Trading Nick Madrigal: ‘Why now?’ or ‘Why not?’

Over his last 20 games in a White Sox uniform, Nick Madrigal hit .365/.420/.568 with two homers, two triples and five doubles. He also reached on errors three times, which could be added to his OBP since his preternatural contact ability forces an unusual amount of opportunities for that kind of result. If the White Sox traded five more years of that guy, the White Sox are going to need to win a World Series — or at least an American League pennant — to justify sending him to the North Side for Craig Kimbrel.

In his last game with the White Sox, Madrigal tore tendons in his hamstring running to first base. It’s his second significant, surgery-requiring injury on an innocuous baserunning play in as many seasons, and the third time in the last four years that he’s had to miss a block of the season (a pitch broke his wrist in his junior year at Oregon State). If the White Sox traded that guy, then his lack of durability makes it harder to plan around him no matter how many years before he reaches free agency.

Rick Hahn and Jed Hoyer teamed up for a fascinating philosophical discussion. To state the entire trade for those joining us late, the White Sox acquired Kimbrel, who is owed around $6 million for the remainder of this season, with a $16 million team option for 2022. For his services, they sent Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer to the Cubs, both of whom don’t reach free agency until the second half of the decade.

PERTINENT: White Sox acquire Craig Kimbrel, even though price includes Nick Madrigal

As good as Kimbrel has been — and he was the best reliever available — one has to acknowledge the risk in trading players who are significant assets to a lineup for high-leverage relievers. There’s the matter of standard reliever volatility and the need to succeed over naturally small samples. There’s also the idea that the game needs to get to them in order to matter. Over the course of a 162-game season, a functioning Madrigal is the kind of player who makes a functioning Kimbrel matter.

But in this case, they’re mutually exclusive. Now there are three questions that I’m looking forward to seeing answered.

How much can César Hernández make up for Madrigal?

While a lot of the focus has been on the loss of louder bats, Madrigal’s absence shouldn’t go unnoticed. Not only was he extremely productive over his last several weeks as a White Sox, but it didn’t matter whether he faced righties or lefties, which is key for a lineup that’s susceptible to the former. Going from him to Leury García and his glass ceiling is an underrated drop-off.

But what’s the drop-off from Madrigal to a guy like Hernández? Back in January, Hernandez was one of several middle infielders of comparable value who had to settle for one-year deals. Now, the tricky thing about Madrigal is that his bat-to-ball abilities are beyond compare. Set that aside, and there’s a whole lot of overlap with the rest of his game relative to Hernández’s — particularly defense that should be better than it is, and decent speed that doesn’t result in stolen bases.

Madrigal makes contact like nobody else, including Hernández. On the other hand, Hernández comes to Chicago sharing the team lead in homers with 18, while Madrigal could be hard-pressed to reach double digits in that department. Madrigal hit righties when the rest of the team didn’t, but Hernández is a switch-hitter with a fly-ball swing joining a team that has trouble getting off the ground. He’s in a position to complement the rest of the lineup nearly as well as Madrigal did, even if that production takes a different shape.

PERTINENT: White Sox trading for Cesar Hernandez to solve second base

Is Nick Madrigal more ideal than actuality?

Madrigal’s skill set is incredibly appealing, especially in a league where strikeout rates are out of control. Nicky Two Strikes (.284) also was Nicky Two Outs (.304) and Nicky Two Men On (.313 with runners in scoring position). If you’ve hated seeing Luis Arraez come to the plate in games against Minnesota when any kind of contact induces a wince, you can imagine what it’s like when Madrigal comes to the plate. I’m prepared for him to exact revenge on the White Sox in many a crosstown contest.

But there’s a reason why there aren’t many players like him: It’s a very hard way to make a living. The early wear and tear brings to mind Adam Eaton. With the White Sox, Eaton summoned all of his strength, speed and effort for an enviable combination of well-rounded offense and corner-outfield defense, resulting in a 6-WAR season. The knee injury he suffered in his first month with Washington set the course for what followed. Without his previous physical capacities, he could only muster 2.5 WAR over the following five seasons combined.

It’s not a perfect comparison. Madrigal is three years younger than Eaton was when the Sox dealt him. His bat-to-ball abilities are crazier than any one thing Eaton did. He was drafted and developed by the White Sox, and thus he’s grown along with all his teammates. Eaton just comes to mind because when you need everything you can possibly offer in order to be special, there’s always the chance that one injury prevents it from one’s game from ever coming all the way back. That’s the kind of player who Branch Rickey might’ve been thinking about when he suggested it’s better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late. By trading Eaton before they had to, they now have Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn.

What’s the specific value of 2021?

There’s another unique variable to this trade: Madrigal can’t help the White Sox this year, or at least he can’t help the White Sox more than he already did. He’s out for the rest of the season, and a lot of season remains.

