For a second consecutive offseason, the White Sox are showing some interest in Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, writes USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. Last winter’s talks between the two sides (obviously) didn’t lead to a deal, but the Sox and Dodgers have once again “engaged in preliminary trade talks” surrounding Pederson, per the report.
Chicago’s need for a right fielder is evident just by looking up and down the roster, and GM Rick Hahn has clearly indicated that right field could be an area of focus this winter. Pederson would provide a short-term option for the Sox in that regard, as he’s entering his final season of club control and is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $8.5MM in 2020.
Pederson, 28 next April, hit .249/.339/.538 in 514 plate appearances with the Dodgers in 2019, belting a career-high 36 home runs along the way (although any home run totals from 2019 should be taken with a grain of salt, given the juiced ball and leaguewide home run boom). Both OPS+ and wRC+ regarded Pederson as 27 percent better than a league-average hitter — the third time in the past four years that he’s been to 25 to 28 percent better than average in the estimation of those park- and league-adjusted metrics. For a White Sox club that saw its right fielders post an astonishingly terrible .220/.277/.288 batting line in 2019, Pederson’s appeal isn’t hard to see.
That said, it’s also worth noting that Pederson has been used primarily as a platoon player, so he’s not exactly a cure-all to the White Sox’ ailments in right. The Dodgers afforded Pederson just 50 plate appearances against lefties in 2019, and in 375 career plate appearances against same-handed pitchers, he’s a .188/.263/.310 hitter. The Sox (or any other club) would surely need a right-handed-hitting complement for Pederson in 2020, but a part-time asset in that mold shouldn’t be too tough to unearth.
As for the Dodgers, their motivation for moving Pederson likely comes down to a potential outfield surplus. Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo, A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez are all viable option in the outfield, and Matt Beaty also saw time in left field after spending most of his minor league career as a corner infielder. Outfielder Kyle Garlick made his MLB debut in 2019 as well.
That’s not to say that Pederson is purely expendable, but the Dodgers’ outfield depth is a clear source of strength. And with Pederson set to hit the open market in a year’s time, flipping him for some help in another area of need — the bullpen, perhaps — while freeing up additional dollars to spend in free agency could be a sensible pursuit. That’d be all the more true were the front office to succeed in signing one of Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson, both of whom are reported to be of interest. A successful pursuit of either premium third baseman could push Justin Turner to first or second base, crowding the right side of the infield and making Bellinger even likelier to spend all of his time in the outfield. (Alternatively, it could make Turner himself a trade candidate.)
Of course, the Dodgers have perhaps the deepest pockets of any club in baseball, so there’s an argument that they should simply keep Pederson, pick up an additional high-end talent or two, and operate with an unparalleled level of depth in spite of the cost. But that hasn’t been this front office or ownership group’s preferred course of action in recent years; the Dodgers haven’t paid the luxury tax since 2016 and are currently about $29MM shy of the $208MM luxury barrier, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource.