Starling Marte

If the White Sox are looking for a trade, how about Starling Marte?

If the White Sox are looking for a trade, how about Starling Marte?

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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Sox Drawer: Moving on from J.D. Martinez, trading for Mookie Betts and more from the hot stove

Sox Drawer: Moving on from J.D. Martinez, trading for Mookie Betts and more from the hot stove

All right, the World Series is over. Free agency is underway. The Hot Stove is here. Let’s begin by sending clairvoyant messages to all 30 teams, the players and their agents to make this a swift, exciting and piping-hot offseason, especially when it comes to your White Sox.

Unfortunately, the first day of free agency was a downer for many of you who were hoping the White Sox would sign a certain Red Sox DH by the name of J.D. Martinez. There were many questions about him and the White Sox DH conundrum, plus Nicholas Castellanos, Starling Marte, Eloy Jimenez, my all-time favorite White Sox player and this unexpected inquiry: Is Prince Fielder coming out of retirement to sign with the White Sox?

You never know what you’re going to get inside the Sox Drawer. Let’s get to it.

Is it OK to cry about J.D. Martinez? — @Angel121695

I hear ya, Angel. Martinez stunned many White Sox fans on Monday when he decided not to opt out of his contract with the Red Sox. He’d be a perfect fit for the White Sox, who got the least DH production of any AL team last season (.208/.285/.362). Martinez would be a huge upgrade on the field and in the clubhouse with the young hitters. If he did opt out, there certainly wasn’t a guarantee that he’d sign with the White Sox. Rick Hahn hasn’t said a word about Martinez publicly, but considering the White Sox need and Martinez possibly becoming available, it didn’t take much to link the two together. I’ve got some tissues for you if you need them. Though Martinez opting in for 2020 doesn’t mean there’s a zero-percent chance he can’t end up with the White Sox. More on that in a moment.

Get the Boston reporters back on the podcast and explain themselves. — @mtmill10

Seriously. The Martinez-to-the-White Sox fervor seemed to really take off after we had John Tomase from NBC Sports Boston on the White Sox Talk Podcast.

With so few teams needing a DH, I had been skeptical that Martinez would actually opt out of his contract. He appeared to have very little leverage and too much to risk by becoming a free agent in this market. But Tomase, who covers the Red Sox, said on the podcast that Martinez was “gone, G-O-N-E” from Boston, and he predicted that he’d end up signing with the White Sox. Yeah, I fell for it.

However, Tomase wasn’t the only Red Sox writer who said that Martinez would leave Boston. In early October, the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham wrote, “Say goodbye to Martinez. It was a good two seasons (in Boston).” He added that the White Sox “are a good bet” to sign him. Yeah, I fell for that, too.

Do you see (Mookie) Betts or J.D. Martinez as realistic trade targets as the other Sox cut payroll?  — @akleinerman

Who would you rather trade for? Mookie or Martinez? Also, what would it cost to get one of them? — @lito2313​​​​​​​

The fallout from Martinez opting in for 2020 has a bunch of tentacles that could potentially affect many players and many teams, including the White Sox. Red Sox ownership has stated their need to cut payroll to get under the luxury tax this offseason. Martinez opting in for $23.5 million doesn’t exactly help them out in that regard. Nor would keeping Betts, who is projected to earn $27.7 million in arbitration and has one year left of team control before he hits free agency. New Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has to play a game of payroll Tetris as he looks to shed salary and field a competitive team at the same time.

Betts is a 27-year-old superstar who plays right field, and it just so happens that the White Sox need one of those. The White Sox could try to acquire Betts like they reportedly attempted to do with Manny Machado two winters ago, giving him a season to feel comfortable with the team and then attempt to sign him to a long-term deal when he becomes a free agent after next season. It’s a big one-year risk to make, but if he’s someone the White Sox are targeting for their future, then it would make sense to go down that road. What would it take to acquire Betts? I don’t have the answer, but considering you’d be giving the Red Sox huge salary relief, the cost might not be as crazy as you think. That said, there could be some serious competition around the league for Betts, which would drive up the price. Though this wasn’t the case when the Orioles listened to offers for Machado, didn’t like what they heard and ultimately chose to keep him.

As for Martinez, his situation might be more complicated. Since he has another opportunity to opt out of his contract after next season and his salary drops by more than $4 million in 2021 and 2022, are you acquiring him for one year or three? Maybe a team trying to trade for him puts conditions in the deal, adding players to be named later if Martinez doesn’t opt out and plays all three years with his new team.

