Baseball

There was once a time when acquiring Nomar Mazara from the Texas Rangers would have been a move that inspired excitement and a great deal of hope in White Sox fans. Back in the winter of 2016, Mazara was the rumored headliner of the Rangers’ offered package for Chris Sale. What the Sox did get for Sale ended up being much better than anything the Rangers had to offer, both at the time and in overall MLB results since then as Yoan Moncada has turned into a star and Mazara has been well….. not good.

So you will be more than forgiven if the Sox acquiring Mazara Tuesday Night, in exchange for Steele Walker, is no longer an exciting move for you. Despite being a former top-25 prospect with huge power that many thought would blossom into a middle-of-the-lineup force, Mazara has struggled in the major leagues, never really improving much from his rookie numbers that were considered promising at the time, but when you post the same numbers for four seasons in a row you go from promising to frustrating very quickly. And that is what happened to Mazara and the Rangers, as it appears Texas was just done with waiting for the potential to deliver.

As you can tell by my headline, I don’t think much of this move – meaning I do not love it or hate it. It’s basically, as our friend and fellow FFUD Sox writer AJ put it, a giant shrug emoji of a trade.

It’s somewhat cliche to say that former top prospects who have disappointed early in their careers “still have potential,” but that cliche feels very applicable and appropriate in Mazara’s case. Like I said, his rookie year was promising with a .266/.320/.419 slash line and a 91 wRC+, but he has not improved significantly since. The last two years he has posted wRC+ of 95 and 94 respectfully, though 2019 did see home post a career high SLG% of .469.

Pretty much all of his offensive value comes against RHP, where for his career he’s barely inched above average (103 wRC+) but 2019 was one of the best of his career in that regard with an .844 OPS and 110 wRC+ against righties. Please don’t ask me about his numbers against LHP, and save yourself the trouble/stress and just don’t look them up. Just trust me when I tell you they are bad, and Mazara will be best used in a platoon.

Which is where the major question mark from this move comes in – is this all the White Sox plan to do to address right field? If it is, this could end up being something of a bad move – it’s the kind of flier they should’ve been taking on players the last three years rather than going into a 2020 campaign where they are supposedly trying to compete. However, if they don’t dust their hands and call it a day, and try to go out and find a genuine platoon partner for him, Mazara could prove to be something of a savvy addition. You can do a lot worse than a guy who produces like he does against RHP (which the Sox struggled with in 2019) as a platoon OF and bench piece. Asking him to do more than that could be a fool’s errand.

The cost is very reasonable, as while Walker was the #6 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s list for the Sox system, they’re the only publication with him that high. His ceiling has always been limited, and while Mazara has struggled to hit in MLB, Walker is just 14 months younger and struggled in high-A last year. While I am a fan of Walker and think he could be an MLB regular some day, his age and ceiling compared to Mazara’s make this is a very worthwhile move.

So while this is hardly an exciting move, it doesn’t strike me as one to be upset about in any way.  The Sox appear to believe they see something in Mazara, both in the analytics and in his tools, that leads them to believe they can fix him. New hitting coach Frank Menechino is a preacher of a more patient approach and an analytics advocate, which is what made his hiring a good one and may provide a sliver of hope that the Sox can indeed help Mazara reach his ceiling. It’s not like a change of scenery for a mid-20’s former top prospect with a lot of power being a launching point has not happened before (hello, J.D. Martinez). I am hoping this won’t be the only move they make to address RF, because there are some good platoon options out there in free agency (I will take Domingo Santana, please) but until we know for sure what the Sox’ overall plans are for Mazara, this move strikes me as nothing more than an upside play that makes sense for the Sox to try.

Baseball

Jose Abreu and the White Sox did what we all thought they were going to do and agreed to a multi-year contract in lieu of the qualifying offer the Cuban first baseman accepted just over a week ago. With his countryman Yasmani Grandal now in the fold too, Abreu’s signing makes things more complicated than the QO reality of a few days ago.

