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The Josh Harrison Era is over at second base on the South Side.
The White Sox declined the option on Harrison on Monday and need a new everyday guy to serve as Tim Anderson’s double-play partner.
The internal options are far from thrilling, and if the White Sox are picking from Romy Gonzalez, Lenyn Sosa and whatever Danny Mendick is going to be after recovery from a torn ACL, there was a very good argument to just hang onto Harrison.
Considering the somewhat locked-in roster, though, second base was one of the few places on the field that Rick Hahn’s front office could easily make change. But as for how many of the team’s needs – power hitting, left-handed hitting, defensive improvement, good base-running – a second baseman could help solve? That’s hard to figure out.
Well, as the GM meetings start out in Las Vegas, one specific need has emerged: The White Sox need a new second baseman. So let’s go through some options, five free agents or possible free agents and five potential trade partners whose depth at the position makes them possible places for Hahn to find Harrison’s replacement.
Segura was the one of 10 major league second baseman who was, per Fangraphs, better than Harrison both offensively and defensively in 2022. If the White Sox are looking to upgrade – and of course they are, considering they declined Harrison’s option – Segura is that on both sides of the ball.
Of course, Segura wasn’t wildly impressive in either area, best described as “fine” for the NL champs last season. His wRC+ of 105 meant he was just five percent better than the average big league hitter (Harrison, of course, was two percent worse than average with a wRC+ of 98), and he ranked just barely ahead of Harrison defensively.
Is that an upgrade? Yes. Is that an upgrade worth spending some significant dollars on? Well …
Segura did come through with some big moments in the Phillies’ surprisingly deep playoff run. He’s been mostly durable, though he played in only 98 games in 2022. He’s been consistently fine as a hitter for the last seven years.
But the White Sox invested in reliability when they gave Harrison a contract last spring, and it didn’t pan out as hoped. It’s not difficult to see Segura perform very similarly to Harrison, a theme you’re likely to see throughout this free-agent list.
The Brewers have yet to announce whether they’re picking up a club option on Wong, who already seems to be the top choice for White Sox fans. He’s the potential highwater mark of this unimpressive crop of free-agent second basemen. His career-high 15 home runs with the Brewers in 2022 probably have something to do with that. Indeed, Wong would provide a few things the White Sox desperately need, chiefly some pop and another left-handed bat, as lineup balance has been a bugaboo on the South Side for a while now.
In the “is he an upgrade over Harrison” department, the answer is sure, as he was significantly better offensively last season. The questions come with the glove, strange for the two-time Gold Glover. Wong was horrific defensively in 2022, his minus-9 Outs Above Average close to the worst among big league second basemen. Only three players in baseball, regardless of position, were charged with more errors than Wong’s 17.
Call it a blip if you’d like, and certainly this looks like it could be an anomaly. He posted a positive OAA number in each of the previous four seasons, and between 2018 and 2021, he committed just 22 total errors, only five more than his single-season total this year.
But let’s remember, too, that the White Sox are in sore need of improving defensively. Considering second base is one of the few positions on the field that could see a new face in 2023, just how critical is it that they bring in a defensive upgrade over Harrison? And is Wong that upgrade after such a horrendous year in the field?
If the White Sox were intent on providing a defensive upgrade and not much else, Schoop would be the way to go. Not a slam-dunk free agent yet, as he’s got a player option to stay with the Tigers that might wipe his availability off the map in a hurry, Schoop was, statistically, the best defensive second baseman in baseball in 2022.
His Outs Above Average was an insane 27, more than double that of the No. 2 defender, Andres Gimenez from the Guardians, who won the Gold Glove. The Defensive Runs Saved metric had him further down the list, at 8, ranking seventh – far below the Rockies’ Brendan Rogers, who posted a 22 – but it was not kind to Segura (minus-1) or Wong (minus-1) either.
Schoop would be a definite defensive upgrade, but offensively, he’s coming off the worst season of his decade-long big league career. He struggled to finish above the Mendoza Line, batting .202, and his woeful .561 OPS – that featured a .239 on-base percentage – was far and away the lowest single-season mark he’s ever had. Schoop had been an above-average hitter for the three years prior, but playing in 25 fewer games in 2022 than he did in 2021, he mustered just half his home-run total (22 to 11) and fewer than half of his RBIs (84 to 38).
The Tigers were a bad offensive team, sure, but so were the White Sox. While the South Siders need to improve defensively, they need to improve offensively, too. Can they afford to solve one of those problems at second base while leaving the other basically unaddressed?
Frazier has some name recognition after landing on White Sox fans’ trade-deadline wish lists in 2021, but he had a rough go of things playing for the Mariners in 2022. Going strictly by one season’s worth of numbers, Frazier fared worse both offensively and defensively than Harrison last season, making his addition a tough one to call an upgrade right off the bat.
Of course, he was an All Star the year prior, though for only a half season’s worth of production. He was stellar with the Pirates, posting an .836 OPS in 98 games. After a midseason trade to the Padres, those numbers fell off a cliff, and he was even worse over a full season in Seattle, with a hideous OPS+ of 80 to go along with some ugly rate stats (.238/.301/.311).
Over the last three seasons, Frazier has only been eye-poppingly good over that 100-game stretch with the Pirates, and that might be enough to have some suggesting a pursuit. But Harrison’s been the better hitter and defender in that span, Frazier offering little more than a lefty bat.
