White Sox GM Rick Hahn has shaped the team as both a buyer and seller in many major trades over the years, involving Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Peavy, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, and more. Check out today’s video to see Jeff Todd’s evaluation of Hahn’s trade history.
White Sox Rumors
In what’s become one of the most lopsided trades we’ve seen in a long time, the White Sox traded Fernando Tatis Jr. and Erik Johnson to the Padres for James Shields and cash back in 2016. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd tries to explain how this painful deal came about for the Sox, in today’s video.
There isn’t much doubt that the White Sox’s Luis Robert and the Angels’ Jo Adell are the two best outfield prospects in baseball. The prospect gurus at Baseball America, MLB.com and FanGraphs all rank the two that way, and they also place them among the top farmhands in baseball no matter the position. Robert (No. 2 overall at BA, No. 3 at MLB.com and No. 7 at FanGraphs) holds a small edge over Adell (No. 3 at BA, No. 6 at MLB.com and No. 4 at FanGraphs) at two of the three outlets, but they’re lumped so close together that the difference is negligible.
The Cuba-born Robert has already landed a pair of lucrative contracts during his time in professional baseball. Now 22 years old, Robert joined the White Sox in 2017 for a $26MM signing bonus. Robert has since destroyed minor league pitching, including during a 2019 campaign in which he earned his first promotion to Triple-A ball. He batted .297/.341/.634 (136 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 223 plate appearances at that level, though his strikeout and walk rates were below average (24.7% K, 4.9% BB). Robert’s production was enough to convince the White Sox to make yet another sizable investment in him. This past January, they inked Robert to a six-year, $50MM guarantee – a record for a player with no major league service time (the move has gone over quite well). The deal paved the way for Robert to begin as the White Sox’s center fielder in 2020, if a season actually happens.
Adell, meanwhile, probably won’t open 2020 on the Angels’ roster, but it might not be long before he forces his way up and takes the reins in right field. He may be able to play all three outfield spots, but the team already has Justin Upton in left and pretty good player named Mike Trout in center. Before Adell gets to Anaheim, the soon-to-be 21-year-old – who became an Angel when they chose him 10th overall in 2017 – will likely have to improve his production in Triple-A. Adell had little to no success there last season, hitting .264/.321/.355 (67 wRC+) with no homers, a 32.6 percent strikeout rate and a 7.6 walk rate over 132 PA, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he has been extraordinarily productive in the minors. It was only a year ago, for instance, that Adell returned from early season hamstring and ankle injuries to bat .308/.390/.553 (173 wRC+) across 182 PA in Double-A, thereby earning a promotion.
Baseball America regards both Robert and Adell as potential franchise players in the making. Robert obviously has the Triple-A track record on his side, but that doesn’t mean he’ll end up as the more valuable major leaguer. If we’re to believe prospect experts, you really can’t lose between the two of them, but which one would you rather bet on going forward?
(Poll link for app users)
In news that slipped under the radar when it was announced, former top Astros prospect AJ Reed has announced his retirement. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle highlights the decision and analyzes it from the perspective of his former organization.
Reed, a former second-round pick, was once considered one of the game’s premium hitting prospects. He showed an intriguing blend of power and patience on his way up the farm. Reed generally made loud contact and plenty of it, with hefty batting averages on balls in play and unconcerning strikeout rates.
When he debuted with the ’Stros in 2016, Reed seemed quite likely to hit in the majors. After all, he mashed at every level on his way there. The real question was whether he’d do so enough to be a highly valuable player, given his limitations on the field (first base only) and on the bases.
As it turns out, there was a bigger problem lurking. Reed’s strikeout rate had ticked up a bit at Triple-A in 2016. It exploded in the majors. As it turned out, he’d end up taking 199 total plate appearances at the game’s highest level, carrying a 14.2% swinging-strike rate and 35.7% strikeout rate. Reed’s power stroke never played, either. All told, his career batting line sits at an awful .149/.241/.234.
The Astros gave Reed lengthy stints at Triple-A in hopes he’d find his groove. While he was still an above-average hitter there in 2017 and 2018, the trajectory didn’t trend back up. Per Rome, “his weight and conditioning were often problems.” The Houston ultimately gave up hope last year after watching Reed struggle at the highest level of the minors.
Reed landed with the White Sox on a waiver claim, with the rebuilding organization hoping a change of scenery might help. Instead, he struck out in more than four of every ten plate appearances he took at the MLB and Triple-A levels. Reed was outrighted from the 40-man roster in August.
