The White Sox were one of few teams that made noise this offseason, but one cannot help but feel they left their winter work half-unfinished. They are just opening their championship window built around a dynamic rotation trio, a cadre of electric young starts signed to long, team-friendly deals, and a stable of high-velocity arms just entering or on the precipice of entering the majors. They looked at the cost-cutting measures of their AL Central foes and decided to make a go of it.
With all this infrastructure in place, it was a bit curious they were not active players for the services George Springer, Marcell Ozuna, or Eddie Rosario. Instead they supplemented their exciting core with one of the more head-scratching decisions — beyond hiring Tony LaRussa as manager — of the winter: a one-year deal for noted conflict-stirrer Adam Eaton. Perhaps this was because they were intent on giving top prospect Andrew Vaughn a shot at the full-time DH role over those primary DH, marginal corner outfield types.
Even if the price tags for the likes of Springer and Ozuna became too exorbitant, it is still puzzling why the White Sox were intent on shoehorning a fractious personality into their young and fun-loving clubhouse, especially when steadier contributors such as Rosario, Adam Duvall, and Robbie Grossman all signed for essentially the same amount as Eaton. And now with the news that Eloy Jiménez is set to miss five to six months with a torn pectoral tendon, the folly of the Eaton signing becomes even more exposed.
Now, the White Sox are in scramble mode trying to figure out how to replace the roughly 125 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR missing from left field. They have floated the idea of some internal replacements, be that shoving the aforementioned Vaughn into left or using backup outfielder Leury García in a more regular role. Vaughn has never played a professional inning in the outfield, while García is already dealing with some injury issues of his own (albeit minor ones). Of course, there are always the free agent and trade markets should the internal solutions not suffice.
A quick glance at the remaining free agent outfielders reveals a rather vacant lot. Jay Bruce signing with Yankees removes an option from the market, while Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Céspedes, and Josh Reddick do not inspire much confidence at this point in their careers, and they’d all likely need a good chunk of April to to get into game shape. It appears that a trade is the most likely scenario to fill Jiménez’s shoes if the White Sox don’t trust their internal options, and the Yankees have just the man for the job.
The White Sox should be in Brian Cashman’s ear enquiring about Mike Tauchman’s availability. His 2019 breakout showed a ceiling as an everyday starter with a plus glove at all three outfield positions; he’s slated to start 2021 on the bench, but could start on several other teams if he even approached his 2019 level. Even though Tauchman’s bat cooled off last season, my colleague Erica showed yesterday that he has partially recovered in the exit velocity department this spring. He attempted to play through a shoulder injury in 2020 and his batted ball metrics suffered. It seems he is healthy this spring (banged-up shin notwithstanding), and he has four more years of team control remaining, surely making him attractive to opposing clubs.
A good number of other teams reportedly have asked about Tauchman this spring, so given the demand, the Yankees could seek a hefty return, right? Well, maybe not so much “hefty,” as Tauchman is already 30 and would likely be a one-year stopgap until Jiménez recovers. So forget about the Michael Kopech, Garret Crochet-type blue chip prospects. Instead, the Yankees could target some of the younger arms in the low minors, players who would not have to be added to already-crowded 40-man roster. Let’s look at a quartet of exciting prospects who fit this bill.
Jared Kelley is the fifth-ranked prospect in the White Sox system according to MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs. He is one of the best prep products out of Texas in a decade, but signed in the second round last year for first-round money. The 2020 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year has a fastball that can touch 98 and a plus-plus changeup with impressive tailing movement. Given his superb background and how recently the White Sox drafted him, they would probably be loathe to deal Kelley for a contributor as old as Tauchman, but it can’t hurt for Cashman to aim high (or even potentially to build upon this as part of a larger deal).
Fellow Texan Matthew Thompson is their seventh-ranked prospect per Pipeline and tenth-ranked per FanGraphs. Selected in the second round of the 2019 draft, the 20-year-old’s calling card is his athleticism more than his raw stuff at this point. Thompson throws a four-seamer that sits in the low-to-mid nineties, as well as a curveball and changeup in their developmental stages.
One round after drafting Thompson, the White Sox picked up Andrew Dalquist. He was also signed out of high school, and ranks ninth and eleventh on the Pipeline and FanGraphs team lists respectively. He does not quite possess the frame of his two fellow prospects, but can still touch the mid-nineties with the fastball. Dalquist’s two breaking pitches are more refined than his teammates, causing Pipeline to project him as a potential fourth starter. Since both Thompson and Dalquist are more long-term projects at this point, perhaps the White Sox would be amenable to moving one of them to settle a current outfield conundrum.
Norge Vera signed for $1.5 million as an international free agent after defecting from Cuba in 2019, and is Chicago’s eleventh-ranked prospect according to Pipeline. His fastball can reach the high nineties, with scouts believing it can go higher. He has also thrown a curveball, slider, splitter, and changeup at different points, but needs to work most on limiting free passes. The White Sox just signed him in February, so he might be tough to pry away so soon. Like with Kelley though, there’s no harm in asking.
Losing Eloy Jiménez is a major blow to the White Sox’s season, and if they want to keep their aspirations alive they need to find a productive replacement. Mike Tauchman seems like the perfect fit for their situation, and with a quartet of intriguing young pitchers all on the same timetable, the White Sox could tempt the Yankees into parting with their fifth outfielder. The coming days will tell us what Chicago plans to do.