The three-year, $50M pact was met with a mostly collective “sure. cool. whatever.” Not everyone was willing to congratulate Abreu and look ahead in what’s become a pretty active early off-season for the Sox, though. A vocal sect of media and fans are a bit sour on going to a three-year commitment with the streaky 32 year-old slugger when the team had him for one year, seemingly the preferred position from an analytical standpoint.

But this deal isn’t really about analytics, and if you can’t see the intangibles at play you’re really not even trying. Abreu and Jerry Reinsdorf apparently have a pretty great relationship, because his new paper represents the same kind of loyalty that Jerry shows his front office. Abreu has done a lot to keep the Sox relevant through the failed runs earlier in the decade and the subsequent tear down and rebuild they find themselves in at the end of it. Declining wRC+ be damned, Jerry decided he was going to welcome Jose into the family.

So is this going to be the regret that the un-silent minority thinks it is? Are the leadership and RBI binges, Cuban mentor/ambassador qualities all enough to justify the term/dollars? Is it really even that much in dollars? What does it mean for the future at first base and DH, specifically Andrew Vaughn?

First, the doom-and-gloom outlook. Yes, Abreu hasn’t been the same hitter the last two years that he was in his first four stateside. He dealt with many a nagging injury in 2018, but his 116 wRC+ across 2018-19 is more than 20 points worse than his 2014-17 average of 139. Sure, a continued decline is a possibility for a slugger on the fringes of his prime. But the underlying numbers say his 2019 wasn’t as bad as the surface suggests (highest hard-hit rate in his career, 2nd highest barrel rate) and FanGraphs Steamer projections have him at 32/89/.332 for 2020. Another addition to the lineup via RF could help improve/protect Abreu further as he ages.

The 3/$50M price looks a bit rough, again, on the surface, but I don’t need to delve further into how Abreu is the heart of this team, looked up to by many of the young players set to take the Sox to the next level. Eloy said he’s like a father. Yeah, an $18M cheerleader doesn’t look great in 2022, but the dollars here are all more complicated than they appear as well. Abreu will collect on that $50M, but he won’t see the last payment of it until 2026 with $4M in deferred money. Add to that a $5M signing bonus, and the deal is actually $11M/’20, $16M/’21, $14M/’18 for 3/$41. This could’ve definitely been worse in terms of loyalty deals, and as stated Abreu might justify this with his bat regardless.

So where does that bat fit across these next three seasons? This is where it gets interesting. The Sox don’t lack for players that will push Abreu through this deal, especially with Grandal onboard through ’23. Abreu, Grandal, James McCann, Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes look like they’re set to create a timeshare between 1B/DH/C in 2020. 2019 third overall pick Andrew Vaughn looks set to push for work with the big club by the end of 2020 but you can argue they’ve got plenty of cover to keep him in minors regardless, barring injury to at least two of those five; and even that would have to coincide with Vaughn forcing the issue in a major way with his bat. Like with Eloy, Robert, and Nick Madrigal the Sox have shown they’re willing to let the kids marinate. Maybe it’s different if they’re pushing for the playoffs, but that’s a bridge to be crossed when it approaches.

So what of the two years beyond next season? Well, while everyone wants Vaughn, or even Gavin Sheets for that matter, to force the issue we all know nothing is certain. So Vaughn can’t just be expected to be mashing in the MLB by the end of 2020. Given the track record, there are many worse options than having Abreu, with the aforementioned contingent, making up the playing time at first base. This gets real muddy if Eloy can’t stay in the field, but with reports that he’s headed to winterball this week to specifically work on his defense (“his goal is to win a Gold Glove in the MLB” says Hector Gomez) he appears seriously committed to improving that aspect of his game and staying in Left.