The Red Sox also have high-priced pitchers with bad contracts, including David Price and Nathan Eovaldi. Jackie Bradley, Jr had a rough season offensively. He has one year left before free agency. Some kind of roster shuffle is coming. It behooves the White Sox to sniff around what’s happening with the Red Sox, because they’re a good match for each other: The Red Sox need payroll relief, while the White Sox have money to spend and would like to take the next step in 2020.

We broke down the entire Martinez situation on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

I’m actually curious about the “process” of a player becoming a DH and becoming comfortable in that role. Edwin (Encarnacion) and J.D. played the field at one point and had to learn to just hit, so what does it take? Seems like Edwin is the only FA that one would call a full-time DH. — @bmarsh442003​​​​​​​

From players I’ve spoken to about it — Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, Adam Dunn, Harold Baines, Yonder Alonso — they’ve all said that there’s much more to being a DH than just going up to the plate and hitting. It’s definitely a skill, and it’s not for everybody. The biggest key is the hitter’s mental approach, being able to stay focused on the game and remain engaged while sitting on the bench, sometimes for an hour between at-bats. That’s why most players prefer to be at a position in the field than be the regular DH. If there’s one common link to all the great DH’s we’ve seen, they’ve all had a special mental tool that allowed them to thrive, even though they were only at the plate for a few minutes during a three-hour game.

Check out these career stats as a DH. You might see a pattern here as you get toward the bottom.

— Thomas: .275/.394/.505 in 1,310 games

— Baines: .291/.370/.467 in 1,643 games

— Konerko: .274/.350/.454 in 345 games

— Thome: .264/.391/.531 in 817 games

— Dunn: .200/.316/.401 in 361 games

— LaRoche: .187/.275/.285 in 81 games

— Alonso: .170/.294/.314 in 49 games

And here are the career DH stats for Martinez and Encarnacion, which helps explain why they would be good fits for the White Sox.

— Martinez: .288/.360/.537 in 238 games

— Encarnacion: .268/.365/.518 in 723 games

Based on the White Sox needs in pitching, what pitcher in your view has the postseason experience, play on the mound and skills to be a good leader and player for a young White Sox rotation? White Sox Talk Podcast is awesome!! — @WilliamDFarlow​​​​​​​

Thanks for listening to the podcast, William. I’ve got two pitchers who check all those boxes, are free agents and would be great fits with the White Sox: Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel.

Bumgarner was a playoff horse for the Giants, throwing 102.1 postseason innings by the time he was 26 years old. He was the World Series MVP in 2014. He’s 30 now. Maybe not the same pitcher he was in his 20s, but neither was Jon Lester when he signed his long-term deal with the Cubs at age 30. That’s worked out pretty well.

Keuchel is another southpaw who has Bumgarner’s leadership qualities and knows exactly what it takes to go from a rebuild to a World Series title since he did it with the Astros.

Of course, Gerrit Cole wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.

Do you think Nick Castellanos can be a great long-term fit in right field even with his questionable defense? — @MakowskiMatthew​​​​​​​

I’d have to say no. The White Sox already have Eloy Jimenez in left field. He finished with minus-11 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, fourth worst among major league left fielders, better only than Dwight Smith Jr., Shi-Soo Choo and Justin Upton. Castellanos finished with minus-9 DRS, which was fourth worst among major league right fielders, better only than Randal Grichuk, Franmil Reyes and Melky Cabrera. That’s not a good combination defensively and would put a lot of pressure on rookie Luis Robert in center field.

Castellanos would be better served, long term, as a DH. For his career, he’s hit .283/.301/.494 as a DH. Though I’m not sure he’s ready to play that position full time at 28 years old. My guess is he’ll sign with a team that already has a good defensive left fielder and center fielder and is willing to sacrifice the limitations of Castellanos in right for the production he’ll bring to the plate.

By the way, Yolmer Sanchez had 11 DRS in 2019, tops among American League second basemen. DRS doesn’t tell the whole story about a player defensively, but it’s one stat to look at. Sanchez won his first career Gold Glove. Congrats to Yolmer!

How drunk are the people in charge of the Rookie of the Year voting to allow Brandon Lowe over Eloy Jimenez? Yikes. That is brutal. — @Donopolis1​​​​​​​

Not sure, but they better not have been driving after making that vote.

