get them back into the race. But doing so would involve further weakening a system that is already in very poor shape. At some point, there must be a point where they consider turning their attention to the future for a few months and then trying to reload in the offseason.
In the scenario where Giolito is moved, the rotation wouldn’t be in awful shape next year. Cueto would also be gone as he’s on a one-year deal, but they would still have Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech. That’s still a strong front three to work with. Davis Martin is having a nice season as a depth starter and could perhaps earn a spot at the back of the rotation for next year. Of course, there’s the risk of an injury further depleting the staff, as happened to the Twins when Maeda went down. But they were still able to pivot and overcome that with a busy offseason.
The odds of any of this coming together are still long. With the Sox just 3 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot, one hot week can completely wipe out any thoughts of selling. But the same is true in the other direction, as one bad week could suddenly have them six, seven or eight games out. While trading Giolito now would be selling a bit low given his mediocre year, there would surely be clubs who could look to his past results and feel they could turn him around. Just about every contender is looking for starting pitching, with most clubs being connected to Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas and Tyler Mahle. But many teams will miss out on those three and be looking for other options. If the White Sox want to give a quick boost to their weak farm but then try to compete again while they still have the core of Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Andrew Vaughn and those aforementioned pitchers, this might be their best bet.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.