Basically, you can’t sort out how to deal with Abreu and his time at 1B/DH and who else is pushing for those ABs until they get there. And the Sox absolutely need him in 2020 at the very least, and at first for the most part. Easing him into more DH time helps the team solve its problems there as well, possibly to the point of moving him there full time by the end of this deal. 30 HR and a 116 wRC+ from the DH position in ’21-22 would be the best DH season Sox fans have seen in…half a decade? longer?

Rick Hahn has also been a pretty complimentary of Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes since the end of the season, going as far as to protect former AAA Rule 5 draftee Mercedes with a 40-man spot after a strong offensive season in Charlotte’s bandbox of a stadium. Collins very well could find himself in another organization if the right(fielder) fit is available via trade. I’d think they look to dangle guys like Collins, Sheets, Blake Rutherford, players they know have tough paths to real roles with this team that could help improve them elsewhere. If you’re banking of using Abreu as a bridge to Vaughn, six years of control on Collins might be better used by another team, but 2020 will also see the addition of a 26th roster spot – conceivably making room for everyone for a year, at least (whether that space is best used for a 1B/DH/C collective is probably a whole other post).

If you want to get crazy maybe Vaughn himself becomes expendable for a Mookie Betts deal, but I’d sooner expect the Bears to win the Super Bowl this season. Vaughn is a part of the plan moving forward, Abreu deal or not. Collins is the guy who just had his path to more at bats immediately affected by the signings last week. Maybe Abreu invited him to the celebration in Miami before he changes teams. It’s the least he could do for making him expendable.

Baseball

Yesterday we went over the putrid recent history of what the Sox have tried to trot out at RF. I’ve save another 300 or so words and remind you that it’s a BIG NEED.

Nicholas Castellanos has been discussed, and there’s no doubt they’ll be linked with Marcell Ozuna, Kole Calhoun, etc, etc in free agency. But Rick Hahn hasn’t been shy in the past to add to his roster via trade when the opportunities on the free market aren’t to his liking (which is seemingly always since 2015). Could Hahn and KW go to an old trading partner to fill the gaping void in their outfield?

Enter the spiralling Pittsburgh Pirates and Starling Marte. The Buccos had a dreadful second half in 2019 to finish dead last in the NL Central at 69-93, claimed to be keeping manager Clint  Hurdle only to fire him a day after the season, then bounced long time GM Neil Huntington (seemingly out of nowhere) while he was conducting the search for the new manager.

Sure sounds like another rebuild coming in the Steel City, and whoa, hey, they happen to have an affordable OF vet still in his prime (kinda) that makes below market value. Make the call, Rick.

Why Him? Starling Marte is about as steady and rounded as they come, a 31 year old OF with at least 3.0 WAR in six of seven seasons he’s played dating back to 2013. Marte is in the 20/20 club for HR/SB the last two years, and has over 20 steals in seven straight seasons, going over 30 all but twice. So he’s got pop, he can run, and while he doesn’t take many walks he also only strikes out in about 18% of PAs and hasn’t been under .312 BABIP in the last three seasons. Marte could slot in pretty much anywhere in the top half of the Sox lineup and greatly improve this team.

Best of all? unlike his freely available counterparts on the open market, he’s a savvy fielder. Marte has won multiple gold gloves and while he’s had a bit of a decline in the field in 2019 in Center, he’d be able to move over to RF while Engel handles CF until Luis Robert debuts in May. If they wanted/needed him to cover CF he’s also got that versatility. No matter how you look at it, Marte improves the defense.

His contract is another plus, as he’s going to earn an affordable $11.5M this season, with another team option at $12.5M next year ($1M buyout). Castellanos and Ozuna are likely to get something for 4-5 years and around $14M-$18M per year. Marte represents a more valuable commitment, 2 years at $24M and the opportunity to qualify him an offer after that for an arguably similar/better player.

You know Jerry loves him a smaller number, every time.

Why Not Him? That one year he didn’t reach 3.0 WAR was because he was suspended for 80 games for PEDs. He claimed it was an accident, of course, but there remains the threat that he could get that second strike and be banned for a full 162 next time. Probably not too concerning, but it’s there.