And with the rest of the division trending toward sub-.500 finishes, a lot of postseason could remain. The White Sox may not have a clearer path to the ALDS and subsequent rounds than they do at this moment.

PERTINENT: Drastic changes underway for Cleveland, Twins

Rick Hahn could have taken it for granted, especially since he addressed the bullpen once with Ryan Tepera. He could’ve justified balking at the price of Kimbrel and keeping the big-picture in mind, because a productive Madrigal affords other unique opportunities for the White Sox in future seasons.

But winning as much as possible in 2021 creates its own paths for the White Sox. Ratings are already up 123% over the 2019 season. Attendance is starting to spike. Supplement those gains with postseason revenue and an increased season-ticket base, and it won’t be hard to justify franchise-record payrolls by the time next year’s Offseason Plan Project rolls around. The only question will be the margin.

The risk is that Kimbrel doesn’t help the Sox get further than they would have with Madrigal. Winning the division by 13 games instead of eight doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, so a lot rests on how this move impacts October. There are no guarantees, because maybe Kimbrel gets hurt. Maybe he’s healthy but blows a game. Maybe games never get to him.

With Madrigal, the White Sox are basically using a player who doesn’t come along very often to maximize an opportunity that’s just as rare. They found one more way he could contribute to this season, using his high floor in an attempt to raise their ceiling for the rest of 2021. Now they just have to reach it.

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Soxfan2

Madrigal’s skillset and the rarity of it is the reason I overrate him. It truly is fun to watch him hit because you know he’s going to put the ball in play somewhere. He was my favorite player to watch bat.

If you just read out Madrigal’s wRC+, wOBA, BSR, UZR, DRS etc and didn’t tell me who it was, I’d probably tell you he’s a good player but nothing special.

The things he does at the plate to be an above average hitter is much cooler than what the final result actually is.

calcetinesblancos

I do genuinely think a player like him has more value than the stats.

As Cirensica

Madrigal has special skills indeed, but overall, his production, with different colors, shapes and flavors might not be difficult to find.

Madrigal is a difficult player to value. His value depends highly on his legs who just suffered a major injury. He has no power, and many players with similar production have a short life in baseball (Ben Revere). Having said this, if Madrigal finds good health and develops gap power, Hahn might regret this trade…unless Kimbrel saves game 7 in the WS.

calcetinesblancos

I’m impressed by the fearlessness and clarity of mind Hahn had to have because yes, there is definitely a good chance we regret this trade. You just accept that. The bottom line is that there is too much is going right this year to depend on our pre-deadline pen. They couldn’t take the heat.

I don’t think we’ll regret this trade like the Cubs regret trading Jimenez and Cease for Quintana. Kimbrel is a beast. He is going to slay. I admire Hahn’s vision here. If you look over the last 10 years, there are many ways to build a World Series team. Hahn has given up a good player in Madrigal to build a proven model for winning in the post season — a lock down backend of the bullpen. The Sox’s backend rivals the 2015 Royals. Kopech, Kimbrel, Hendricks. In a playoff series, you can shorten a game to 5-6 innings with those three. Madrigal will be a good player, but there are similar players at second base that can provide similar overall value. The Sox have a backend bullpen that no other team in the league has. Kopceh, Kimbrel, Hendricks. Game over.

calcetinesblancos

Nailed it: facing these types of players is incredibly irritating, so it was nice to have our own.

Look, I liked him and I’m sad to see him go; he was an awesome irritating pain in the ass to have in our lineup (when he played). But 2B is a much easier position to fill than almost any other. We’ll see what Hernandez does but I’m open to an upgrade.

WHITESOX_RIGHT_SOX

Damn, I sure enjoyed watching Nick play. A true rarity and beautiful style of baseball you don’t see much of anymore with the stick. Pesky fuckin hitter you love to have on your side. This team needs to put all focus into scouting and player development (of course this is nothing new) so they don’t have to resort to this type of trade. Can’t believe the Dodgers and Padres have been able to pull off all these recent trades using their farm system alone. Bonkers

Guessing Jake Burger’s emergence, Yolbert Sanchez, and Colton Montgomery draft made the FO feel comfortable enough to make this trade.

Time will tell, but Nick’s bat was a great balance to this lineup which can be overly aggressive and punch out a ton. He will be missed for sure. I’m also wondering how happy a career closer, future HOF one at that, will like playing second fiddle to Hendriks. Ya know, the whole closer mentality thing and how non-save situations mess with their psyche

WHITESOX_RIGHT_SOX

*Colson Montgomery

Stevers77

Great analysis of the situation in that last paragraph. The size of the prize at stake and the rare clear path the Sox seem to have demand a decisive commitment. That injury history so early is also a concern. Hard to believe Sox will commit to spending $30 mil on two closers next year to give this trade longer legs into next year.