The best offense-only upgrade on the free-agent market might be Drury. Though he doesn’t swing the left-handed bat that Wong does, he hit plenty of home runs in 2022, 28 of them, in fact, which was not too far off from doubling White Sox leader Andrew Vaughn’s total of 17.
Drury’s monster year, which was most monstrous with the Reds, prior to a midseason trade to the Padres (sound familiar, Frazier fans?), when he launched 20 of those homers in 92 games. He cooled off, with only eight bombs in his 46 games in San Diego, but his offensive numbers overall stayed above average, and he finished the campaign with an OPS+ of 122 between the two clubs.
Thing is, who knows if this is who Drury is? After some OK seasons with the D-backs early in his career, he appeared in a total of just 218 games over a four-year stretch from 2018 to 2021. Though he put up some good numbers in 51 games with the Mets in 2021, he didn’t show much of the same pop he did this past season, with only four homers. There weren’t many second basemen that struck out as much as Drury did in 2022, either. He punched out 126 times.
Considering the opportunities for Hahn to add power do not appear ample, adding Drury might help boost the lineup and make up for the potential loss of José Abreu. Defensively, it’s a downgrade from Harrison. So this really comes down to which area the White Sox are prioritizing.
Hahn said the trade market might prove more fruitful than the free-agent market this winter, and looking solely at the second-base options, he might be right.
The White Sox would seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to landing any sort of sizable fish in a trade, considering their farm system is not loaded with highly rated prospects, the kind that usually headline a package to land an All-Star type player. In that case, cross the big names off your wish list.
Of course, second base isn’t a position exactly bursting with big names. There are teams out there who have depth at the position, though, and perhaps targeting another team’s strength – where a young player might be blocked or a contender is in need of help elsewhere on the roster – could pry loose an everyday guy.
Who knows how many true everyday guys there are in the suggested trade partners below, but they seem to have multiple good players capable of playing second base. I’m not going too far beyond that, but here’s a peek at some potential trade targets, just because no one’s going to be camped outside Guaranteed Rate Field with signs that say: “SIGN DRURY!”
Yankees. Gleyber Torres seemed like a good buy-low-ish trade option an offseason ago, and he had a good offensive year in 2022, vastly improving on his 2021 numbers by boosting his OPS+ from 93 to 114. Now, that included a lot of strikeouts, but it also included 24 home runs, which obviously the White Sox could use. The Yankees have a wealth of infield prospects, and Oswald Peraza is in need of a position, not to mention they’ll probably be going after some expensive shortstop again after missing out last year. Oh, and they have DJ LeMahieu, who continues to be good and able to play everywhere on the infield (he won a Gold Glove as a utility man).
Marlins. Everyone wants Jazz Chisholm Jr., and that makes sense after he had a spectacular 60-game stretch and earned an All-Star nod. He also plays for the Marlins, who tend to trade away their players all the time. There’s plenty of unknown with Chisholm, considering he’s only played in 205 games over his three years in the bigs. Marlins GM Kim Ng seemed to brush away those in-season reports that Chisholm was not the best of clubhouse guys, but she probably wouldn’t brush him off the roster for nothing. This is where the White Sox’ ability (or inability) to put together an enticing package comes in. But hey, there are other Fish in the sea, right? Why not take a look at Jon Berti, Chisholm’s post-injury replacement at second base? Berti led the majors in steals and is one of those Terrific Ten who fared better both offensively and defensively than Harrison in 2022.
Rays. If the Rays send you one of their good players, you likely got fleeced. The Rays are too smart to trade with, and yet their apparent middle-infield surplus seems worth looking into. They’re the Rays, so of course they’ve got prospects out the wazoo. Isaac Paredes was great in 2022 but perhaps un-pry-loose-able considering how wildly inexpensive he is. It’s Brandon Lowe who is intriguing here after the worst offensive season of his career. He was still an above-average hitter but far off the kind of production that got him MVP consideration in 2020 and 2021. Going from 39 home runs to eight is not something that looks good for a team seeking power, but like Chisholm, he played in only 60-something games this season. Maybe the back problems that bothered him all year are worth staying away from, but he’s an interesting buy-low possibility. Also, did you know his nickname is Bamm-Bamm?
Cardinals. Hello, St. Louis! Steven Tyler likely won’t be making a guest appearance on any of Hahn’s phone calls to other baseball-ops heads, but the White Sox GM would be wise to look the Cardinals’ way. There’s depth there. And even if Tommy Edman isn’t going anywhere, neither is Nolan Arenado over at third, soaking up a pair of infield spots. Maybe it’s too much to ask for the Cardinals to part with rookie Brendan Donovan, who just posted an OPS+ of 126 and won a Gold Glove as a utility guy. Maybe it’s too much to ask for the Cardinals to part with rookie Nolan Gorman, who hit 14 homers in 89 games. But hey, why not?
Dodgers. Everyone’s focused on the Dodgers, who always have a surplus of talent at every position on the field. Second base is no exception, what with Gavin Lux and Max Muncy in place, even before decisions are made on free-agent infielders Trea Turner and Justin Turner (no relation). Then there’s top infield prospects Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch ready to star in Hollywood. Now, the Dodgers aren’t likely to just give away Lux, not after his best season in the bigs in which he led the NL in triples. But given that depth, the shrewdly run Dodgers might find something they like enough to make a deal.
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