The Moves that should have been?
The Hot Stove Finally reached actual cooking temperatures this week, with signings including George Springer, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kirby Yates, and for a shiny moment in Blue Jays fandom: Michael Brantley, before he went back to the Astros. Toss in the trade of Joe Musgrove to the Padres, and the market place is thinning under the heat like so much gravy. No, gravy thickens. Like butter? No…that’s melting rather than thinning. Uhh, ok well regardless of the lack of metaphor (simile?), as things heat up, the market has fewer options. This is a source of White Sox-related consternation. Like all of us have lost loves, did the White Sox let “the one” get away?
The biggie for Sox fans of course was Joe Musgrove. With an apparent hard budget being reached, Sox fans at least had trades as a possibility, with Musgrove a good get. We’re left wondering how the Padres continued to throw players at trades and have amassed a staff of aces, while the Sox were able to muster the Lance Lynn deal and seem stuck at Giolito, Keuchel, Lynn and a TBD back end of Cease/Kopech/Lopez/Stiever/etc. Well, in the case of the Musgrove trade, unlike the Snell and Darvish deals, it required another team to bolster the value by giving an intriguing prospect for cheap depth. The Mets took a liking to SP Joey Luchessi, who had been a part of the Padres rotation and future in 2018 and 2019, albeit to middlin’ results. He’s very much the Padres version of Reynaldo Lopez in that regard. Ah! you say. Would the Mets have made the same deal with Reynaldo, giving up same said prospect, C Endy Rodriguez? Well…probably not. Luchessi was better than Reynaldo in 2019, though not by a lot, and not as good in 2018 as Reynaldo, by quite a bit. Both were bad in 2020. The difference is Joey Luchessi is a weird deceptive lefty in need of refinement, and Reynaldo is a very standard power-profile righty coming off of arm issues. Lefty with the funk is a better project than a power pitcher with dimished velocity. Still, it is heartening that the Mets would send anything for an experienced MLB starter on a skid. Maybe the Sox can also find something of value in return for Lopez, should he be out of their plans.
Beyond that silver lining, the Musgrove deal just exposes where the Padres system sits vs. where the Sox system sits…again. But without trying to play more “match the prospects”, this is more about the Padres being willing to gut their system and add salary, which the Sox can’t comfortably do either. This offseason the Padres have traded a whopping 14 players for three pitchers and a backup catcher. Of those traded, four were part of the big club, including their third-fourth starter from 2020, their third-fourth starter from 2018-2019, their 2019-2020 co-starting catcher, and a lesser part of their bullpen. They also took on $38.85 million in salary to do so, while only sending out one salary of note: Zach Davies and his estimated arb number of $10.6 million. The Sox have maintained their farm system and had seemingly remained payroll-neutral on their offseason departures and arrivals until Liam Hendriks. If the Sox were to add another $33 million to catch up to the Padres current payroll (they won’t), you’d think that could easily be, say, Jake Odorizzi or Taijuan Walker and Tommy LaStella, or dare I say a Bauer outage. Focusing on Musgrove, the Sox sending out five players including two that could be on the major league roster could have been a small price, or a James Shields overpay. This could be one that we think back on with pangs, but he’s 28 with a career ERA+ of 96, so he’s intriguing but has been below average. By comparison, Gerrit Cole had an ERA+ of 113 in Pittsburgh. Musgrove is a nice add, but not a world-beater.
So what about them Jays? Did they charm George Springer and others leaving us wondering what if? Only in dreams, pal. Springer was never walking through the door at 35th and Shields, nor is he really needed at $25 million per for the next 6 pers. No missed opportunity there really. Of course he’s better than Adam Eaton, but…nah. Wasn’t happening. Kirby Yates? We got Liam Hendriks. Michael Brantley? Hmmm…well, if he had given the Jays a 1-year deal at $10-$12 million you could argue. Since he instead re-signed to perhaps play out his days in Houston, the Sox would have needed to blow him away money-wise. That means going over $16 million annually, and the Sox could get similar production younger if not cheaper.
Jon Lester took $6 million to be the Nats’ fourth starter. It’s tough to say that he has anything in the tank, and also whether that’s a fair deal or an overpay, or even an underpay (see my last blog for more confusion). He’s a guy that intrigued me because he’s a post season vet, a past winner, a guy who buys fans beer, and it would piss off Cubs fans if he were here. His decline is hard to ignore, though. We can woulda-shoulda this one if his season goes well and Kopech or Cease flops, but you don’t lose sleep over someone else’s haggard one-night stand.