Despite the obvious difficulties, it remains a bit surprising to see Reed hang up his spikes at just 26 years of age. No doubt some organization would’ve been willing to invest resources in hopes of spurring a turnaround. Then again, it’s understandable that Reed would prefer to move on after experiencing such a frustrating turn of fortunes. MLBTR wishes him the best in his future pursuits.
Super-talented, MLB-ready 22-year-olds don’t grow on trees. If you do happen upon one, what are the odds they perfectly fit your roster need and contention window? Viewed from that perspective, and accounting for the context of MLB player valuation, the $50MM risk the White Sox took on Luis Robert is a slam dunk.
Of course, all of that guaranteed cash is payable over a six-year term — the precise amount of time the club could’ve enjoyed him in the majors even without promising another dime. And it could’ve been nearly seven full seasons with a bit of service-time trickery. So, the South Siders are only gaining control over one or two seasons of would-be free agency. (Which is it? Depends upon one’s cynicism levels. And the as-yet-unknown question whether Robert will need to spend further time in the minors once he reaches the big leagues.)
Presuming the options are exercised, the deal maxes out at $88MM over eight campaigns. And that’s on top of the $26MM that the team spent just to lure Robert into the organization in the first place! Compare that to Mookie Betts, one of the game’s most productive younger players, who just secured a record-setting $27MM salary for his final trip through arbitration. The Red Sox and Dodgers got 6+ seasons of Betts for a total cost of about $60MM in salary.
Now, there’s inflation to consider. Betts’s earnings wouldn’t have been nearly that robust had he debuted six seasons earlier. If Robert can produce something like Betts, he’ll surely out-earn Mookie. And the White Sox are picking up one or two added seasons of control, which could be quite valuable. We know how much the Dodgers valued the chance to control Betts for just one season, even while paying him a big salary. Again: if Robert has a career path of that kind, then those option years will be an enormous boon to the White Sox.
The thing is, it’s not really reasonable to compare Robert to a guy like Betts. Can he perform to that level? Sure, he’s considered one of the very best prospects in all of baseball for a reason. But that’s hardly the likeliest outcome. Even putting aside the question of talent and production, there are numerous hiccups that can stall a player’s arbitration earning power. Carlos Correa is only earning $7.4MM in his second-to-last arb-eligible campaign — less than half of what contemporary Francisco Lindor will earn ($16.7MM). Rewind two years and these guys looked like a coin flip on value. As it turns out, Correa dealt with ill-timed injuries that significantly dented his ability to earn via arbitration.
Running the numbers, it’s hard to imagine you could really go much higher with an up-front guarantee for a pre-MLB player — at least, perhaps, unless the team was able to pick up yet more future control. The Robert contract, which tops the White Sox’ deal last year with Eloy Jimenez, included a pretty hefty premium to achieve cost certainty and some added control (along with, perhaps, the ability to promote him on Opening Day 2020 without concern for service time). That said, the White Sox have an excellent track record with extensions, having achieved big value in the past with players such as Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.
How do you view the deal? (Poll link for app users.)
It’s not always fair to judge baseball operations leaders for free agent signings. In many cases, the biggest contracts are negotiated to varying extents by ownership. The same can hold true of major extensions. It’s just tough to know from the outside.
There’s obviously involvement from above in trade scenarios as well. But, when it comes to exchanging rights to some players for others, it stands to reason the role of the general manager is all the more clear.
In any event, for what it’s worth, it seemed an opportune moment to take a look back at the trade track records of some of the general managers around the game. After covering the Diamondbacks’ Mike Hazen, former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, the Brewers’ David Stearns, the Angels’ Billy Eppler and the Rockies’ Jeff Bridich, let’s venture to the South Side of Chicago and evaluate Rick Hahn of the White Sox. Here’s a look at Hahn’s deals since he was promoted prior to the 2013 campaign (in chronological order and excluding minor deals; full details at transaction link.)
- Acquired OF Avisail Garcia, RHPs Frankie Montas and J.B. Wendelken, and SS Cleuluis Rondon for RHP Jake Peavy in three-team trade.
