Like everything with the White Sox in 2019, the trade deadline is going to be different.
Things are obviously different on the field for this group of South Siders after the combined 195 losses they suffered during the 2017 and 2018 campaigns. This team might not be threatening for a spot in the postseason come September, but they look like the second best club in an AL Central that has just one really good team, not to mention that the record will look much different than it did during the first two seasons of Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort.
Likewise, there has been an abundance of really positive signs for the future of this team: Lucas Giolito’s dominance, Tim Anderson’s offensive success, Yoan Moncada’s bounce back, James McCann’s emergence, Eloy Jimenez’s recent displays of power and the continued development of guys like Dylan Cease, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal in the minor leagues.
All that good news looks to be setting the 2020 season up as one where the franchise’s contention window could start to open. And if that’s the case, Hahn might have a couple tough decisions to make in the run up to July’s trade deadline.
As in rebuilding seasons past, Hahn might be fielding calls from contenders about some of his players. He shipped David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings out of town in exchange for rebuilding pieces in 2017. Last season, it was Joakim Soria, Xavier Cedeno and Luis Avilan getting dealt.
Obviously all but one of those guys are relief pitchers, and that’s something that’s always in demand this time of year. This season, the White Sox have perhaps the best performing reliever since they started this rebuild in Alex Colome, the closer who’s flashed mostly dominant stuff since being acquired in the offseason in exchange for Omar Narvaez.
But because of all those positives mentioned above, Colome — under team control next season — might have more value to the 2020 White Sox than whatever the front office can get for him at the 2019 deadline. Whether that ends up being the case will be the determining factor in whether Colome gets traded or not.
“We are going to have guys who other teams want,” Hahn said earlier this week. “For our standpoint, it’s always going to be about putting us in the best long-term position. We haven’t quite pivoted to that strictly win-now, short-term focus.
“When you are talking about guys who could potentially play a role on the 2020 White Sox, a year we expect to take yet another step forward in the process and start being in the mix for playing in October, the calculus becomes a little more heavily weighted in terms of keeping a guy.
“In the end this will be about market value. It’s going to be about demand for our players and what they are able to potentially bring back and then balancing that off against the value they have to us in a White Sox uniform in 2020.”
That might sound like an explanation of any potential trade, but there is a different way in which the White Sox will approach things this summer. In the last two years, any prospect that could potentially make a difference in 2020 and beyond was worth more to the White Sox than any player on a one- or two-year deal. It made obvious sense for the White Sox to be obvious “sellers” at the deadline.
This time around, their odds of making the playoffs might not end up being wildly different, but their odds of making the playoffs in 2020 might be. And with Colome in the fold, they’d probably be even better. That said, of course, if a closer-desperate contender wants to blow the White Sox away, that’s certainly a road the team will travel down.
And closers have fetched some shockingly steep prices at deadlines past. The Cleveland Indians traded away highly rated catching prospect Francisco Mejia for San Diego Padres closer Brad Hand last year. In 2016, the Cubs coughed up highly rated shortstop Gleyber Torres to pry Aroldis Chapman away from the New York Yankees. The contracts of Hand in 2018, Chapman in 2016 and Colome in 2019 are all different, sure, but teams’ desperation to land a dominant closer has been pretty constant.
So if a contender comes to Hahn with an offer he can’t refuse, he won’t refuse it, and that could mean the White Sox are again looking for a closer next offseason. But the good news will be whatever they get for Colome, in this scenario, would do an awful lot to boost future championship chances.
Are there other trade candidates besides Colome? Maybe. Leury Garcia continues to hit well, though perhaps not enough to start any kind of bidding war. Jose Abreu is slated to hit free agency after the season, but it sure sounds like he’s part of the White Sox plans past 2019, meaning perhaps a minimal chance he would get dealt. James McCann, too, seems to have a future on the South Side, and nobody’s thinking about him as trade bait, whereas someone like him might have been an obvious trade candidate in seasons past.
So it’s too early to make any declarations about the White Sox trade-deadline plans. But this time around, things will undoubtedly be different for Hahn & Co.