Inflation dropped to 3 percent in June, and rent accounted for 70 percent of that inflation. If the White Sox could count on the MLB trade market following national economic trends, they’d be in pretty good shape with Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn. Alas, the recent history of trades involving impending free agent pitchers hasn’t been all that impressive.
Oddly enough, the greatest source of discomfort is also the greatest source of solace, in that not many teams involved in this exercise have experienced the 2023 White Sox’s sharply declining fortunes.
Normally, the rental pitchers are categorically so, acquired on one-year contracts the winter before with the hopes of flipping them at the deadline. The most prominent pitchers in a given July — Luis Castillo, José Berríos, Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, etc. — usually have another year of control to follow, because their teams had the luxury of reading the unfavorable forecast. These White Sox were knocked around by rogue waves in April, and have been listing ever since.
With that in mind, most of the following trades are going to be closer to Lynn than Giolito on the can-this-guy-start-a-postseason-game-for-us spectrum.
2022 Trade Deadline
Syndergaard had pitched reasonably well on a one-year deal for the Angels (3.83 ERA, 3.95 FIP), even if his velocity was nowhere near his peak with the Mets. The Angels sent him to the Phillies for Moniak, a former first-overall pick who hit .129/.214/.172 over 105 plate appearances across various auditions with the Phillies. He flailed away in his first cup of coffee with the Angels, too, but he’s finally experiencing his first success in the majors this year (.326/.358/.632 over 151 PA) despite problematic plate discipline (four walks, 47 strikeouts). Sánchez looks like a throw-in.
Quintana Plinko’d his way down the hierarchy of MLB teams before reaching the Last Chance Saloon known as the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation. He seized the opportunity to pitch his way into a midseason trade with the Cardinals (Stratton was included, a veteran reliever having a pedestrian year). The Pirates received Oviedo, a swingman whose stuff had a chance of translating into starting success, and Malcom Nuñez, a bat-first corner infielder who ranked in the second 10 of Cardinals prospects. Oviedo’s had some moments (the White Sox saw one of them in April), but Nuñez is now a first baseman, making the bat a little harder to dream on alone.
The Nationals received the Dodgers’ top two prospects and a couple of mid-range prospects for the market’s two best rental players. Can you halve the package and say each player was worth one top prospect, and one lesser minor leaguer? It’s probably a starting point to distilling Scherzer’s worth, if nothing else.
St. Louis had four pitchers on the shelf, so even an end-of-the-line Lester had some appeal. It cost them Thomas, a 25-year-old outfielder who had some potential as a right-handed platoon outfielder. He’s turned into a bright spot for the Nationals, hitting .299/.348/.490 this year.
Anderson blazed the trail for Quintana the year before as a back-of-the-rotation lefty getting a chance to throw as many innings as possible for the Pirates. He parlayed it into a midseason deal to the Mariners. The Pirates received a couple of prospects outside the MLB.com top 30. Bins was seen as the better of the two, and he has a chance to reach the majors if he can put a dent in his 36-percent strikeout rate, because he’s still an actual catcher.
The Rays thought they might’ve reached the end of Hill’s utility as a starter during a midseason fade while the Mets needed anybody, so they basically swapped salaries between Hill and Hunter. Dyer was an interesting project when he was a catcher, but he’s since moved off the position.
When the Blue Jays acquired Ray, he didn’t look anything close to the guy who ended up winning the Cy Young for them a year later. He wore a 7.84 ERA with the Diamondbacks after walking 31 guys in 31 innings. It was mostly a salary dump, with the lefty reliever Bergen heading the other way. He never pitched for Arizona.
Blue Jays acquire RP Taijuan Walker from Mariners for PTBNL or cash
Walker had spent the previous two seasons struggling with both Tommy John surgery and a knee operation, but he finally proved himself healthy enough over five starts of the shortened 2020 season to make himself appealing to the Blue Jays. The player was later named outfielder Alberto Rodriguez, an undersized bat-first DSL prospect who now ranks in the late teens on Mariners system rankings because he’s moved to right field.
The 2021 Nationals are probably the closest thing to the White Sox, in the sense that they went from 93 wins to 97 losses over just two seasons. The Nationals just happened to win the World Series in that 93-win season, while the White Sox were bounced out of the ALDS in theirs
Giolito isn’t quite Scherzer, but he’s superior to every other pitcher on this list when combining current-year performance, track record and age. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask for a top-100 prospect, at least in a vacuum. The only question is how many other postseason-grade starters will join him on the block, and whether that could create enough supply to lower demand.
Lynn, on the other hand, fits a little too well in this group, which is one of the reasons the White Sox are in the shape that they’re in. The odds of a productive return aren’t encouraging — the trades seem to involve either down-market prospects or former prospects who lost their sheen — but the potential for a Lester-for-Thomas pleasant surprise means it’s still worth trying. Just like those Nationals, the White Sox’s greatest luxury remaining is the kind of playing time they can offer to anybody with a major-league skill. It didn’t work with Clint Frazier, but that only highlights the need to generate more options.