The White Sox seem to be gradually accepting that this isn’t their year. A miserable 8-21 start in March and April put them in a bad spot out of the gate. They managed to stay afloat by going 15-14 in May and then 13-13 in June, keeping them near contention in a weak American League Central division. But they slid a bit further recently, going 2-6 in July prior to the All-Star break. Their overall record of 38-54 has them eight games back in the division and even further back in the Wild Card race.
As of about a month ago, it was reported that they were hoping to limit their upcoming summer sell-off to just rental players. But reporting from yesterday indicates they have widened that stance, now willing to trade just about anyone on the roster apart from Luis Robert Jr., Dylan Cease, Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jiménez.
One of the more interesting trade candidates they will have to consider is shortstop Tim Anderson. The extension he signed with the club back in 2017 was guaranteed through 2022 with a pair of club options. The Sox triggered the 2023 option and still have the potential to do so again for 2024.
The decision to trigger the first option was an easy one, as Anderson had emerged as a solid above-average regular for the club over the course of his deal. He was a solid speed-and-defense player in the first couple of years but subpar at the plate. He took a huge step forward in 2019 and maintained it in the years to come. From 2019 to 2022, he hit .318/.347/.473 for a wRC+ of 123, indicating he was 23% above league average. When combined with his baserunning and glovework, he was able to produce 13.6 wins above replacement in 374 games, according to the calculations of FanGraphs.
At the end of last season, the Sox had to decide between triggering a $12.5MM option for 2023 or buying him out for $1MM. With many premier shortstops earning north of $30MM annually, that price point made Anderson a bargain. Unfortunately, this year has been a nightmare for him. He’s yet to hit a home run this season and is batting .223/.259/.263 overall for a wRC+ of just 43, the worst production in the majors among players with at least 250 plate appearances. The advanced defensive metrics also consider him to be below average this year. Those metrics can be fickle on a year-to-year basis but this would be the second straight season they have all had him in the negative range.
On the offensive side of things, if one wanted to look for signs of hope, there are things to squint at. Anderson’s Statcast numbers aren’t drastically different from previous seasons. His average exit velocity of 88.3 mph is in the same range as where he’s been in recent years and is even above his career average of 87.5. His 109.6 mph max exit velo and 40.9% hard hit rate are similar to other seasons as well. His sprint feet of 27.2 feet per second is about a foot shy of his norms, but that’s not too shocking given that he missed about three weeks with a left knee sprain.
What seems to be a real factor is launch angle, which is averaging 0.5 degrees this year, well below his career average of 6.6. His 65.1% ground ball rate is well above the 42.5% league average. Anderson has always had above-average grounder rates but was at 52% for his career coming into this campaign. All of that would perhaps explain why he doesn’t have a home run and why his .284 batting average on balls in play is so far beneath the .376 mark he had during his strong 2019-2022 stretch.
Perhaps Anderson can produce better results going forward just by pounding the ball into the dirt less often. Regardless, the Sox have a few weeks to decide between a few different paths. One is to trade Anderson, which they are apparently open to doing, since he wasn’t listed as one of the players that are off-limits. However, doing so would mean selling when his value is at an extremely low ebb, given his awful results so far this year.
It’s possible that some clubs are willing to overlook the rough season and take a shot on him. The upcoming free agent class is very light on position players, meaning the crop of available trade candidates is likely to be similar. There are several contenders who could use middle infield reinforcements, such as the Giants, Marlins, Angels, Dodgers and Brewers. Those clubs may not have too many options for lining up on trades. The Cardinals will likely listen to offers on Paul DeJong, but he has his own issues with inconsistency and is no guarantee to be moved with a couple of club options remaining. Teams like the Orioles and Guardians have many infield prospects and could be open trading from their respective surpluses, but they would likely be looking to part with the players who aren’t helping them right now.
Perhaps that leads to someone making the Sox an intriguing offer, but it will undoubtedly be less than what they could have gotten in the past or could potentially get in the future. The other path would be to hang onto Anderson and hope he finishes strong enough for them to justify triggering his $14MM option for 2024 instead of the $1MM buyout. If he’s able to return to his previous level of performance, that would still be good value.
If Anderson were indeed able to get back to being a solid everyday player, he could perhaps help the club have better outcomes next year. Even if the club stayed on the outside of a playoff race, he could increase his trade value relative to where it is today. But the risk would be in hanging onto him and spending $13MM on another disappointing season. There’s also the injury question to consider, as various ailments have prevented Anderson from tallying 125 games in any individual season since 2018. He’s since battled a right ankle injury, two right groin injuries, two left hamstring injuries, a sagittal band tear on his left middle finger and this year’s left knee sprain.
The third path would be to sign Anderson to an extension, something he openly pined for back in February. No deal has come together up until this point and Anderson’s leverage has surely dropped dramatically since then, when he said there would be “no discounts” and that he wanted to be “treated fair.” It’s unknown if the Sox ever had any formal negotiations with Anderson’s camp, but any offers they may have made at that point would undoubtedly be dropped if talks resumed. If the club believed in Anderson’s ability to get back on track, perhaps they would try to buy low and get him to agree to a lengthier pact, though doing so would essentially carry the same risks as simply triggering his 2024 option, only more so.
Each path comes with its own upsides and downsides, depending on what the future holds. Holding onto him for 2024 or longer is the smart thing if he bounces back but the wrong move if he doesn’t, while the inverse is true of the trading path. What do you think is the right choice? Have your say in the poll below. (Link to poll for app users)