And lastly we saw erstwhile Sox ace Jose “Q” Quintana sign with the Angels for $8 million. Remember how good he was with the Sox? He hasn’t been that guy in a couple years. In fact, each year since he left the Sox he’s been progressively declining. At least Jake Odorizzi and Garrett Richards have injuries to blame for their performance. I’m fine with Q being somehow the fourth starter on an Angels team with only 2 other starters.
So here we sit, fretting that the Sox have lost out? Nah. “The one” didn’t get away. Nothing that came off the boards this week was anything more than a fleeting thought in the shower. You take that statement to where ever you want it to land, my friend.
More Fits and Nots: Right Place, Wrong Guys
I hope I’m wrong about this segment in that mostly I don’t think that the Sox will do anything major or that isn’t on a minor-league or reclamation project deal. Assuming the chatter that they aren’t done isn’t just fan frustration and wishful thinking, I think the rumor mill is pointed in the wrong direction. While I don’t know that I have the right direction, here’s more rumors and whether they are Fits or Nots.
Corbin Bernson, uhhhh…Burnes
The Brewers are dangling (are they though?) young Corbin Burnes, a pitcher with great stuff, whom the Sox supposedly covet to the tune of Nick Madrigal and other top guys. Who? Top. Guys.
HE’S A GOOD FIT: Of course he is, he’s at least where Dylan Cease is in terms of becoming a consistent major league starter, the arm talent is fantastic and the ceiling very high. He’s also under team control and still cheap. He’s been a fantastic reliever but transitioned to starting some in 2019, and then more so over the short 2020 season.
HE’S A BAD FIT: Talent wise there’s no bad fit, but to get him might hurt too much. This isn’t a salary dump for the Brewers, this would be them getting a need or many needs filled. How much does this cost the Sox? Madrigal was the rumor but the Brewers aren’t hurting for middle infielders, so you’d think it has to be a pitcher or different position player. Does that mean Kopech? Vaughn? Both? It took 5 guys to get Joe Musgrove in a straight salary dump, so the Brewers might want all 9 positions and a reliever for Burnes. On the field, Burnes has been more reliever than starter (74 overall appearances with 13 starts) so he isn’t necessarily an innings-eater. 60 innings last year are his MLB high, coming over 12 appearances and 9 starts. He’s talented, but he’s also in that Kopech/Cease range so there’s probably growing pains coming for him too.
FINAL TALLY: Good fit, but Good Gawd. The price should be tremendous because the only reason the Brewers trade him at this point is to get back a haul. He’s not a salary dump, as Josh Hader ($6.675 million) and Brandon Woodruff ($3.275 million) are their highest paid pitchers. If the Brewers are using a young pitcher to reload, Hader and Woodruff would also command a big return. Woodruff might be the better bang for buck target if the Brewers are shopping Sox prospects, even though he’s a bit older and higher salaried than Burnes. Woodruff’s been very good and similar in usage for the beer makers to Burnes, but with more starts. For the Brewers, his cost savings and arb status mean they’re getting out at the right time for a rebuild, if that’s what they’re doing. For the Sox he’d be a great 4th at, I suspect, less cost in terms of players than Burnes. I don’t know why the Brewers part with either unless you really blow them away and really replenish the Milwaukee MLB club around Christian Yelich. Sorry, it’s a pipe dream that it’ll happen without a big hit the farm system, and the Brewers would need to agree to trade a young, cheaply controllable, exciting pitcher when they don’t need to.
The Sox are going hard after former Cubs/Angels/A’s IF Tommy LaStella, say people who think that’s happening.
HE’S A GOOD FIT: Not a big slugger but a high contact, low strikeout guy who found a better HR stroke with regular playing time. He’s a 2B/1B/3B and would make a lovely DH rotation candidate. Over his past 135 games he’s a .288 hitter with an .826 OPS, and 21 of his career 31 homers and 22 doubles. He can spell Yoan at 3B, take some days at 1B, be insurance for Madrigal at 2B…and even giving him a nice raise from his recent $3.25 million salary it seems likely he’s not going to break the bank. Awwww he’s perfect! Can we keep him? PLLEEEASSE?
