There was never going to be a deadline deal that dramatically affected the fortunes of the 2019 White Sox. After all, they've started the second half on a 4-14 slide, eliminating them from the midseason playoff projections of even the most overzealous fan.
So what does the Cleveland Indians making a trade to improve their chances of winning this season's AL Central crown have to do with the South Siders?
Well, a lot, actually. Because the Indians just got better in the long term. You know, the same long term that the White Sox have been building toward.
The Indians dealt starting pitcher Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds as part of an at-this-point unannounced but widely reported three-team deal that returned outfielder Yasiel Puig and pitching prospect Scott Moss from their in-state rivals and outfielder Franmil Reyes and pitching prospect Logan Allen from the San Diego Padres. Reds outfield prospect Taylor Trammell — that organization’s top-ranked prospect and a top-30 prospect in baseball — went to San Diego in the deal.
All that ends up with the Indians adding two new everyday hitters and a pitching prospect ranked in the top 100 who becomes the No. 3 prospect in that organization and losing a guy who has been at times in recent seasons one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
Now, when it comes to the White Sox fallout of this trade, the only immediate concern is whether they’ll have to brawl with Puig at some point during the seven games they have against the Indians in September.
The Reds' and Pirates' benches have cleared. pic.twitter.com/za8hYc0zuX— FOX Sports Cincinnati (@FOXSportsCincy) July 31, 2019
But the franchise's future remains incredibly bright, even if the woeful stretch coming out of the All-Star break has somewhat dampened the excitement generated by a positive-filled first half. While the last few weeks have been a tad too reminiscent of the 2017 and 2018 teams that lost a combined 195 games, the 2019 performances of Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, James McCann, Jose Abreu, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal provide plenty of reason to believe that the White Sox could contend in 2020.
Well, the AL Central in which they’ll be attempting to contend in just got a sizable shake-up with this trade.
The headliner coming back to the Indians is Puig, and he's slated to hit free agency after the season is over, making it possible that he's a mere rental. But Reyes is far from a rental, not heading to free agency until 2025. The Indians just added a bat that could be in the middle of their lineup for the next half decade, and Reyes swings a mean stick. He's got 27 homers in 98 games this season, putting him on pace to finish the season with more than 40 long balls. That's, you know, a lot. And it's also something the White Sox are now going to have to figure out how to avoid in 19 games a season as they move into the contention phase of their rebuilding project.
Allen is ranked as a top-100 prospect, which could mean that Bauer, who has one season remaining on his contract, was just replaced in the Indians' long-term rotation. Obviously expecting an unproven prospect to be as good as Bauer's been is jumping the gun a little bit. But the clock was ticking on how long Bauer could be an impact arm for the Indians. There's a lot more time on Allen's clock, as well as Reyes', for that matter.
The bottom line is the Indians' long-term fortunes dramatically improved Tuesday night. And while the White Sox aren't building a roster for years to come based on what their division opponents will look like, it adds to the calculus of how difficult it will be for the White Sox to compete for division titles into the future.
The good news for 2020, of course, is that Bauer is out of the AL Central. But the Indians have shown as they've chased down the Twins that they're not exactly experiencing the closing of their contention window many believed was coming in the offseason and earlier this season. It's quite possible the Indians aren't going anywhere.
The White Sox will have to go up against a Cleveland team that features star sluggers Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana for at least the two seasons that follow this one. Now add Reyes to that mix, as well. That's a lot of pop, and we've seen what a lot of pop can do when White Sox pitching has been bludgeoned by the Twins this season. And though Bauer's gone, the Indians still have plenty of team control left on the contracts of starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber.
Nothing that's going on around the division will impact when the White Sox are ready to enter their contention phase. That will be based on the development of the White Sox core players, many of whom were listed above and have had positive 2019 campaigns to this point.
But say the White Sox are ready to contend in 2020. It seems like their path to a division title might have just gotten tougher. And the details of this trade, the years of control of some of the players involved, could mean that the road will stay tough into 2021. And 2022. And 2023. And so on.
Anyone counting on the White Sox ascending as the Indians were fading out of the spotlight in the division they've dominated in recent years might need to rethink some things. The Indians might not be going anywhere.