The White Sox, Black Holes, and Trading Jose Quintana

So you want your team to spend in free agency. You think to yourself, “This is the year. We’re just a couple pieces away. Go out and get ’em, [insert name of General Manager who, in all likelihood, will not ‘go out and get ’em’ the way you envision].”

Maybe you look to a pair of recent World Series winners as the way to do the offseason without committing a massive chunk of payroll on a big-ticket acquisition. Look at how much value the Royals extracted out of mid-tier signings like Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and, on a smaller scale, guys like Kris Medlen and Ryan Madson. Or the Red Sox, and their insanely cost-effective 2013 offseason that netted them Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara — crucial pieces to their championship run.

That’s how you do it! You don’t even need to catch the big fish. Just plug your holes with a few of the middle-class free agents to put around your stars and you win the world championship. All there is to it!

Except, remember that time the White Sox:

And then:

  • Adam LaRoche posted a negative WAR, and
  • Melky Cabrera posted a negative WAR, and
  • Zach Duke posted a negative WAR?

At the times of their signings, there wasn’t a real discernible difference between the Victorino/Napoli/Uehara trio and the Cabrera/LaRoche/Duke trio, except the Red Sox trio turned out to be awesome and help win a World Series, and the White Sox trio became a complete trainwreck and now the White Sox are stuck with those guys. They’re deals that were totally defensible at the time, but deals that wouldn’t be made were Rick Hahn given a do-over.

The White Sox were the epitome of a stars-and-scrubs team in 2015, led on offense by Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, with a rotation fronted by typically excellent seasons out of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. In Abreu and Sale, specifically, the White Sox can already cross off one of the hard parts in building a winner: get some of the best players in the world. Abreu is one of the very best hitters in the sport. Sale is one of the very best pitchers in the sport. These guys are real and play for the White Sox. They’re not the problem. The rest is the problem.

Consider what led to the White Sox’ holes in 2015, and what the present and future looks like for each of those holes. Adam LaRoche was bad because he was a first basemen that ended up a below-average hitter. He’s still a first baseman, and the projections still see him as a below-average hitter. Melky Cabrera was bad because he’s one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball and didn’t possess a tremendous bat. He’s still one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball, and the projections still don’t see him possessing a tremendous bat. Third base was a disaster because they didn’t have anyone to play there. They still don’t have anyone to play there. You could probably say the same about second base and, depending on your thoughts regarding Avisail Garcia, right field.

Our depth charts can help put these kind of things to numbers:

Current 2016 Positional WAR Projections
Team C 1B 2B SS 3B LF CF RF DH SP RP WAR
Dodgers 3.6 2.9 1.5 3.0 2.8 1.8 3.3 4.5 1.1 18.0 3.9 46.3
Cubs 2.4 5.3 2.0 2.8 5.1 3.0 1.0 1.3 1.1 17.3 3.4 44.8
Nationals 2.1 1.5 1.5 2.1 3.8 1.7 1.3 6.9 1.0 18.1 2.9 42.9
Yankees 3.7 2.6 2.6 2.0 2.7 2.3 2.7 1.1 1.1 15.0 5.6 41.3
Pirates 2.6 0.8 2.9 2.0 2.9 3.8 5.9 2.0 0.9 15.0 2.5 41.2
Mets 3.1 1.9 2.7 1.8 3.1 2.1 2.0 2.1 1.1 18.0 2.8 40.7
Astros 2.0 1.3 3.2 4.2 2.5 1.3 3.8 3.4 0.9 14.8 2.8 40.1
Blue Jays 3.8 1.4 2.3 3.4 5.9 1.1 3.0 3.9 3.2 8.6 3.4 40.0
Red Sox 2.5 2.7 3.7 3.8 2.0 1.4 5.0 1.9 1.9 11.6 3.2 39.8
Cardinals 3.1 2.1 2.3 2.7 3.7 2.3 2.0 1.8 1.2 15.0 3.4 39.5
Indians 3.0 1.6 2.9 3.2 1.6 2.2 1.6 1.8 -0.2 17.6 3.2 38.4
Giants 4.4 3.7 2.9 2.6 3.2 1.8 1.2 2.5 1.3 10.1 2.6 36.2
Rays 1.7 0.9 2.0 2.4 4.0 2.0 3.9 1.6 0.4 13.5 3.0 35.4
Rangers 2.1 1.6 2.7 2.1 4.3 1.2 0.8 1.8 1.9 12.7 2.9 34.0
Mariners 1.6 1.4 3.6 2.2 3.8 1.5 1.5 1.8 1.1 12.6 2.4 33.5
Marlins 2.0 0.4 2.0 0.7 2.2 2.4 3.0 5.6 0.7 10.5 3.4 33.0
Angels 2.2 1.0 1.7 3.6 0.8 0.4 9.2 2.6 0.9 8.9 1.4 32.8
Reds 2.4 4.7 1.7 1.9 3.3 0.5 2.3 0.6 0.8 10.6 3.1 31.9
Twins 2.3 1.4 2.5 1.6 2.4 2.5 1.8 1.2 1.5 10.7 2.6 30.7
Royals 3.2 2.5 0.5 1.5 3.2 1.4 3.8 0.6 0.8 10.4 2.4 30.3
Athletics 3.5 1.5 1.4 2.5 1.4 1.1 1.3 3.0 0.4 11.5 2.7 30.3
White Sox 1.3 2.7 0.9 1.1 0.8 1.1 2.1 0.8 0.7 14.8 3.6 29.9
Diamondbacks 1.9 5.4 0.3 0.8 2.1 1.9 3.8 1.2 0.5 9.7 1.7 29.2
Padres 2.2 1.8 1.4 1.3 1.1 1.7 0.6 1.2 0.9 14.3 2.4 28.9
Orioles 3.0 0.7 1.6 1.5 5.4 0.5 3.1 0.6 -0.8 9.1 3.5 28.3
Tigers 2.1 4.3 2.8 1.8 1.5 0.7 1.2 2.6 1.2 8.8 0.9 27.9
Rockies 1.9 -0.3 0.8 1.6 3.8 1.2 0.9 1.6 0.7 11.1 2.4 25.7
Brewers 2.8 1.7 0.9 1.1 -0.5 1.3 1.8 2.1 1.3 9.2 3.4 25.0
Braves 1.7 4.0 0.6 1.3 1.1 0.4 1.0 0.6 0.6 7.0 2.5 20.6
Phillies 1.7 -0.4 0.5 1.6 2.7 0.1 1.6 0.5 0.4 7.4 2.0 18.0
Based on current Steamer projections

