We are fast approaching the quarter point of the 2016 season, and, to date, no team has improved their postseason odds more more than the White Sox. SportsLine gave them a 1.8 percent chance to make the playoffs on Opening Day. Those odds have improved to 82.8 percent following their 24-14 start.
The White Sox come into Tuesday 4 1/2 games up in the AL Central, which is a nice lead at this point of the season, but it's far from safe or comfortable. There is an awful lot of baseball remaining. It is no surprise then the club is ready to make a big move to further improve their chances of playing October baseball.
#WhiteSox GM Rick Hahn: "We're prepared to make a big move today. ... We're having dialogue right now hoping that something comes together."— Sam Panayotovich (@spshoot) May 17, 2016
Even though the trade deadline is still more than two months away, teams are always discussing scenarios and keeping tabs on their possible targets. The smart teams are ready to pounce right now, too. The sooner you make that big pickup, the more games that player can help you win.
The White Sox figure to show plenty of urgency this trade deadline because they currently have the game's fourth-longest postseason drought. They haven't played October baseball since 2008. Only the Mariners (2001), Marlins (2003), and Padres (2006) have longer postseason droughts. The time to win is right now, while Chris Sale and Jose Quintana and Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier are in their primes.
So, with GM Rick Hahn indicating he is ready to make a big move, let's look over the team's needs and also what they have to offer in a trade. Consider this a White Sox trade deadline primer.
What Do They Have To Offer?
Prior to the season, Baseball America ranked Chicago's system 23rd out of the 30 teams. They have two blue-chip prospects in shortstop Tim Anderson and right-hander Carson Fulmer, both of whom could be made available in the right deal. They are not going to give them away, though.
Secondary prospects like righty Spencer Adams, outfielder Adam Engel, third baseman Trey Michalczewski, and catcher Jacob May all figure to be on the table. Right-hander Erik Johnson, who has been going up and down between Triple-A and MLB for a few years now, could be another trade chip. You've got to give something to get something, remember.
The White Sox could also offer considerable salary relief at the trade deadline. Adam LaRoche's sudden retirement has left an extra $13 million burning a hole in the team's pocket. Being able to take on money at the deadline is rather valuable, and it also helps lower the prospect cost. Chicago can absorb considerable salary at midseason.
What Are Their Biggest Needs?
That 24-14 record is not an accident. The White Sox are 12th in MLB in runs scored per game (4.42) and are fourth in runs allowed per game (3.42). They're getting the job done on both sides of the ball. The ChiSox need supporting pieces, not an overhaul. Here are positions that could use an upgrade.
Shortstop: Chicago picked up Jimmy Rollins right before spring training and he has been fine overall, but not great. He's hitting .236/.299/.368 (88 OPS+) at a time when the league average shortstop is hitting .256/.313/.390 (93 OPS+). Rollins is still a fine defender, so the total package is pretty close to average.
Quality shortstops are really tough to find, and it's possible if not likely the White Sox won't be able to find an upgrade over Rollins. Players like Freddy Galvis, Nick Ahmed, Erick Aybar and Zack Cozart might not be worth the trouble. An under-the-radar possibility: Ian Desmond. That would require the Rangers to fall out of the race and I don't think it'll happen, but, if it does, Desmond would be a nice fit.
Center field: Austin Jackson was another late offseason pickup, and while he has greatly improved the overall team defense, he's hitting only .230/.297/.317 (75 OPS+). The White Sox have the option of sliding Adam Eaton back to center field and acquiring a corner outfielder, but Eaton's defensive numbers in right are off the charts, and they may not want to mess with that.
Designated hitter?: LaRoche's retirement allowed Chicago to get Avisail Garcia out of the outfield, and wow did that help their defense. Garcia and Jerry Sands have gotten the majority of the team's DH at-bats and they're hitting a combined .263/.338/.431 (107 OPS+) so far. That's pretty good. Their track records suggest it may not last, however.
For the DH spot, it's perfectly fine. No reason to fix what isn't broken, you know. But, if Garcia and Sands fade, the White Sox could put some of that LaRoche money to use and pick up a veteran bat. How about, say, Carlos Beltran if the Yankees continue to fall out of the race? He's a rental, he's a switch-hitter and he's a big time veteran presence.
Pitching, pitching, pitching: Every team needs pitching, like all the time. Starters, relievers, whatever. The White Sox are no different. Chicago does not need high-end pitching, however. Sale and Quintana are anchoring the rotation and David Robertson is nailing down the ninth inning. Don't get me wrong, they'll happily take another ace or another lockdown reliever, but it's not imperative.
The upcoming free agent class is very weak, so there aren't many quality rental pitchers out there. Andrew Cashner stands out as an obvious trade candidate -- the White Sox love their hard-throwers -- as does Rich Hill. Someone like Ivan Nova or Jorge De La Rosa could be candidates as well. Keep in mind the White Sox were said to be in the mix for Tim Lincecum. They're looking for rotation help.
As for relievers, what about Aroldis Chapman? That would be fun. He's an impending free agent, and if the Yankees are indeed out of it, they could look to take advantage of his trade value rather than settle for a draft pick after the season. David Hernandez, Kevin Jepsen and Boone Logan are other possibilities.
The trade market for pitching is always very competitive. The White Sox won't be the only team looking for arms. It'll take a few weeks for the market to fully develop -- teams like to stay in the hunt as long a possible to keep fans interested -- so if they are ready to make a big deal as Hahn said, it might not be for pitching.
The White Sox are, clearly, playing very well and they're a dangerous team on both sides of the ball. They've got a quality lineup and a great pitching staff. The fact they haven't been to the postseason since 2008 means they should have a sense of urgency come trade season, and as Hahn indicated Tuesday, they're ready to do business right now.