Another day, another couple of deals to be had at the White Sox’ trade-deadline mega sale.
Following up the deal with the Angels earlier this week, Rick Hahn made two swaps Friday, sending Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly to the Dodgers and Kendall Graveman to the Astros.
There was plenty of fallout at 35th and Shields, but with two trades in less than 48 hours, it’s a wonder what might happen next. Long term and short term, here are four outcomes of the big moves.
We can’t call it a rebuild, not yet anyway
The No. 1 question when the dust settles on the deadline is whether the White Sox plan to compete in 2024 or take a longer-term approach, which brings about that word again: rebuild. Hahn has been unwilling to answer this question to this point, even seeming perturbed by questions on the topic in his two post-trade media sessions. But given that his carefully rebuilt roster is in danger of a 100-loss campaign, those questions are perfectly valid, whether he wants to share the answer or not.
Certainly the first trade Hahn made, featuring free agents to be Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López, was a more stereotypical deadline deal, shipping out a pair of two-month rentals. That wasn’t the case with Friday’s trades, with Graveman under contract for next season and Lynn and Kelly both retainable on team options.
So did dealing those controllable players speak at all to the team’s intentions for next season?
“It speaks more toward projecting out how each of those guys would potentially fit going forward and being more compelled to add the future pieces we were able to get at this time,” Hahn said. “The guys who are impending free agents, from a logical standpoint, by the end you should get what you can get if you are not going to compete this year.
“The guys with future control, it all comes down to a balancing of the return versus the value of the player in the organization next year. In each of the deals today, we were very pleased with what we were able to get back, but there was no urgency, necessarily, to move any of the three players.”
The departures of Lynn, Kelly and Graveman might not be too saddening for fans who expected far more out of that trio of veterans and weren’t clamoring for their returns in 2024 anyway. But it further drains the pitching staff of proven arms, creating a massive need this offseason if the team hopes to compete next year.
With Giolito and Lynn gone, the White Sox have two holes in their rotation. That number could grow if the team decides not to bring back Mike Clevinger, who has spent a significant portion of this season on the injured list. And however unlikely it might be that Dylan Cease would be traded before Tuesday’s deadline, his name has popped up in recent rumors. And that’s just the rotation. The bullpen has been stripped of three late-inning options, more moves could deliver further subtractions, and Liam Hendriks’ status is very much a question mark.
All that pitching uncertainty creates a serious question of whether the White Sox will be able to field a contender next season. Without significant work to reload on the pitching front this winter, things could resemble the wait-and-see years of Hahn’s rebuilding project. And that’s before any of the concerns you might have about a group of position players that seems relatively locked in place.
But if Hahn refuses to answer the big question yet, his manager isn’t quite as shy.
“We have to continue to develop and we have to continue to evaluate and see who fits our plans for next year, … see if they’re ready for what we want to do next year,” Pedro Grifol said. “(Not) by any means is this a rebuilding situation. I don’t think that’s where we’re at.
“I just think we had some assets that other teams coveted, that we can capitalize on, as well, that will prepare us for next season. … From my part, we’re developing leaders and we’re developing players for the next two months.”
‘Changing of the guard’
The White Sox’ clubhouse culture has been a hot-button issue for fans as they’ve watched what once was one of the most fun-loving teams in the league a few years back morph into a less-than-energetic bunch with a missing sense of swagger.
The easy answer, of course, is that it’s no fun to lose, and obviously there’s been a lot of that this season and last. But something’s got to give if they’re going to get to the realm of contenders, now with a roster lacking some of the pieces who were intended to play major roles both on the field and in the clubhouse.
Lynn, in particular, was lauded as a leader among the pitchers, his veteran experience meshing with a willingness to talk with his younger teammates. He was credited by plenty as playing a huge role.
“He’s a guy that you go to to ask, ‘Hey, is this how this is done?’ He’s a leader, for sure,” Cease told CHGO this week. “I think a lot of times, just being around him seeing how he is, it can kind of rub off on you, you know? … I think he just, in a lot of ways, sets the tone.”
So without Lynn — as well as Giolito, Graveman and Kelly — what’s next on the leadership front?
“I’m curious to see some of the guys that we have here step up and take the next step in their own leadership roles that we’re going to expect them to now take on,” Grifol said. “It’s almost like a changing of the guard.
“You’ve got to develop leaders in the clubhouse. People have got to step up now and lead. Obviously, from my position, you’re the leader, you’re the manager. But you also need players to lead in that clubhouse. I think we have players in there with characteristics of becoming really good leaders that have to take the next step, and we have to facilitate those guys in that regard.”
