They’d prefer to retain their compensatory draft pick, but the White Sox have said all along they’d relinquish it for the right player.
Sounds like they may soon need to make that choice.
The White Sox -- a team some see as a bona fide contender with at least one more addition -- were listed Thursday as one of six clubs in pursuit of free agent shortstop Ian Desmond, according to Jon Heyman. A baseball source confirmed the report.
Desmond -- whom the White Sox have reportedly kept tabs on along with Dexter Fowler -- has averaged 3.8 f-Wins Above Replacement the past four seasons and would provide a surefire solution to one of the team’s biggest question marks.
But, because Desmond rejected a qualifying offer from the Washington Nationals in December, the White Sox would have to surrender the 28th overall pick to sign him. The team would still retain its first pick (10th overall) as all top-10 selections are protected.
“We’ve engaged on players this past offseason that would have cost us the pick,” general manager Rick Hahn said at SoxFest last month. “At some level, you balance the ability to improve this club versus the long-term impact that losing a pick like that would have. Obviously we are lucky -- it’s good we have the 10th pick and it’s protected. If for whatever reason we did wind up without the 28th pick, we still would at least have a full complement of our picks.”
Instead of trading away Chris Sale and Jose Quintana to restock the farm system, the White Sox have attempted to improve this offseason after three consecutive losing seasons.
The club has made several nice moves, particularly at second and third base, with the additions of Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier. The White Sox ranked 30th in OPS at those spots in 2015.
They also believe they’ve upgraded at catcher with Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila and have strengthened the back end of their rotation by signing Mat Latos.
But there’s a consensus (see: nearly every national writer) among those in the industry that the White Sox could use more.
The Latos signing occurred several weeks after ZiPS projected 84-85 wins from the White Sox. At the time, ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski believed the White Sox could enter April with the highest projection in the division, though he still hoped to see the club add more players. Desmond is one of the first names he mentioned.
Currently, the White Sox have second-year man Tyler Saladino, who has played in 68 big league games, penciled in at shortstop. The White Sox believe in Saladino’s glove and think he should improve upon a .602 OPS. Top prospect Tim Anderson also could make an impact in 2016, though he’d likely benefit from more development time in the minors.
“It’s a franchise that still has some holes and it’s a division that’s ripe for the taking,” Szymborksi said. “A few average adds here would really improve the chances of the White Sox and kind of even out that risk.
“Fortune favors the bold.
“Baseball’s structure favors the teams that are bold because .500 teams don’t get the high draft picks and they don’t make the playoffs.
“I think they could do more simply because of the opportunity. It’s kind of almost like being pot-committed in a way -- they’ve thrown in most of their chips, and at some point you’re going to throw in all your chips.”
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Though his production was down in 2015 -- his .674 OPS was the lowest of his career -- Desmond finished the season strong. He produced a .777 OPS in the second half, hitting 12 of 19 homers in 72 games.
Desmond has averaged 22 home runs per season each of the last four years. He also is considered a good, athletic defender at short with a strong arm. The veteran shortstop also carries a positive reputation among teammates.
The White Sox have to weigh those factors against what their extra pick could bring.
They’ve been selective about players for whom they would surrender the comp pick.
They pursued outfielder Alex Gordon until the day he returned to Kansas City last month. But aside from Desmond, Fowler and Justin Upton -- and that was just a whisper -- they haven’t been linked to any of the other 12 players who received a qualifying offer.
The compensatory selection would move up to No. 27 overall if the Baltimore Orioles sign Yovani Gallardo -- a deal that is reportedly close. Last year, the slotted signing bonus for the 27th pick was worth $2,004,600 million.
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With their top three picks, including the No. 49 selection, the White Sox would have nearly $6.5 million in their bonus pool. That amount would help the White Sox replenish a system left thin by two free-agent signings (Melky Cabrera and David Robertson) and three significant trades (Frazier, Lawrie and Jeff Samardzija) completed since December 2014.
The White Sox surrendered seven homegrown players -- Rangel Ravelo, Trayce Thompson, Micah Johnson, Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, Chris Bassitt and Zach Eflin -- and two additional prospects acquired in trades (Frankie Montas and J.B. Wendelken) to complete their deals. They also forfeited their second- and third-round selections in the 2015 draft to sign Cabrera and Robertson. On Thursday, ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the White Sox as having the No. 22 farm system in baseball.
But if Desmond -- or Fowler -- is the right fit, the White Sox gladly would surrender one more pick.
“The draft pick has real value,” Hahn said. “A couple of million dollars worth of bonus money or pool money, which allows you to be flexible with that draft or pay some forward or pay some back. That said, we would still have two in the top 48 or so and our second round would remain in tact.”