Buehrlesque

I was a little uneasy with the trade yesterday, and after sleeping on it, I still feel like it might be a mistake. I don’t have a problem with trading Madrigal — that doesn’t have to be justified. It’s just that spending Madrigal on a luxury of a second closer doesn’t feel like the best use of resources. If you were looking for a reliever behind Hendriks, you could have pursued guys like Hudson, Kennedy or Iglesias at a less expensive cost. If you were looking to cash in Madrigal, I would cook up something else, maybe putting him in a Trea Turner-type deal or something along those lines. We’ll see how it all works out.

MrStealYoBase

This was my feeling as well. I had trading Madrigal in my off season plan. I have no problem with it on its own since I always thought it made the most sense as an avenue for opening up the roster for a major upgrade.

I’m just not sure that another closer, especially once slated to command $16M next year, is the best upgrade you could have made with that asset.

soxygen

Well said. I like Madrigal, we’re not likely to have a #4 pick again soon, and don’t have a lot of track record from which to assume that the Sox will solve any future lineup holes via free agency (Yas is really the only recent example)…but Kimbrel certainly makes this a stronger 2021 team and it sure will be fun to watch this bullpen pitch with leads in the playoffs.

Zips projects Heuer and Madrigal to produce (a very cost effective) 18.2 WAR over their remaining control periods and I think the chances that they will meet or exceed that are good.

In exchange we get 1.4 seasons of a guy who was clearly declining until this year, and who has gotten a bit lucky so far (eg 3.8% home run/fly ball rate versus 10.6% career average). Maybe he brings the Sox a pennant or World Series and we all look back and say “who cares?!?!” But maybe we don’t and he ends up producing a grand total of 3 WAR or less, at which point the 18 WAR we traded will seem totally disproportionate.

I’d have felt differently about this deal if the Cubs picked up a couple million of salary, sent us a prospect from the back half of their top 30, or if the deal had not included Heuer. But Madrigal and Heuer straight up for Kimbrel is an overpay.

twtw

Heuer has good three pitch mix. I wonder if Cubs will try him in rotation. Seems like he struggles to keep weight on. Young guy, long season.

Smart to seperate the two trades. Bailey Horn a nice pickup too.

Qubort

By your logic if you trade 10 players of 1 WAR for one player of 9 WAR, you overpaid. But it’s not that simple. The other positions will be filled over the duration of those contracts. Also, if it’s an overpay because the Cubs didn’t chip in $3 million, I’m fine with the Sox overpaying by that much.

soxygen

That’s a mischaracterization of my logic. And obviously it’s not that simple.
There might be no baseball in 2022. There might be no fans in the stands this year in the postseason. Craig Kimbrel might produce another 2 war over the remainder of this year and another 3-4 war next year….

But at a basic level we traded away 2 guys who were cheap and a pretty good bet to produce a combined 3+ war every year for several years to get a guy who has been lights out this year but was not good for 2 seasons prior to that, is not cheap, is under control at most through next year, and from whom we should probably expect something more like 2-3 war between now and the end of 2022. That seems like an overpay.

soxygen

The 2017 White Sox were 67-95. That is what we endured for the privilege of being able to draft Nick Madrigal. I hope the joy from the Kimbrel signing is enough to make me forget 2017!

WestEddy

1) We kept Kimbrel out of Houston, Oakland, Boston and Tampa Bay.
2) Don’t forget filling 2B with 3rd rounder Konnor Pilkington, a name you will never have to try to spell on a Sporcle Saturday
3) The bullpen is lock-down right now.
4) I’m happy the “can’t trade with the Cubs” taboo is broken.

lifelongjd

The more I saw Madrigal play, the more I liked him. I was surprised Hahn would even consider moving him and thought maybe the Cubs (who have a similar player in Hoerner) would have chosen someone like Burger or one of our younger prospects like Ramos, etc to align to their rebuild.
This is all about marginal value. Madrigal hasn’t yet peaked, but making a living on speed (legs & bat) and defense is a usually a short term thing. Perhaps the hamstring injury expedites his speed decline.
As Jim has pointed out, Madrigal is replaceable with many options. While a guy like Hernandez may not be as fun to watch or homegrown, the difference between him and Madrigal isn’t all that great and worth the trade. Especially considering the state of the Sox bullpen.
Having a back half of Kopech-Hendriks-Kimbrel in October is worth what we paid.

overland

Hidden nuances of the trades with the Cubs: Sox chose power over batting average
at second base. Sox believe Tepera and Kimbrell will allow Kopech to be stretched
for a starting role in 2022. Allegedly he can be used less frequently i.e. one inning at a time so that he can be utilized as an “opener” or for two plus innings as needed in a high leverage situation