- Acquired OF Leury Garcia from Rangers for OF Alex Rios
- Acquired OF Adam Eaton for LHP Hector Santiago and OF Brandon Jacobs in three-team trade
- Acquired 3B Matt Davidson from Diamondbacks for RHP Addison Reed
- Acquired RHPs Miguel Chalas and Mark Blackmar from Orioles for OF Alejandro De Aza
- Acquired RHP Nolan Sanburn from Athletics for 1B Adam Dunn
- Acquired RHPs Jeff Samardzija and Gabriel Ynoa from Athletics for SS Marcus Semien, RHP Chris Bassitt, C Josh Phegley and 1B Rangel Ravelo
- Acquired LHP Dan Jennings from Marlins for RHP Andre Rienzo
- Acquired 3B Todd Frazier for RHP Frankie Montas, INF Micah Johnson and OF Trayce Thompson in three-team trade
- Acquired RHP Tommy Kahnle from Rockies for RHP Yency Almonte
- Acquired INF Brett Lawrie from Athletics for RHP J.B. Wendelken and LHP Zack Erwin
- Acquired RHP James Shields from Padres for SS Fernando Tatis Jr. and RHP Erik Johnson
- Acquired OF Charlie Tilson from Cardinals for LHP Zach Duke
- Acquired LHP Colton Turner from Blue Jays for C Dioner Navarro
- Acquired INF Yoan Moncada, RHPs Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz, and OF Luis Alexander Basabe from Red Sox for LHP Chris Sale
- Acquired RHPs Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning from Nationals for OF Adam Eaton
- Acquired OF Eloy Jimenez, RHP Dylan Cease, 1B Matt Rose and INF Bryant Flete from Cubs for LHP Jose Quintana
- Acquired OFs Blake Rutherford and Tito Polo, RHP Tyler Clippard and LHP Ian Clarkin from Yankees for 3B Todd Frazier and RHPs David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle
- Acquired LHP Kodi Medeiros and RHP Wilber Perez from Brewers for RHP Joakim Soria
- Acquired LHP Caleb Frare from Yankees for $1.5MM in international bonus pool money
- Acquired RHP Felix Paulino from Phillies for LHP Luis Avilan
- Acquired RHP Alex Colome from Mariners for C Omar Narvaez
- Acquired RHP Ivan Nova from Pirates for RHP Yordi Rosario and $500K in international bonus pool money
- Acquired 1B Yonder Alonso from Indians for OF Alex Call
- Acquired RHPs Joe Jarneski and Ray Castro from Rangers for RHP Nate Jones, international bonus pool money and cash
What do you think of Hahn’s trade history? (Poll link for app users)
Agent Rafa Nieves’ newly-founded Republik Sports agency will represent several players formerly represented by Nieves at Wasserman. A video published earlier today on Republik’s official Twitter feed reveals the names of 11 players who will continue to be represented by Nieves at this new firm.
We already heard last night that Nationals outfielder Victor Robles (a Nieves client at Wasserman) was joining Republik, and the other ten names cited in the video include a mix of prominent veteran and up-and-coming stars. The list consists of Indians infielder Jose Ramirez, Reds right-hander Luis Castillo, Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco, Athletics right-hander Frankie Montas, Blue Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, Rockies righty Antonio Senzatela, Padres outfielder Franchy Cordero, Marlins catcher Francisco Cervelli, and White Sox relievers Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera.
As we’ve seen in several past cases of representatives changing agencies or starting new agencies, it’s quite common for players to continue using the same agent even after that rep becomes part of another company. We saw this in 2017 with Nieves himself, as several of the aforementioned players (namely Ramirez, Robles, Herrera, Colome, Cervelli, Polanco, and Montas) all went with Nieves when the agent moved from the Beverly Hills Sports Council to Wasserman.
Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Eloy Jiménez’s MLB debut. With that in mind, it’s an interesting time to look back at the blockbuster crosstown deal that brought the 23-year-old slugger to the South Side.
Jiménez wasn’t the headlining name of that July 2017 swap. That was José Quintana, with good reason. The southpaw had emerged as one of the game’s most consistent, reliable starters. True, he always played second fiddle to Chris Sale, but he was perhaps the game’s preeminent #2. Over the three-plus seasons preceding the deal, Quintana combined for a 3.47 ERA/3.31 FIP with no injury history to speak of. Equally as appealing, the hurler was controlled at well below market rates through 2020 thanks to an early-career extension.
The appeal for the Cubs was apparent. They had a superlative position player core that had carried them to the 2016 World Series. The starting rotation was already a strength, but one with some question marks on the horizon. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey were each approaching free agency, and it was fair to wonder for how much longer Jon Lester could post ace-level production. Locking in a cheap, young rotation stalwart like Quintana made perfect sense for that season and beyond.
It came at a hefty price. Jiménez, Baseball America’s #14 prospect entering that season, centered the package for the White Sox. Alongside him came another top 100 prospect, flamethrowing right-hander Dylan Cease. It was easy to see the South Siders’ thinking, too. Never able to build a competent roster around Sale, Quintana, Adam Eaton and José Abreu, the Sox had already pivoted to a teardown. Abreu stuck around, but the rest of the core was shipped off for future assets. It was a fascinating, if mutually-understandable swap, with the clubs’ crosstown rivalry no doubt adding intrigue. How have things actually played out?