2019 also saw Marte’s worst defensive season, by far. He went from 5.2 dWAR in 2018 to -5.7 dWAR in 2019, which on the surface looks pretty damn concerning. He’s clearly still got the speed, though, and based on the the JUMP stat (this is a real thing, I promise) that tracks how well OFs read and react to fly balls he was ranked ninth best in the league. Marte has a strong case for positive regression in 2020 in the field, and I’m willing to chalk this up to the Pirates being weird and playing their OF real shallow because they’re idiots. Fight me. At worst he likely needs to be moved off CF and to a corner, which the Sox can accommodate.

There really isn’t issue on the offensive side, but if we’re picking nits his low walk rate would mean that any kind of decline with the bat would be a sharp one. There isn’t any indicator that will happen, but stranger things and all that. You also might appreciate more than ~20 HR from your RF. He’s right handed, so this doesn’t check off the LH impact bat, but if they fucking sign Grandal already everyone can worry less about handedness.

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend? Herein lies the biggest problem with the idea of Marte – the Pirates don’t need to deal him, and the latest word is they aren’t looking to. Huntington no longer being in charge is also a bummer, as he’s probably out of a job for all the horrific trades he’s been on the wrong side of lately (Ivan Nova notwithstanding).

Still, there is history between these clubs and any remaining scouts are likely familiar with what the Sox have to peddle. Say Reynaldo Lopez straight up, or if that’s too rich for you maybe a package of Blake Rutherford and Dane Dunning. This shouldn’t cost any of the top youths, and if they ask for Jonathan Stiever I’m helping to pack his bags. The Sox won’t be the only interested party, so they can’t really afford to posture on middle tier prospects if the Pirates get serious about making a deal.

In an offseason with little to get excited about for free agent OFs, Marte represents the Sox best option available – if he actually is, you know, available.

Baseball

Right field has been a black hole of SUCK on the Southside going on, oh, a decade? Magglio Ordonez and Jermaine Dye are the last great players to man the position for the White Sox, and the ineptitude of management to fill the O-E-O/WS MVP sized hole is a bit jarring. Yes, dead last in the entire MLB in 2019 in OPS jarring. The likes of Carlos Quentin, Avi Garcia, and Adam Eaton were passable if unspectacular in stints over the years, but the Sox have also trotted out the likes of Jason Coats, Willy Garcia, Andruw Jones (the ol’ KW past his prime special!), Brent Lillibridge, Rymer Liriano, Alex Rios, Moises Sierra, Michael Taylor, Blake Tekotte, Trayce Thompson and Dayan Viciedo since Dye hung em up in 2009. Folks,,,,, that’s not great!

John Jay was brought in as part of the “recruitment” of Manny Machado last offseason and thought to be the everyday right fielder, but injury kept him out a majority of the year. The cast of characters used to fill in were all way, way under-qualified for every day MLB duty – Ryan Cordell, Charlie Tilson and Daniel Palka all saw far more at bats than any competent team would dare give them and they responded with that league worst performance at the position at the dish. The defense was also meh at best, but with a suspect free agent class the Sox don’t really have the current lineup to hide a defensive wizard they get no offensive production from (otherwise they’d just stick Robert in RF and let Adam Engel patrol CF, but alas).

So who out there is available, plays RF (even barely), can get on base, park a few baseballs into the Rate bullpens and would actually be willing to take Rick Hahn’s checks? Dear reader, you already know him, or got a small taste of him after last year’s deadline.

Nicholas Castellanos, come one down!

Why Him? Castellanos can hit a bit, as the Sox know all too well from being the victim of his bat for almost six years as he came along in Detroit. His 2019 is a little misleading as his high average (.321) helped him to 16 homers and 36 RBI in just 51 games after a trade to the Cubs. That comes out to a scorching 154 wRC+. Prior to the trade, though, he carried just 11 homers and 37 RBI on a .273/.328/.462 line for a wRC+ of 105 in 100 games.