The White Sox, as currently constructed, project to be bottom-three at third base and shortstop. They’ve got the sixth-worst right field projection, the seventh-worst second base forecast, and the ninth-worst left field situation.

This isn’t fair to Chris Sale and Jose Abreu.

And the problem is, it’s tough to see how they can work it all out. They don’t have a slew of high-profile prospects waiting to burst on the scene like the recent Cubs and Astros teams, so “wait it out” isn’t an option. “Blow it all up” doesn’t seem like an option either, considering how the team viewed itself as a contender less than a year ago. And, I mean, look! Chris Sale and Jose Abreu! They’re right there, standing in White Sox uniforms, waiting to win! And you wanna just blow it up? Free agency isn’t a real viable option either, due to how poorly it went last year and the White Sox only having around $20 million to spend this time around.

Without immediate prospects, free agency or a total rebuild as attractive solutions, we’re left with just one: the trade market. Sale and Abreu aren’t the guys you want to deal, because that’s who this is all for in the first place. Chicago should do its best to move either LaRoche or Cabrera to keep Melky out of the outfield in 2016, but even one of those moves would likely just bring back another bad contract and underwhelming player.

I know it would be a tough pill to swallow for White Sox fans, but they might have no choice other than to trade Jose Quintana. They desperately need to acquire quality major league talent at up to six different positions, and consolidating Quintana into multiple assets seems like the only way that the White Sox can even come close to making that happen.

At 26 years old with a team-friendly contract that runs through 2020, Quintana is an immensely valuable trade chip; Dave Cameron had him ranked 41st in this year’s midseason Trade Value list, right between Freddie Freeman and Byron Buxton. For an idea of what Quintana might be able to bring to Chicago, look no further than Quintana’s closest comp, Cole Hamels, who was conveniently traded just a few months ago:

Jose Quintana vs. Cole Hamels, 2013-15
Name GS IP ERA FIP ERA- FIP- K% BB% HR/9 GB% BABIP RA9-WAR FIP-WAR
Cole Hamels 95 637 3.25 3.27 85 84 24% 7% 0.81 46 % .295 13.3 12.9
Jose Quintana 97 607 3.40 3.27 85 80 21% 6% 0.73 45 % .310 12.0 13.4

Hamels had the name recognition and a longer track record, but he’s also five years older, isn’t demonstrably better than Quintana — if he is at all — and even after factoring in the offsetting salary of Matt Harrison that went back to Philadelphia, Hamels was more expensive than Quintana, who’s owed a bargain price of $50 million over the next five years.

Hamels netted the Phillies two top-50 prospects, a top-100 prospect and two other interesting pieces. Two of those guys made an immediate impact for the Phillies in the first year of the deal. The other three could all debut this year. This is the kind of move that the White Sox need to make.

You could probably argue that the Rangers overpaid for Hamels, but you could also argue that Quintana has more trade value than Hamels. As for potential suitors, take your pick. Plenty of teams would love to have Jose Quintana. Any team that’s been linked to someone like Carlos Carrasco would gladly shift gears to Quintana, and that includes organizations like the Dodgers and Cubs, ripe with major-league-ready prospect talent.

Losing Quintana, of course, would be a blow to the White Sox rotation. But Sale and Carlos Rodon keep them in a good situation at the top, and if Rodon’s ascent to the majors serves as any indication, Carson Fulmer might be less than a year away from joining them. It’s not difficult to find a cheap veteran or two to fill out the back end of a rotation, and that might not even be necessary with the ilk of Erik Johnson, Frankie Montas and Chris Beck waiting to show what they’ve got. The point is: the White Sox could move Jose Quintana and still likely field at least an average starting rotation. Hell, the same could probably be said about David Robertson and the bullpen, especially after seeing what Craig Kimbrel just got the Padres.

The White Sox have one of the most bizarrely logjammed stars-and-scrubs rosters in the majors right now, and a piece in Jose Quintana that’s both immensely valuable and not necessarily a face of the franchise type like Sale or Abreu. It’s never an ideal scenario to deal a talent like Quintana, but if they want to capitalize on the Sale-Abreu era, it might be their only choice.

We hoped you liked reading The White Sox, Black Holes, and Trading Jose Quintana by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

newest oldest most voted
Cory Settoon
Member

Imagine if he actually had a decent fielding team behind him.

White Sox have a -118.2 Def rating over the last three years. That is second worse. Quintana had 13.4 WAR over those three years.

The White Sox also have a -151 DRS over that same time period.

Steve-O
Guest
Steve-O

Isn’t this exactly what FIP and xFIP are for?

SgtSchmidt11
Member
SgtSchmidt11

Isn’t this exactly what FIP and xFIP are for?

On which FWar is based. Which means, unless he got his WAR from someone else, means he would have the exact same score if he played for the Royals.

I don’t know if that would actually work, but it’s how the theory goes.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas

His fWAR wouldn’t change but his B-RWAR would.

The team would be better off.