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White Sox’ trade for Max Stassi strikes as another placeholder move as team waits for Edgar Quero

Vinnie Duber Avatar
December 11, 2023
Max Stassi and Shohei Ohtani

At a small number of positions, the future is clear for the White Sox.

And that’s why they traded for Max Stassi.

No, Stassi, the 32-year-old defense-first veteran the White Sox got in a Saturday-evening deal with the Braves, is not that future. But he is the present, or part of it anyway, with the idea that Edgar Quero, the third-ranked prospect in the organization and the No. 81 prospect in baseball, will one day take over behind the plate.

With Stassi now in the fold — for a $7 million salary that the Braves covered most of by sending along cash considerations in the trade — that day might be as soon as 2025.

Quero, acquired in the trade-deadline swap that sent Lucas Giolito to the Angels, is just 20 years old. Though he did spend time at Double-A in 2023, he’s not expected to make a beeline to the big leagues. That, however, shouldn’t make anyone question how the White Sox — or prospect evaluators, for that matter — feel about him.

“He was a 20-year-old in Double-A last year and he took well to an assignment that was aggressive,” Chris Getz said last week during the Winter Meetings. “Very smart kid, switch-hitting ability. I would say that looking into next year, he’s certainly going to be at the upper levels, and with really talented players, you never know how that’s going to play out.

“I don’t see him being on our Opening Day roster, if you are asking that question, but he’s certainly a guy that we know that he’s coming and we are excited to have him.”

“Quero is coming” might not be as catchy as the similar slogan from a hit TV show, but it shows where the youngster fits in the team’s plans, looking much like their outlook for Colson Montgomery, an even higher rated prospect. While there are questions about what position Montgomery will end up playing at the major league level, his eventual arrival is seen as one of the few cornerstone-type building blocks for the long-term aspects of Getz’s organizational renovation.

And so just like Getz did in bringing in Paul DeJong to be a placeholder at shortstop while Montgomery wraps his minor league development, here’s Stassi to do a similar job behind the plate while the White Sox wait for Quero.

And much like DeJong checked the defense box in a big way for Getz, so too does Stassi.

Here’s what Getz said he wanted in a catcher during the Winter Meetings:

“You are looking for someone that can come in here and defensively handle the position, including game-calling, and really have that presence that is needed at that position. … In terms of a veteran presence or someone who is a little more seasoned, that’s something we’re looking at.”

And here’s what Getz got in Stassi: a veteran who’s played in parts of 10 major league seasons and since the 2018 season has ranked as one of the best defensive catchers in the sport, according to Fangraphs. During that span, only nine catchers accumulated more Defensive Runs Saved.

Getz continues to deliver on his mission to improve the White Sox defensively, but Stassi’s arrival does little to inspire confidence that the team will be a run-scoring machine. He’s got a career batting average of .212 and a career on-base percentage below .300.

And alongside those offensive question marks, throw in some involving workload, too. Stassi has only played in more than 100 games in a season once in his career and missed the entirety of last season while dealing both with a hip strain and a family health issue.

If you’ve made it this far and wondering when we were going to talk about Korey Lee, here it is: Is Stassi here to top the catching depth chart and help mentor Lee while helping to manage the pitching staff? Or is he here to backup Lee, provide defensive certainty and let the rookie continue to develop at the big league level with a bigger workload and more responsibility?

All that is uncertain right now.

What is certain is that the White Sox didn’t go get Martín Maldonado or Austin Hedges or Eric Haase or Victor Caratini or Tucker Barnhart, free agents with mostly strong defensive reputations.

For the most part, they selected Stassi over all of them, unless they wanted Caratini, who signed with the Astros during the Winter Meetings, or Hedges, who reunited with the Guardians over the weekend. But Maldonado, in particular, was available and seemed to scream White Sox given his sparkling reputation for working with pitchers during the ongoing successful run by the Astros and his history working with Pedro Grifol during the South Side’s skipper time with the Royals.

Instead, it’s Stassi, who was traded to the White Sox the day after he was traded to the Braves in a deal with the Angels. But much like they did with DeJong, it’s hard to read the White Sox’ acquisition of Stassi as anything but the acquisition of a placeholder, meaning the $7.5 million club option for 2025 can already be somewhat confidently predicted to be declined at this time next year, when perhaps Quero will be knocking on the door of the major leagues.

The White Sox don’t have the ability to look to future cornerstones at many positions, but they do at shortstop and they do at catcher, helpful in describing the moves they’ve made to this point this winter.

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