This does help to give him two straight years over 121 wRC+ and that makes him exponentially better than any Sox RF in 2019. He’s also gone .337 and .354 the last two seasons in OBP while averaging 25 homers and 81 XBH, and if he can continue that trend the White Sox probably wouldn’t care if he just hung out in the Goose Island section or had a beer with the #108 guys every half inning.

He’s also only 28, making him pretty young to be a free agent. He won’t come with a QO compensation penalty. Since JD Martinez isn’t available, Castellanos also represents a chance to sign an impact bat this offseason, deal with the defense for a year or two, and plan to use him at DH/LF with Eloy down the road and develop or sign your next RF later. Maybe that plan sees them sign Edwin Encarnacion on a Nelson Cruz-like one year pact (OR SIGN GRANDAL ALREADY LIKE AJ SAID) and just like that you’ve got some instant impact offensive upgrades to a team that sorely needs it.

One other plus – signing him would mean he can’t kill the Sox anymore (or maybe he’d find fun ways to ruin them from within…). This is some recency bias, but since 2018 Castellanos carries 7 HR/22 RBI/.413 OBP/1.065 OPS(!) in 28 games against the Sox, good for a wRC+ of about 185, or otherworldly. Small sample size and all that, but fuckin’ a does he MURDER White Sox pitching of late.

Why Not Him? Oh, that “defense”. Castellanos debuted as a third baseman and Detroit was all too generous to let him try and be that for four seasons while they lost a million games. He made the move to right field in 2018 and is the worst defensive RF in that time, posting -28 DRS (defensive runs saved) and a -17.6 UZR. I don’t know if that all actually makes him the worst RF since 2018, but being responsible for 28 runs scored against seems really bad.

If you want some kind of silver lining, Castellanos did actually improve by 10 full runs in DRS over 2018, and by 8+ points on his UZR, giving him a more palatable -9 DRS/-4.4 UZR in 2019. Still not good by any metric, but not comically bad. He might even be improving, and maybe he gets to a point where he’s league average and look at that I just talked us into Nick Castellanos, league average RF for the Chicago White Sox by 2021.

Honestly, if you sign Castellanos and you already have Eloy Jimenez being the ungraceful elk that he is in LF, you probably need to be ready to take him out of the field within a year or two. So the knock is, will he hit well enough to cover occasionally killing you in the field. And if you’re already looking at re-signing Jose Abreu and you’ve got Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn on deck…is this really the best way to allocate funds/roster space?

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend? MLBTR comes in with an estimate of 4/$58M and Fangraphs is in agreement with a 4/$56M estimate of their own. Unless some wild market creates itself out of nothing for lil Nicky here I can’t really see him getting more than 4/50, possibly even having to settle for something like 2/25 or 3/35 and a few option years. The bat has enough juice to get him a multi-year pact, sure, but that defense is brutally awful and the game is no longer kind to players of his abilities. Damned kids and their analytics. Without 30+ annual HR potential or a near .400 OBP, there just isn’t any one tool that really carries the weight to justify giving Castellanos that much term, so you’re really banking on his being younger than the rest of the FA OFs and hoping that defense is really improving and the 2018/Cubs version of the bat is the one you’re buying. Whole lotta optimism in there.

The Sox have already been reported to have interest, which probably doesn’t need to be read much into as they should have interest in any OF available via trade or free agency this winter. They’d probably be wise to explore other options and make Castellanos a plan B, waiting out the diminishing market for his type of player to mitigate the commitment for such a walking red flag.

Now that I’ve thoroughly fleshed out that I’m not really on board with a run at him, I have to admit that if the Sox do end up with Castellanos it will be a massive upgrade over the trash heap of career minor leaguers and Machado friends and family that Hahn tried to float by the masses last year. It could absolutely be worse, but I’d hope they explore a few more avenues or wait to see how many other teams are really falling over each other to add what might just be a slightly over league average DH to play everyday RF.