To some extent, as expected. Quintana has remained remarkably durable and taken the ball every fifth day. That’s been especially useful for a team whose concerns about its long-term pitching outlook have generally proven true. Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Quintana have each been dependable, while big ticket free agent Yu Darvish has had some extreme highs and lows.
Despite a deluge of recent early-round picks on college arms, though, the Cubs haven’t established any sort of pitching pipeline from the farm system to supplement that quartet. On the one hand, that lack of cheap, in-house pitching makes acquiring Quintana all the more meaningful. Yet it’s also played some role in keeping the Cubs from reaching the dynastic heights some had anticipated.
Since the deal, the Cubs have been solid, but not quite at the level one could’ve reasonably hoped for. That characterization also applies to Quintana himself. The Colombian lefty has given the Cubs 400+ innings of 4.23 ERA/3.95 FIP ball. That’s about league average production on a rate basis. With his exceptional durability, he’s a valuable pitcher, especially relative to his contract. But he hasn’t pitched at the level he showed on the other side of town. Now 31, Quintana’s entering the final season (assuming there is a season) of the aforementioned extension. He’s a plausible but uncertain candidate for a qualifying offer next winter, which could allow the Cubs to add a draft pick.
Even if Quintana does net a compensatory pick, that player won’t project to be anywhere near the level of Jiménez. (That, of course, is what the Cubs expected, since there was always going to be a high price to pay for a pitcher of Quintana’s caliber). Not only did Jiménez continue to thrive in the White Sox’s system, he’s already found major league success.
Last season, Jiménez hit .267/.315/.513 (116 wRC+) with 31 home runs in 504 plate appearances. He’s not without his flaws; he didn’t rate well in left field and could perhaps stand to be a little more patient at the plate. Yet there’s no questioning Jiménez’s massive power upside, and he certainly looks the part of a potential middle-of-the-order force. Clearly, the White Sox expect him to be just that, having inked him to a $43MM guarantee that could keep him in Chicago through 2026. So continues the long line of early-career extensions the organization has amassed in recent years. Those deals (Quintana’s included) have paid huge dividends on the whole.
Cease, too, has a shot at emerging as a long-term asset. He raised his stock immediately after the trade with a strong season and a half in the minors. That didn’t translate in his first 14 MLB starts last season, but there are things to dream on. Cease posted a solid 24.9% strikeout rate as a rookie while averaging 96.5 MPH on his fastball. His is a higher-variance profile than Jiménez’s, but the Sox surely hope he can emerge as a useful arm in the near future, even if as a reliever.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s probably fair to say the Cubs wouldn’t make this deal again. It was a perfectly defensible move at the time, and Quintana has capably filled a key need on the roster. It’s not a disaster, as a few of the front office’s free agent moves have been. But Quintana’s slight regression on the North Side, combined with Jiménez’s continued blossoming offensively, looks to have tipped the scales in the White Sox’s favor.
It’s now official: MLB rosters are frozen. We won’t see any players coming and going for some times. And it’s unlikely that any new long-term extensions will be announced. But that doesn’t mean such deals won’t be explored. Some may already have advanced nearly to completion before the global pandemic intervened.
While we may have to wait to learn who the targets are and see what deals get done, there’s a silver lining: more time for rampant speculation! Okay, we’re not going to speculate here; rather, we’ll tick through some interesting possibilities on paper. Remember, we’ve seen an increasing prevalence of deals with less-experienced players (even some without any MLB service) and with new player types (early-career relievers and utilitymen).
In the present MLB environment, value is king and the old forms are fading. We’ve already checked in on the NL East, NL Central, NL West, AL East, and AL West. To round things out, here are some possible extension candidates from the AL Central …
Francisco Lindor is the big story. Unfortunately, that ship seems to have sailed: he informed the team he’d like to halt talks since the sides weren’t making progress. Unless there’s a change of heart and another attempt during the current pause, Lindor is not going to sign onto a long-term deal (at least, before he has reached his final season of arbitration eligibility later in 2020).
There are a few other interesting candidates. Top hurlers Mike Clevinger and Brad Hand would be of interest, but the Cleveland org may not be able to afford these high-end veterans. Perhaps a few others would be more achievable targets for the cost-efficient Indians. Outfielder Oscar Mercado has only 139 days of service under his belt, meaning he’s two full seasons away from likely Super Two arbitration qualification. Young starters Shane Bieber and Adam Plutko are each in the 1+ service class, so they shouldn’t cost all that much and could convey significant upside.
