The cellar-dwelling Chicago White Sox have officially kicked off their sale-a-thon by trading hard throwing lefty relief pitcher Matt Thornton to the Boston Red Sox for a prospect. The trade figures to be the first of several moves by Chicago GM Rick Hahn. In fact, this could be the biggest fire sale seen in Chicago since Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern.
Chicago finds itself 14 games behind Detroit at the All-Star break, although the two clubs will face each other 15 times by the end of the season. They have been outscored by 60 runs. Compare that with the Tigers' plus 89 runs makes a run differential of 149 runs. Chicago's playoff odds are listed at 0.1%, and only the Houston Astros have a poorer record in the American League.
In trading Thornton, who has about $3.5 million left on his contract for the 2013 season, the White Sox have confirmed what many have speculated- that the club will be sellers approaching the July 31st trade deadline. The Sox exchange includes $750,000 in cash going from White to Red, and Boston’s 13th rated prospect going to Chicago.
Other players that Chicago might be willing to move include outfielder Alex Rios, relief pitchers Matt Lindstrom and Jesse Crain, and starting pitcher Jake Peavy. Crain and Peavy are both currently on the 15 day disabled list, but are due to return by the end of this month. They could even part with shortstop Alexei Ramirez or some other veterans if the price is right. Baseball America ranks the White Sox 29th of 30 teams in their organization talent rankings.
Crain would be of particular interest to the Tigers. He holds the league's highest WAR among relief pitchers, carries an ERA of 0.74, a Fielding Independent Piitching of 1.54 and a WHIP of 1.15.
The Tigers currently have one of the most effective one- two punches in the league in their bullpen with Smyly and closer Joaquin Benoit both ranked among the top six in FIP and in the top nine in WAR, according to Fangraphs.com. But after those two, the talent level drops off sharply.
The Tigers are currently testing Al Alburquerque and rookie Bruce Rondon, a pair of hard throwing right handers, each featuring high strikeout rates and high walk rates. The duo usually survives when they keep the ball in the park, but as we’ve seen, there is no guarantee of that, and the Tigers would be wise not to roll the dice by trusting their late inning leads to such risky relievers.
Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune speculates that Crain would be a perfect fit for the Tigers, although he suggests that he’d be going to Detroit as a possible closer. He has only four career saves, but there isn’t any apparent reason that he couldn’t do the job. In my view, the Tigers don’t need a closer, but they desperately need at least one more reliable late inning relief pitcher. The Tigers, Red Sox, and Atlanta Braves have been most often mentioned as the clubs seeking bullpen help.
The White Sox have a trio of relievers in Crain, closer Addison Reed, and Nate Jones all among the top 14 relievers in WAR, and add Lindstrom with them among the top 21 relievers measured by FIP. Suffice it to say that either Crain or Lindstrom would be an upgrade over whomever the seventh inning guy du jour happens to be on a given day in the Tiger bullpen.
Crain, a ten year veteran who spent his first seven seasons with the Twins, earns a salary of $ 4.5 million and is set to become a free agent after this season, so he’d cost about $ 2 million for the balance of the season. He has a career ERA of 3.05 and has bested that number in each of the past three seasons, plus this season. His career WHIP is 1.23 and he hasn’t gone above 1.24 in the past four seasons. He struck out 11.3 batters per nine innings last year and carries the same whiff rate this season. He has been a very consistent set up man.
Lindstrom, a veteran of seven seasons, earns a salary of $ 2.8 million this year and has a club option for $ 4 million for 2014 with a $ 500,000 buyout. He can earn up to $ 2.25 million in bonuses based on games finished, but that doesn’t come into play as he is not being used as a closer. He has closing experience, notching 45 career saves, but hasn’t been given regular ninth inning duties since 2010 when he succeeded Jose Valverde as the Astros’ closer. He has pitched for six teams in his seven seasons. Lindstrom’s strikeout rate is 6.8 K/9 this year, down from his career high 8.4 in 2012.
Of the two, Crain would obviously be the more expensive to acquire, if Chicago would even entertain the thought of trading within their own division. It’s one thing to unload salaries and acquire prospects who might help the club in the future, but selling off your best relief pitchers to the team leading your division with two months left in the season could be a bitter pill to swallow for the Chicago fan base. They might as well just run a big white flag of surrender up the flagpole at US Cellular field.
History shows that the White Sox have been reluctant to trade within their division in recent years. Although Kenny Williams has passed on the GM duties to Hahn, the club has only made trades within the division in recent years with Kansas City. The most recent intra-division trade sent Josh Fields and Chris Getz to Kansas City for Mark Teahen in November, 2009.
In 2006, they sent a pair of prospects to the Royals for reliever Mike MacDougal, and they acquired Horacio Ramirez from Kansas City in July, 2008. In each case, Chicago received the more established players. In December, 2006, they sent Ross Gload to the Royals for big reliever Andy Sisco. There is just no recent history to suggest that the White Sox will do business with any other clubs within their division, particularly in mid season.
Williams was the White Sox General Manager from 2000 until after the 2012 season, when he handed duties over to Hahn. Dombrowski has been the Tigers GM since 2002. Things could be different with a new GM in Chicago. A new GM may want to make a signature move to put his stamp on the roster, and establish himself. What better way to do that, than to make a move unlike anything his predecessor made during his twelve years in the big chair?
If Rick Hahn is offered a deal that would help his club, and he only has to give up a player who is going to walk away after the season, and if he can save a couple million bucks in the process, there’s no reason not to pull the trigger on a trade. But the fact that he’s so obviously throwing in the towel with two months left in the season leaves him in a position where the fan base needs to see how the trade helps their team, at least in the long run.
All this probably means that the cost to acquire a relief pitcher from Chicago would cost a premium. Maybe the Tigers would have to give up Bruce Rondon, rather than just Jose Ortega. If Crain is made available, which is likely, the Tigers won’t be the only clubs interested. The Red Sox are among the clubs who have been linked to rumors searching for bullpen help. Whether they are done shopping now that they have added Thornton is another question.
The Tigers have been buyers at the trade deadline in each season since 2009, and GM Dave Dombrowski has been able to work deals with Kansas City, Minnesota, and Cleveland in mid season during that time span. The Tigers obtained Wilson Betemit from the Royals, Delmon Young from the Twins and Jhonny Peralta from the Indians, all in the second half during the season. Dombrowski has not made a trade with the White Sox during his tenure in Detroit.
Perhaps Kenny Williams is still bitter about the fact that the Tigers gave him the pink slip, placing him on waivers in mid season in 1990. The Tigers traded pitcher Eric King to the White Sox for Williams prior to the 1989 season. But whatever the reason, that was the last trade that I could find between the two clubs.