SAN DIEGO — Rick Hahn said Monday night that his front office spent more time talking trades than it did free-agent signings during the first day of the Winter Meetings.
That doesn't mean anything is imminent — with Hahn adding that the White Sox felt "no urgency" to get any specific moves done during this four-day excursion to Southern California — but it means the South Siders are exploring the trade market with some level of gusto.
Well, given the White Sox need in the outfield, how about this trade candidate: Starling Marte. Who knows if the White Sox have any interest, but they seem to line up as potential fit for his services.
According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking for a "young, controllable catcher" in exchange for the 31-year-old outfielder. The White Sox just happen to have one of those in Zack Collins, who currently sits third on the catching depth chart behind the recently signed Yasmani Grandal and James McCann, both of whom were All Stars in 2019.
Now, the White Sox have been strong in their belief that Collins can help the team into the far future. They spent a top-10 draft pick on him back in 2016, and he's put up some promising numbers in the minor leagues. He got his first taste of big league action in 2019, slashing .186/.307/.349 in 102 at-bats, a pretty small sample size. The numbers that still provide the most hope came after he was sent back to Triple-A in July, when he hit .323/.441/.631 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in 38 games.
The White Sox want to get his bat in the lineup more often. Problem is, they just went out and gave the bulk of the catching duties to Grandal, with another All Star ready to soak up the majority of the backup opportunities behind him. Major league rosters will expand to 26 players in 2019, and there's a good deal of belief that many clubs will use that extra spot to carry a third catcher. Collins has also been mentioned as part of a potential rotation at DH, and he's been working defensively at first base, as well.
Of course, there are also the defensive questions that have hounded Collins since he was drafted. Talk of DH and first base didn't just pop up once the White Sox got Grandal. They were viewed as a potential necessity in case Collins struggled defensively as a big league catcher. Certainly the sample size to this point is nowhere near big enough to determine how he'll fare behind the plate in the long term. But it's a mystery, nonetheless, and something other teams probably know about, too.
As for what kind of fit Marte would be, he posted a career-high .845 OPS in 2019 to go along with a career-high 23 home runs and a career-high 82 RBIs. He was a Gold Glove left fielder when Andrew McCutchen still roamed center field for the Pirates but played center field exclusively the last two seasons, with less-than-ideal production: He had minus-nine Defensive Runs Saved in center in 2019. Of course, the White Sox don't really need a center fielder, with Luis Robert figures to man that position for the bulk of 2020 and beyond, and maybe Marte could be a solution in right field, where they have a pressing need. Marte, though, has never played right field in the major leagues.
The White Sox could use some hitters with better on-base skills, and Marte does not walk, doing so just 25 times in 2019. But he did reach base at a .342 clip, his highest mark since his All-Star season in 2016.
Marte would be an obvious upgrade, but he doesn't have a ton of team control left, which could make the White Sox hesitant to move a top-ranked prospect like Collins in such a deal. Marte is under club control for 2020 and has a team option for 2021. Hahn talked about the front office's lack of desire to move the prospects they've accumulated Monday night.
“There’s been, obviously, the pains and suffering that comes along with the early stages of a rebuild. We endured all that so we would be able to be in a position of building something that was going to be able to win on an annual basis, that was going to have some success for an extended period of time,” Hahn said. “Right now, we are in a bit of an interesting spot.
“Fundamentally, as a fan that has dealt with the hardships over the last three years, you want that benefit, that promised-land side of things to come more quickly. At the same time, we have to keep in mind why we started this and that was to build something sustainable. You don’t want to do anything short-sighted that’s just going to, trade wise, give us a quick bump next year but compromise the extended window we foresee coming when this all comes together.
“You need to be cognizant of that temptation to try to accelerate things. We want to get this to where it needs to be as quickly as possible. We don’t want to do that at the expense of shortening the window or making the window more difficult when it does open, whether that’s in the next few months or it takes a little longer.
“If we are trading a premium type prospect, it’s going to be for someone who will be here for a while.“
So it depends on how "premium" the White Sox believe Collins to be. What's true is that he plays a position that the White Sox now have in surplus, and that's the kind of thing that was supposed to create trade possibilities for this rebuilding organization. That hasn't materialized in many spots, thanks to injuries and under-performance throughout the minor leagues in 2019. But it has materialized at catcher, creating the conditions for a potential deal.
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