The American League Central is arguably the most fascinating, at least in regards to the 2016-17 offseason. The division has represented the AL in back-to-back World Series, and every team has won at least one AL pennant in the last 25 years. While the track record of success is undeniable, the current state of the Central isn’t as impressive.
In the last two weeks, Dodgers Nation has looked at the Tigers’ and Royals’ situations and how it could relate to Los Angeles. The Minnesota Twins are in the midst of a rebuild. They won’t be selling off many parts, instead focusing on internal growth. The Cleveland Indians were an extra innings game away from being crowned champions, so their priority is keeping the group intact and adding marginal upgrades. The Chicago White Sox, however, are an interesting case.
Since a 2005 World Series championship over the Houston Astros, the White Sox have been stuck in mud. They’ve had four winning seasons in that frame, with only one postseason appearance: a 3-1 division series loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. 80-year-old owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owns the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, hasn’t signed off on a rebuild. In the last decade, the team has only had one season below 72 wins (63, 2012). This season was the status quo: The team won 78 games, finishing in fourth place and 16.5 games behind the Indians. That isn’t successful. That’s riding a treadmill, which is the worst spot to be.
Reinsdorf watched the Chicago Cubs take home the trophy and win the hearts of Illinois (the ones they didn’t already have, anyway) and America. The White Sox are sinking into irrelevancy not just on the national scale, but locally. They need to make a power play in one way or another. There’s plenty of controllable, prime talent on the roster. That same talent hasn’t gotten the team anywhere. Commitment to a full rebuild in a division lacking a long-term power seems to be a smart way to go, but would Reinsdorf risk losing any small spotlight his team still has by voluntarily entering a dark period?
“By the time we make our first or second transaction, publicly it will be fairly clear as to our direction,” said Chicago General Manager Rick Hahn in August. He added he, Vice President Ken Williams and Reinsdorf have an idea of what they want to do.
It’s anyone’s guess if Chicago finally chooses a direction. For the sake of the Dodgers, we’ll assume they’re listening on anybody and go from there.
*Players’ ages in 2017 season in parenthesis*
P Chris Sale (28): Signed for $13MM through 2017 with $12.5MM team option for 2018 ($1MM buyout) and $15MM team option for 2019 ($1MM buyout)
Of the players reviewed on the Tigers, Royals and White Sox, Chris Sale is the best asset. Sale is a bonafide ace under team control through 2019 at a price equating to about a third or fourth starter. Add in the weak pitching market, and Sale is the best rumored trade chip in baseball. Chicago can name its price and there aren’t many deals that’d be deemed unfair for Sale. Sure, he had a tantrum earlier in the season. He’s butted heads with the front office, but it won’t diminish the return. Now is the perfect time to capitalize on his astronomical value.
If Sale is available, the previously interested Boston Red Sox become the immediate favorites. Even then, Boston has to dip into its rich farm system and probably major league roster to complete a deal. The New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardingals and Texas Rangers also had reported interest, aside from the Dodgers. If L.A. wants Sale, it’s going to take out-bidding a handful of teams with elite farm systems. That hasn’t been Andrew Friedman’s philosophy thus far, though an injured and beaten Dodgers team reaching game 6 of the NLCS may serve as a catalyst to a huge trade.
Julio Urias is the logical headliner to any Sale trade. The White Sox would be reasonable to say “no Urias, no deal.” If Los Angeles can get the deal done without Urias, it’d almost be foolish not to take it. Sale is one of the very, very rare players worth paying a premium. Even in the case of Urias, the organization hopes Urias can become as good as Sale is now. If L.A. is going for it, the nearly 28-year-old pitching a day after Clayton Kershaw would be the best starter duo in the league.
A Sale-Dodgers combo depends on three factors. For one, Chicago has to make Sale available. While that’s unknown, it does appear the team will listen. Next is Urias’ value. If L.A. will move him, he’s probably the most valuable piece the White Sox could realistically expect back. Trading Urias is difficult, though. He’s supposed to be the heir to Kershaw’s throne, the next Fernando Valenzuela, the best young pitcher in the game. Lastly, the Dodgers have to be willing to out-bid fellow big markets such as New York and Boston, and organization’s with a surplus of youth, such as Texas and Atlanta.