That or they didn’t look hard enough at Jimenez, or didn’t realize that Lowe played only six games the entire second half of the season due to injury. Or they punished Jimenez for his defense, which seems extreme for a Rookie of the Year Award.

Lowe did have a great first half, with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs for the Rays, earning him a spot on the All-Star team. But when it comes to rookies with limited playing experience, I like to see them actually play, especially as the season goes on.

In the month of September, Jimenez was one of the best hitters in the majors, slashing .340/.383/.710. He finished the season with 31 home runs, one of only 11 players ever to hit 30 or more home runs in their debut season. (Thanks to Chris Kamka for that stat.) The baseball might have helped boost that home-run total a bit, but then it also helped the 5-foot-10 Lowe crank 17 dingers of his own.

In the end, it won’t matter. Yordan Alvarez is going to run away with the award. He was a beast after getting called up (.313/.412/.655). But how about some respect for Jimenez? As I tweeted when the news came out, “You gotta be bleeping me!”

Should we expect another slow offseason with free agent signings? — @Philip_12

Fingers crossed it won’t be. The last two winters have been painstakingly slow. I wish I could say things will be different this time around. It’s so much better for the game when the hot stove actually is that in November and December and we see a flurry of moves during the Winter Meetings (which take place Dec. 9 through Dec. 12 in San Diego). Nobody knows for sure what to expect. The league is looking at ways to incentivize teams to spend early. Easier said than done.

What gives me hope that it might be a more active winter is the sheer number of teams that seem to be trying to add and improve, maybe twice the amount from last year. With more teams in the picture competing for free agents and making trades, there’s a chance we’ll see more wheeling and dealing sooner rather than later.

Make a trade for Starling Marte since Pittsburgh exercised his option? — @KMcCar91​​​​​​​

Marte has never played right field (577 games in left, 359 in center), but I assume he could move over and be fine. He’s 31, has two years remaining on his contract, and the Pirates are a mess, currently without a GM. Depending on who they hire and what direction they want to go in, Marte could be on the trading block. I like him.

What do you think the rotation will look like? — @NateWags11​​​​​​​

Here’s what I’m thinking (and hoping):

1. Free-agent pitcher to be named later
2. Lucas Giolito
3. Dylan Cease
4. Michael Kopech
5. Reynaldo Lopez or free-agent pitcher to be named later

Favorite White Sox player ever? — @Bradley_Brodksy​​​​​​​

It’s too tough to go with one favorite. How about I go by decade in my lifetime with personal honorable mentions because I like them almost as much.

1970s: Chet Lemon (Bill Melton)

1980s: Harold Baines (Julio Cruz)

1990s: Frank Thomas (Bo Jackson and “The Deacon” Warren Newson)

2000s: Mark Buehrle (Paul Konerko and Juan Uribe)

2010s: Jose Abreu (Eloy Jimenez)

And finally ...

Hey Chuck, I know a lot of people that know a lot of people. Word in the clubhouse right now, something about Prince Fielder being interested in coming back and possibly playing a year with our South Siders. What do you think? — @BrodnerDan

If true, this would be something, a medical and baseball miracle. Fielder hasn’t played since July 2016 after needing a second cervical fusion in his neck. He later announced he would no longer be able to play the game and retired. Not sure what people you know, but that would be an interesting scoop, to say the least. Oh, and it would possibly solve the White Sox hole at DH.

Prince Fielder, at 35, making a comeback with the White Sox? I wouldn’t mind covering that story in spring training. Any chance you’re related to Wetbutt23?

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Road Ahead: Cubs look for revenge against Pirates

Road Ahead: Cubs look for revenge against Pirates

CSN's Cubs Pregame and Postgame host David Kaplan and analyst David DeJesus discuss the upcoming matchups in this edition of the Cubs Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

The Cubs' bats are finally coming around. 

On the back of Anthony Rizzo, who hit three homers this weekend, the North Siders took two out of three from the Cincinnati Reds and have been winners of four out of five overall. 

The offense will attempt to stay in their groove against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who swept the Cubs at Wrigley during the teams' last meeting. 

Luckily for Chicago's pitching staff, Starling Marte won't be anchoring the Pirates' order. The outfielder is serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. 

After Pittsburgh, Joe Maddon's club hits Fenway Park for what should be a wild three-game set against the Red Sox. 

Watch David Kaplan and David DeJesus break down the upcoming matchups in the video above.