HE’S A BAD FIT: He really isn’t a bad fit at all. The fact that he isn’t signed yet by someone makes you wonder whether he’s priced himself silly because he fits a number of teams. His power output before 2019 being nil in mostly part time roles is just one of those flags that is red-adjacent, but he’s not the power bat that you’d normally want as a DH. He also hasn’t actually been a full-season starter, ending his breakout 2019 halfway through due to injury and last year being last year. He wouldn’t be expected to play all 162 for the Sox, but pretty close as the primary DH. Assuming that he wants to DH. If he wants a regular field job, the Sox don’t have one for him.
FINAL TALLY: As with most free agents, at the right price he’s a good fit. If he’s expecting James McCann/Kyle Schwarber money, that’s the right neighborhood but it feels like the highest you’d want to go. I don’t know if Rick Hahn has that in the coffers when, as previously discussed, he’s said the team is on the floor. There are guys out there that might come cheaper until Vaughn is ready. And plenty of folks, presumably including the Sox, really believe that Vaughn is close to ready and will play this year. Committing to a free agent DH has to be a short term move. LaStella could easily grab a multi-year deal elsewhere, even back with the Angels. Amongst his former Angels teammates lies a guy that broke out last year and is kinda trapped by the Angels roster in Jared Walsh. An older rookie, the lefty-hitting 1B Walsh came out hammering the ball in 2020 and has some good MiLB stats. The worry is that he’s a flash in the pan. The Angels desperately need help on the mound, and trading a question mark like Walsh at his high point makes some Angelic sense. Maybe Reynaldo Lopez or Bernie Flores II and a prospect get it done? If Walsh makes it hard on Vaughn, that’s ok. Its great. If he’s not good…meh…throw him in AAA until Adam Eaton gets hurt and we find out Vaughn is a passable RF.
Mrs. Garrett, but Richer. Rich Nougharret. Garrett Richards?
Often injured former ace Angel Garrett Richards is the next fourth starter target.
HE’S A GOOD FIT: Cory Kluber Lite..? Diet Kluber? Diet Kluber. You’d be paying for past performance and the hopes that injuries and the resulting ineffectiveness are done and behind him. Same risk as Kluber, but a bit lesser in that he’s not quite as good historically as the former Cy Young winner and wayyyy more injury prone. But Richards has been real good as a major league starter. In his career he has a 3.62 era and 1.255 WHIP. As a 1-year or uno with options, he’s a good gamble to buy the Sox time for Cease and Kopech to emerge as the forces they are expected to be.
HE’S A BAD FIT: 6, 6, 16, 3, 10. That’s neither my luggage combo nor my office’s usual Chinese order, that’s how many starts Richards has made each year since his only 30-start season in 2015. He seems to come pre-injured, just add water. You’d have to worry that he would tear a ligament in his arm taking a crap. Pre-wipe even. He was effective but not great as a 2020 Padre, so what you’re getting is anyone’s guess. And the Padres didn’t want him back, so why is he good enough for the Sox?
FINAL TALLY: As a minor-league signing or an Alex Wood-esque $3 million flyer, Richards can show you if he has anything left. He can try and out-pitch Cease and Kopech, and Lopez…and Stiever…and Flores and Vargas. If Richards pans out, great, if not, cut him. But as a guaranteed guy that you slot in at four and pay money like he’ll be there for 32 starts and be good? No…that seems like a hope and prayer that he’s healthy and the same guy he was 6 years ago. Not a great idea for a team with championship aspirations. If you want some discount on an oft-injured free agent pitcher who has shown recently that he’s what he was 6 years ago, Brett Anderson and Taijuan Walker are sitting there. Anderson started over 30 games in 2015, like Richards, and like Richards battled injuries in 2016 through 2018 not completing a season for the A’s. The difference? Anderson started 31 A’s games in 2019 with a respectable 3.89 ERA and 1.307 WHIP, and 10 more with the Brewers last year before succumbing to a season-long blister issue. Anderson in 2019 was back to his old self, and would make a fine addition to the back of the Sox rotation for a year or so. Walker was 22 in 2015 and emerging as a starter with the Mariners. He took a step forward that year as a full-time starter and showed improvement in 2016 and 2017, before 2018 and 2019 were done in by Tommy John. The surgery. Coming back last year, Walker was OK as a Mariner but after a trade to the Blue Jays was sparkling down the stretch. At 27, signing him to a multi-year deal might just be insurance against Lynn or Kuechel leaving, or a trade chip if they don’t need him in 2022.
A lineup’s worth of things that worry me
I only worry on Mondays, not heading into the weekend. But Chris ripped me on this bit during the show so I thought I’d reference it in case you were actually looking for it.