So who takes over as some of the new leaders in the clubhouse? As Grifol mentioned, the White Sox will find out over the final two months of this lost season. Hahn, meanwhile, already has a candidate in mind to grab more ownership of this team.
“I think it’s going to be a real interesting clubhouse over the next couple months, in a good way,” Hahn said. “I think there’s going to be the room for some of these young guys to grow and blossom and take some of the leadership reins.
“I think (Vaughn is) a player that you’re going to start seeing in a larger leadership role in that room. And there’s certainly others on the pitching staff that could seize that mantle, too, now that some of the veterans are going to be elsewhere.”
What’s the future at catcher?
The catcher position is emerging as one of the most interesting as the White Sox make plans for 2024 and beyond.
Edgar Quero, acquired in the Angels trade, is already ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the organization, as MLB.com has retooled its rankings of the top 30 minor leaguers in the White Sox’ system after the influx of newcomers. But he’s a 20-year-old still very much in development, one of the youngest players in all of Double-A.
Meanwhile, Korey Lee, acquired in the Astros trade, is being talked up as someone who could play for the big league team this year. Hahn said that Lee, who is just beginning a rehab stint while on the road back from an oblique injury, will play at Triple-A Charlotte until healthy but could be a part of the White Sox’ active roster not long after.
Thanks to those reshuffled prospect rankings, we get a glimpse at how both Quero and Lee stack up to already-present White Sox minor leaguers in the eyes of evaluators. And while Quero rocketing to near the top of those rankings speaks to the kind of player the White Sox got in the trade with the Angels, Lee sitting at No. 15 after being ranked No. 5 on the Astros’ list tells its own story.
Obviously both players are young and still developing, meaning their future is far from written. But what does the future, both immediate and far off, look like for the White Sox behind the plate?
With Yasmani Grandal’s contract expiring this season and Seby Zavala struggling mightily at the plate, there figures to be room for change. Hahn said the White Sox didn’t intend to load up on catching prospects at the deadline, but it’s probably a good thing they did.
“It’s an area of need,” Hahn said. “Arms and catching were certainly toward the top of the priority list based upon the system and what we have under control going forward. By no means did we sit down a month ago and say, ‘Let’s get two catchers’ or, ‘Let’s get three catchers’ or, ‘Make sure we get five arms’ or whatever it is. But they were areas of need, and creating depth and competition and alternatives is going to serve us well.”
Quero would figure to be the long-term plan at the position. But as for 2024, there’s a chance for Lee to make an impression in the final two months this year and head into the offseason as the de facto Opening Day starter. Of course, as the White Sox have shown in the past, plans can change at catcher when offseason opportunities arise. Despite James McCann making the All-Star team in 2019, they inked Grandal to what was then the richest free-agent deal in team history the following November.
So we’ll see what the winter holds.
More moves coming?
The deadline isn’t here yet.
The White Sox have been busy, undoubtedly, but are there more deals to be made before baseball turns back into a pumpkin Tuesday evening?
After the trade with the Angels, Hahn was matter of fact in saying his front office wasn’t done. After the deals with the Dodgers and Astros, he wasn’t nearly as committed to continued activity.
“Impossible for me to prognosticate,” he said. “We still have players of interest to other clubs, and we’re still having talks. … So we’re going to continue talking, and if there’s something that makes sense, we’ll pull the trigger.”
Indeed, there are other current White Sox who have been mentioned in rumors in recent days. Aaron Bummer and Keynan Middleton could make for a continued exodus from the bullpen. Seemingly less likely would be the departure of bigger names like Cease or Luis Robert Jr.
The most interesting case could be Tim Anderson, whose exit would firmly signal a direction that the three completed trades haven’t. Though three of the five pitchers the White Sox have dealt left with the potential of sticking around for 2024, their departures have not made contention next season impossible. Anderson’s might.
A down year for the All-Star shortstop would seem to set up a situation where the White Sox would be selling low if they did trade him, something you generally want to avoid. Additionally, a bounce back is far from out of the question, and Anderson returning to form over the final two months this season and into next season would dramatically increase the chances of the White Sox being able to compete — if that’s their intention.
Though plenty of fans would like to see the position-player group get a good reset — there were boos when Anderson grounded into a first-inning double play Friday night — the guys who left the clubhouse Friday pointed to what has remained true throughout two years of massive disappointment: There’s still a lot of talent on this roster.
So when it comes to what else might happen before the deadline, stay tuned.