There are certainly some interesting questions for the K.C. organization to consider. Slugger Jorge Soler had an eye-popping 2019 … but is he going to keep it going and should the team lock into a player who profiles best as a DH? And how about exciting young shortstop Adalberto Mondesi? There’s no real limit to his ceiling but he had some struggles last year and is still working back from a shoulder injury.
The situation is equally uncertain on the pitching side. Righty Brad Keller has had success through two full MLB seasons but isn’t exactly a top-of-the-rotation arm. You could perhaps make a case for relievers Scott Barlow and Tim Hill, though there doesn’t seem to be a pressing reason to push for a deal with either.
The Detroit MLB roster turned in a roundly awful 2019 season. But it still has a few potential targets. The versatile Niko Goodrum could be a part of quite a few rosters around the game, though there’s no particular need to lock into him for the long haul. There are more interesting candidates on the pitching side: starter Matthew Boyd and reliever Joe Jimenez. The former has a whole lot of upside and three more seasons of team control remaining; perhaps the club could take a bit of a gamble. As for Jimenez, 2020 is something of a boom or bust year — rack up a lot of saves and he’ll get a big first-time arbitration payday; stumble and he may not do very well at all. Perhaps he and the club could take share the risk over a longer term.
It’s probably a bit too soon to consider the top of the farm system for deals. But this time next winter, the Tigers could have a host of interesting candidates.
Both of last winter’s extensions turned out well; the team struck again more recently with Miguel Sano. Perhaps the most obvious remaining candidate is quality young righty Jose Berrios, who is entering his first season of arbitration eligibility. Now that he’s in line for bigger money, it’ll cost more to do a deal. The sides have struck out in previous talks. Byron Buxton is also a 3+ service-class player. There’s likely too much uncertainty in his outlook to structure a deal, but it’s not out of the question.
It’s tempting to stake out a case for a deal with breakout catcher Mitch Garver, but he’s already 29 years of age and still a full season away from arbitration eligibility. Outfielder Eddie Rosario is two seasons from the open market, but that also gives him greater leverage for a higher price tag. Would the Twins really want to commit?
How about a few wild cards? Infielder Luis Arraez should at least be a nice utility player for years to come. There might be upside in an early deal for the plate-discipline magician. And reliever Taylor Rogers is another interesting target. He’s still three seasons from free agency but gets more impressive with each successive campaign. The Twins will owe him a big raise on his $4.45MM salary if he keeps racking up saves; perhaps a deal could suit both sides.
The South Siders have already extended a wide swath of their roster. You might wonder whether there are any candidates left. But the team is exceptionally aggressive in this arena and can’t be counted out on exploring deals with just about anyone of interest.
The most obvious candidate at this point is righty Lucas Giolito. We recently broke down his case for an extension. You could perhaps argue for fellow starters Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease, or even injury rehabbers Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon, but there’s likely too much uncertainty in each of those situations for the sides to see eye to eye. The same is true of outfielder Nomar Mazara.
If you’re looking for a sleeper candidate … how about second baseman Nick Madrigal? The Sox haven’t been shy at all with pre-MLB extensions and the former fourth-overall pick is just about ready for a run at the game’s highest level.
The White Sox have optioned right-hander Michael Kopech to Triple-A Charlotte, the team announced. Whenever the season gets underway, he’ll open on the minor league side of things.
That’s long seemed like a formality. The 23-year-old Kopech is one of baseball’s premier pitching prospects but underwent Tommy John surgery late in 2018, shortly after making his big league debut. He returned to game activity during Cactus League play prior to MLB’s shutdown but worked just one inning. It was an impressive frame, as Kopech topped 100 mph regularly with his heater and set down all three hitters he faced — one via strikeout.
The White Sox will surely want to proceed slowly with Kopech as they build him back up to a starter’s workload. The rebuilt South Siders are aiming for a return to competitiveness in the AL Central beginning in 2020 — as evidenced by their winter additions of Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion and Gio Gonzalez — but Kopech’s health is of greater importance on a long-term scale.
The 2020 rotation will be comprised primarily of Keuchel, Gonzalez, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and a combination of Carlos Rodon (also rehabbing from Tommy John) and Reynaldo Lopez. But it’s hard for Sox fans not to dream on an eventual rotation that includes healthy versions of Giolito, Kopech and Cease leading what could be one of the game’s more talented collections of arms. Of course, that assumes both Cease and Kopech make good on their lofty prospect rankings, and as highlighted by Lopez’s own struggles to date, there are no such guarantees. Still, it’s only logical to see Kopech head to Charlotte for a bit as he ramps back up in a more controlled setting.