Shortstop: Chicago picked up Jimmy Rollins right before spring training and he has been fine overall, but not great. He’s hitting .236/.299/.368 (88 OPS+) at a time when the league average shortstop is hitting .256/.313/.390 (93 OPS+). Rollins is still a fine defender, so the total package is pretty close to average.
Quality shortstops are really tough to find, and it’s possible if not likely the White Sox won’t be able to find an upgrade over Rollins. Players like Freddy Galvis, Nick Ahmed, Erick Aybar and Zack Cozart might not be worth the trouble. An under-the-radar possibility: Ian Desmond. That would require theRangers to fall out of the race and I don’t think it’ll happen, but, if it does, Desmond would be a nice fit.
Center field: Austin Jackson was another late offseason pickup, and while he has greatly improved the overall team defense, he’s hitting only .230/.297/.317 (75 OPS+). The White Sox have the option of sliding Adam Eaton back to center field and acquiring a corner outfielder, but Eaton’s defensive numbers in right are off the charts, and they may not want to mess with that.
Designated hitter?: LaRoche’s retirement allowed Chicago to get Avisail Garcia out of the outfield, and wow did that help their defense. Garcia andJerry Sands have gotten the majority of the team’s DH at-bats and they’re hitting a combined .263/.338/.431 (107 OPS+) so far. That’s pretty good. Their track records suggest it may not last, however.
For the DH spot, it’s perfectly fine. No reason to fix what isn’t broken, you know. But, if Garcia and Sands fade, the White Sox could put some of that LaRoche money to use and pick up a veteran bat. How about, say, Carlos Beltran if the Yankees continue to fall out of the race? He’s a rental, he’s a switch-hitter and he’s a big time veteran presence.
Pitching, pitching, pitching: Every team needs pitching, like all the time. Starters, relievers, whatever. The White Sox are no different. Chicago does not need high-end pitching, however. Sale and Quintana are anchoring the rotation and David Robertson is nailing down the ninth inning. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll happily take another ace or another lockdown reliever, but it’s not imperative.
The upcoming free agent class is very weak, so there aren’t many quality rental pitchers out there. Andrew Cashner stands out as an obvious trade candidate — the White Sox love their hard-throwers — as does Rich Hill. Someone like Ivan Nova or Jorge De La Rosa could be candidates as well. Keep in mind the White Sox were said to be in the mix for Tim Lincecum. They’re looking for rotation help.
As for relievers, what about Aroldis Chapman? That would be fun. He’s an impending free agent, and if the Yankees are indeed out of it, they could look to take advantage of his trade value rather than settle for a draft pick after the season. David Hernandez, Kevin Jepsen and Boone Logan are other possibilities.
The trade market for pitching is always very competitive. The White Sox won’t be the only team looking for arms. It’ll take a few weeks for the market to fully develop — teams like to stay in the hunt as long a possible to keep fans interested — so if they are ready to make a big deal as Hahn said, it might not be for pitching.
The White Sox are, clearly, playing very well and they’re a dangerous team on both sides of the ball. They’ve got a quality lineup and a great pitching staff. The fact they haven’t been to the postseason since 2008 means they should have a sense of urgency come trade season, and as Hahn indicated Tuesday, they’re ready to do business right now.
Last week, my colleague Heath Cummings broke down the impact of the Athletics’ dreadful defense on their pitching. As the team with the lowest UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) in the majors, it makes it difficult for Fantasy owners to be upbeat about the rest-of-season forecast for Oakland’s pitchers, and for Sonny Gray in particular. Gray has relied more on his ability to get outs on balls in play than on missing bats, making him the sort of pitcher who could benefit from some defensive upgrades.
Though the A’s are extreme in their defensive woes, they are not the only team whose defense is likely to impact their pitchers’ stats. There is a significant negative relationship between a team’s UZR/150 and the BABIP rate its pitching staff allows, so defensively-challenged teams like the Brewers, Tigers and Diamondbacks could continue to post pitcher BABIPs of .310 and above. (The A’s have possibly been fortunate to keep their rate at a near-normal .301.) At the other extreme, the Rangers, Indians, White Sox and Cubs all have a team UZR/150 above 9.5, and all have limited opposing batters to BABIPs below .290. In fact, all of these staffs but the Rangers’ have BABIPs under .280.
While there is a relationship between defense and hit prevention on balls in play, it’s far from a perfect relationship. Teams like the Cardinals and Mariners have low pitcher BABIPs despite poor defense, while the Astros and Yankees have among the highest BABIPs despite being in the middle of the pack defensively. Since we are not quite one-quarter of the way through the season, pitchers with extreme BABIPs are candidates for a correction in general, but those who have a BABIP that is a mismatch for their team’s defensive standing are especially strong candidates.
Malik Jackson got $85.5 million over five years to come to the Jaguars this offseason. Jared Odrick got $42.5 million over five years to leave the Dolphins for a more northern Florida locale last year. Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller got four years apiece, for $18 million and $16.25 million, respectively, to join the Jags back in 2013. Only the Dolphins are devoting a greater cap figure to defensive linemen this year than the Jaguars, per Spotrac, and that’s thanks to those signings, the re-signing of Alualu and the selection of Fowler with the No. 3 overall pick in 2015.
All that money and draft capital bought them a group that is now deep and versatile. Adding Jackson and the returning Fowler to a group that actually defended the run decently last season should add some pass rush spice to the unit. The Jags ranked 17th in run defense DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which adjusts performance for down, distance, and opponent) last season, per Football Outsiders, and they ranked 5th with 3.5 yards per carry allowed. The 2015 Jaguars did not get after the passer much, though. Their 36 sacks tied for 20th in the NFL and, adjusted for down, distance, and performance, their sack rate ranked only 24th. Jackson excelled at getting after the quarterback for Denver last season, and Fowler was a pass-rush specialist at Florida.
Putting more pressure on the quarterback, even if they don’t sack the quarterback, can only help the back end of the defense. Jacksonville’s league-worst pressure rate of 28.8 percent last season (per data compiled from Pro Football Focus) undoubtedly played a role in their 29-9 touchdown-to-interception allowed ratio last season. It should also help that they have infused the secondary with more talent over the last few years as well.