He’s a local product, you know.
If the White Sox get their reported wish, Steve Stone and Jason Benetti are going to get to make that joke a billion times in 2023.
According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the White Sox have “expressed interest” in trading for infielder Nicky Lopez, currently a member of the division-rival Royals and famously an alum of Naperville Central High School.
Despite Romy Gonzalez being featured in the team’s latest social-media video attempting to hype fans up to buy tickets, who starts at second base might remain undecided right now, three weeks before the start of spring training. Gonzalez and Lenyn Sosa, seemingly the two leading internal options, don’t have much in the way of big league experience and would represent a sizable unknown in a season the White Sox begin with hopes of competing for a World Series championship.
An upgrade – or at least the import of a veteran presence to create a position battle this spring – remains possible, so Rick Hahn said after the team inked Andrew Benintendi to a franchise-record free-agent contract earlier this month.
“It’s certainly a possibility,” Hahn said of acquiring a second baseman. “We think very highly of Romy and think Lenyn Sosa is a guy who has a very bright future, as well. Ultimately, that could be an area where we have future additions, whether it’s in the next few weeks or something that happens in camp.
“If in the end we are choosing from Romy and Lenyn, with Leury (García) as a potential backup, that’s something that we certainly feel gives us an opportunity to win. But at the same time, it doesn’t necessarily preclude us from looking at ways to get better.”
Hahn, too, spent the early portions of the offseason forecasting that the White Sox would likely find more success in the trade market than the free-agent market. That’s not how things have played out, however, with the team’s two significant offseason additions, Benintendi and Mike Clevinger, coming via free agency. The White Sox’ lone trade this winter saw relief arm Gregory Santos join the bullpen in exchange for a minor league pitcher.
Could Lopez change that and become the team’s new starting second baseman?
First, it’s important to read the rest of Rosenthal’s tweet, where he pointed out the Royals aren’t exactly clamoring to trade Lopez, even if he’d serve as mainly infield depth on their current roster.
Lopez hasn’t found much success offensively in his career, finishing only one of his four big league seasons as an above-average hitter. In the other three, he’s been well below average, including in 2022, when he posted a ghastly OPS-plus of 58, in line with the sort of production he had in 2019 and 2020 before a strong 2021 campaign.
Defensively, the results have been mixed, with different metrics saying different things. In 2020, for example, he posted a Defensive Runs Saved of 9, while swinging wildly to a minus-8 in that same stat last year, when he also posted an Outs Above Average number of 4. So yeah, who knows.
He has shown an ability on the base paths, stealing 22 bags in 2021 and 13 more in 2022. But his power numbers are next to nothing, with only five home runs in more than 1,600 career trips to the plate.
All that said, he might earn the same stamp of approval from new White Sox manager Pedro Grifol that Benintendi, a former Royal, did. Grifol spent years as a Royals coach and witnessed the entirety of Lopez’s major league career from the home dugout at Kauffman Stadium. Grifol shared the story of bringing up Benintendi’s name as a possible addition during his second interview with the White Sox, before he even got the job, and perhaps he has spoken highly of Lopez, too.
Who knows if any hope of an acquisition of Lopez would mean an instant rise to the top of the depth chart at second base. While Lopez owns plenty of major league experience, perhaps the White Sox, too, view him as a potential depth piece, a sure glove on the infield behind not just whoever wins the second-base gig but also Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada; Lopez has played shortstop and third base at the major league level, too.
Lopez could perhaps be someone who challenges Gonzalez and Sosa for the starting job at second during spring camp, a veteran safety net of sorts if the young guys fail to overly impress. Or maybe he could win the job, a familiarity with the sort of show Grifol wants to run an obvious point in his favor.
But of course, this is all speculation and ignores the potential unlikelihood of a deal between two division rivals.
The Royals have been busy in the past few days, sending outfielder Michael A. Taylor to another Central foe in the Twins and shipping shortstop Adalberto Mondesi to the Red Sox. But that doesn’t mean it’s an “everything must go” sale in KCMO, and the White Sox could find themselves unable to part with whatever the new leadership in the Royals’ front office is asking for. Intra-division deals always come with the potential for greater haunting than others should things go awry.
In the end, the White Sox could probably use some more oomph at second base, even if it’s just a veteran presence to challenge the young guys in camp. Lopez might not be a long-term answer – or even that great of a short-term one – but he provides more in the “you know what you’re going to get” category than Gonzalez or any other White Sox minor leaguer currently does.
That is, if the Royals even want to make a deal.