Sale could be the difference between the Dodgers and Cubs next year. L.A. would add an ace who finished 2016 with a 3.34 ERA and 1.04 WHIP; an ace who has logged a career 3.00 ERA and has the most top five Cy Young finishes in the AL over the last half decade. Is that worth Urias? Everyone has an opinion, but given the history of the front office, it’d be an upset to see Urias dealt. As said before, if it can be completed without him, maybe Los Angeles steps in with a massive offer.
P Jose Quintana (28): Signed for $16.85MM through 2018 with $10.5MM team options for 2019 and 2020 ($1MM buyouts).
An interesting dynamic here is Quintana. Chicago could trade one of Sale or Quintana and still field a competitive team, so even if the team opts against a rebuild, it could still shop one of its aces. Quintana has excelled as a No. 2 in the Windy City, so why not head to the National League and take the No. 2 spot in Hollywood?
Quintana tossed 200 innings for the fourth consecutive year, this time collecting a 3.20 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. His 3.56 FIP was less generous, but stacked up favorably in previous years. Like Sale, Quintana’s game is predicated on strikeouts. He finished 11th in the AL with 181 k’s, while Sale tied for second with 233. The price for Quintana will be steep, though not as devastating as Sale. The Dodgers could probably get Quintana without Urias, but Jose De Leon, Alex Verdugo and more is a potential starting point.
OF Adam Eaton (28): Signed through $19.9MM through 2019 with a $9.5MM team option for 2020 ($1.5MM buyout) and $10.5MM team option for 2021 ($1.5MM buyout)
A gold glove finalist, Adam Eaton is one of the premier outfielders in the American League after finishing a 6 WAR season. Eaton shifted from center to right when the White Sox acquired Austin Jackson, which actually improved his value defensively. He’s signed cheaply for several seasons, so once again Chicago is in the right to charge a pretty penny.
The former Arizona Diamondback put up .284/.362/.428 last year, which is mostly on par with his career averages. That line, gold glove defense and a cheap contract will make him appealing to just about every team in the league. The Dodgers, however, might be better off looking elsewhere. Eaton is a left-handed bat without much power (14 homers in each of last two years). His 2016 WAR (6) was close to 2015 and 2014 combined (6.8). He’s in the middle grounds in strikeouts and drawing walks. Eaton is a good player. He isn’t the best fit for Los Angeles. Considering the cost, L.A. might be better off exploring alternatives.
The Other Guys:
Chicago was rumored to offer a deal involving pitcher James Shields for Yasiel Puig, but the Dodgers weren’t interest. If the White Sox do like Puig, it certainly helps L.A.’s chances at Sale or Quintana, but Shields, who’s owed $44MM over the next two years and was brutal in his time in Chicago, isn’t interesting many teams. Outfielder Melky Cabrera is probably movable, but the Dodgers have better options. First baseman/designated hitter Jose Abreu is a tremendous bat, but he’s an American League player.
David Robertson, owed $25MM though 2018, would be a welcome addition. He’s saved 37, 34 and 39 games in the last three years, with ERAs of 3.47, 3.41 and 3.08, respectively. If the Dodgers let Kenley Jansen go, Robertson is an affordable replacement, both financially and in prospects (as opposed to, say, Wade Davis). If Jansen is retained, Robertson still makes sense as an eighth inning man. Nate Jones, another bullpen arm signed reasonable for $5.85MM through 2018 (with options until 2022), is another avenue worth exploring. Todd Frazier, who the Dodgers had previous interest in, shoots near the top of the list if Justin Turner doesn’t return. Frazier’s first year in Chicago had mixed results. His .225 average and .302 OBP were the worst and second worst of his career, though he hammered a new high of 40 home runs.