The Chicago White Sox Are in a Tough Spot With Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia
Major League Baseball's offseason is still young and the hot stove still needs to light up, but we already have no doubt which direction the Chicago White Sox will be headed in for the 2018 season.
It'll actually look a lot like the past year.
General manager Rick Hahn and his front office are in the midst of an aggressive rebuild that began last winter by trading away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. Once the regular season began, it was only a matter of time before more veterans received a ticket out of town, as Todd Frazier, Jose Quintana, David Robertson, and Melky Cabrera all finished the year in a different uniform.
Not only is Chicago stocking up their farm system with some high-end prospects -- MLB.com tabbed them as the best in baseball following the trade deadline -- but they also don't have many long-term commitments. The two players that haven't yet had to pack their bags are first baseman Jose Abreu and outfielder Avisail Garcia, who are both under team control through 2019.
Hahn has already fielded some phone calls on these two, and he has an open mind with regard to making a deal -- as he has with virtually all of his potentially available assets. Abreu and Garcia are both fresh off stellar performances, but it could be difficult to pull the trigger on a trade for either of these guys this winter.
Abreu Is Fighting a Loaded First Base Market
Since debuting in 2014, Abreu has made his presence felt at the plate. He owns four consecutive seasons of 25-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI, which also includes three 30-homer campaigns. While the counting stats are undoubtedly there, he was going on a downward trend from 2014-16 -- his wRC+ decreased every year (167 all the way down to 120), as did his fWAR (5.3 all the way down to 1.8).
Still a very good player? You betcha, but it was something worth keeping an eye on as he entered his age-30 season in 2017. All he did, though, was post a 138 wRC+ with a .906 OPS, .248 ISO, 33 homers, and 102 RBI through 675 plate appearances, all of which helped generate a 4.1 fWAR. All of those numbers were the best they've been in a single year since 2014.
Muchos batazos para admirar de José Abreu...😍https://t.co/Y55bShlbia#LosWhiteSox pic.twitter.com/9CJGKlSsv1
— Los White Sox (@loswhitesox) October 20, 2017
Abreu did sign a six-year, $66 million contract with the White Sox, but he opted into arbitration last winter. That gives him a chance to maximize his earnings, along with taking away that cost certainty for Chicago. And after yet another stellar year, he's due for a substantial raise over his $10.825 million salary from 2017.
There should be plenty of suitors for him, right? Hypothetically, the answer to that yes, but it may not be that easy. The multiple years of team control is nice, but he'll be entering his age-31 season in 2018 and interested teams will likely have to offer more than one player in any hypothetical deal. It also doesn't help that there are tons of available first basemen via free agency.
Eric Hosmer appears to be the top choice, but Carlos Santana could be a much cheaper -- and potentially more consistent -- alternative at the position. After those, there are more intriguing short-term and/or platoon options in Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Yonder Alonso, and even Mark Reynolds.
Sure, the current market for Santana (which includes about 10 teams) could signal that there's a market for Abreu once the dust settles a bit in free agency, but it makes for a complicated process. Add in the veteran's age and contract status, and it might be even more difficult to find a worthy package of prospects at the moment.
How Sustainable Is Garcia's Breakout Campaign?
While the potential roadblock with finding a taker for Abreu has nothing to do with his performance, it has everything to do with Garcia.
Between 2012 and 2016 -- a span of 1,551 plate appearances -- Garcia mustered just a 90 wRC+, a .127 ISO, and a cumulative fWAR of -1.2. He only needed 561 plate appearance in 2017 to post a 137 wRC+ with a .176 ISO, which helped lead to a 4.2 fWAR. A career year by pretty much every statistic we look at, this is the perfect time to sell high on Garcia, right?
Yes, but it could be hard to convince others this breakout campaign is legit because a lot of his peripherals look similar to what he had done in the five years prior. The below table compares his line-drive rate (LD%), ground-ball rate (GB%), fly-ball rate (FB%), hard-hit rate (Hard%), and BABIP from 2012-16 to this past season.
For someone who depends on ground balls this much, it's also worth noting that his performance for that batted-ball event increased substantially last season. After failing to post a wRC+ higher than 50 in each of the three years leading up to 2017, he finished his most recent campaign with a 99 wRC+ in this situation.
His plate-discipline stats also weren't much different than the rest of his career. Garcia's chase rate (42.5% for career, 39.8% in '17) and swinging-strike rate (17.0% for career, 16.2% in '17) did get slightly better, but those aren't big improvements, and he's still swinging at an awful lot of pitches (57.0% for career, 59.0% in '17).
While he's the more affordable player moving forward based on his 2017 salary ($3 million), there are still questions around his performance, as good as it was. Is Garcia the kind of player that can continue putting up numbers despite all those grounders? Maybe, but we need some more time to find out.
Will some kind of trade market form this winter for either of these two players? It wouldn't be shocking since the White Sox are open to that. It's just not going to be as easy as last year when they kicked off this rebuild by dealing Sale and Eaton.
If the front office decides Abreu and Garcia are better off elsewhere, it may be better to wait until the 2018 regular season is in full swing to get the most value possible.
With so many options in the first base/corner outfield market, it'd be surprising to see teams pay a high price in prospects for Abreu. He's been great and returned to his rookie-year level of production, but is already on the wrong side of 30. Plus, teams are less likely to potentially overpay in the winter. In the middle of summer and within reach of a postseason spot, though, then it could happen.
For Garcia, he'd get another few months to show that his 2017 performance wasn't a fluke, but since his approach hasn't changed much, it'd behoove the White Sox to sell high now just in case regression hits.
Having already filled their farm system with top-level prospects thanks to selling off their best veterans, Abreu and Garcia likely represent the final two options in this part of their strategy. Will they stay or will they go? Only time will tell. If recent history means anything, Hahn won't mind keeping them in the organization for at least part of next season if the right deal doesn't materialize, which is what he did with Quintana before sending him to the Cubs.
And based off how his recent trades have gone down, Chicago's general manager probably won't pull the trigger unless he can maximize value.