Please, don’t shoot the messenger. There is a new rumor about the White Sox‘s 2019 plans. It’s the offseason and we exist to unparse, decode and interpret the smoke signals unfurled from executive suites around the league. This is why we call baseball’s offseason the hot stove.
It’s only been two weeks since the White Sox swapped Alex Call for Yonder Alonso in an oddly cheap trade with the Indians. Alonso appears to fill Matt Davidson‘s spot in the lineup as a designated hitter, and supply relief to Jose Abreu at first base during those few instances he decides he needs a blow. But on Friday MLB Network‘s Jon Morosi noted that the White Sox have interest in trading for Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion was traded by Cleveland to the Seattle Mariners earlier in the fall in exchange for Carlos Santana, whom the Mariners culled from the Phillies days earlier. It’s anyone’s guess what the Mariners are doing with first-baseman. Whether all roads lead to Rome for one-baggers or Jerry Dipoto feels there is untapped value in trading first-baseman for other players is abnormal, to say the least.
That the White Sox are interested in Encarnacion is equally curious. Alonso is a left-handed power hitter (who only just found his power stroke the past two seasons) that unequivocally needs to stay at first. Abreu’s presence in the lineup will be consistent as long as he remains in Chicago, and Daniel Palka can provide more depth around the diamond after Eloy Jimenez is called up.
According to the report, the White Sox are also interested in reuniting with Cardinals slugger Jose Martinez. Martinez started his career as a teenager in the White Sox organization and have deep ties to the family. His father Carlos Martinez played for the Sox from 1988-1990. Carlos’ progeny has taken a long time to develop, but he seemed to have reached his potential the last two seasons with the Cardinals batting over .300 and flashing signs of power potential. Martinez more than Encarnacion seems to fit the Sox’s lineup better, but it’s still questionable how snug the fit is.
Rick Hahn and White Sox brass are too intelligent to stockpile a surplus of one-dimensional players, and this in and of itself might be a telling development: What if the White Sox are chasing Encarnacion as insurance against losing Abreu in a trade? There certainly shouldn’t be much concern about losing Abreu in free agency. That is one year away and the Sox undoubtedly have the inside track given Abreu’s comfort in Chicago.
Both Encarnacion and Alonso are locked up through 2020 and don’t provide long-term security at the DH/1B spot. It’s fair to assume trading for the battery of Alonso and Encarnacion is a move to anchor the infield. So, I wonder if the White Sox are seriously considering moving Abreu?
The Rockies have shown interest in Abreu in the past and might be willing to put an attractive package together for the Cuban slugger. There isn’t a hitter alive that doesn’t like to hit at Coors Field, but trading Abreu would be a wildly unpopular move with the Sox’s fanbase. The possibility also exists that the Mariners could swap two years of Encarnacion for one year of Abreu, a move that is even more puzzling than using first-baseman as currency to buy prospects around the league.
Encarnacion has played third in the past, but it’s been three years since he has played hot corner and I don’t see him as an upgrade to Yolmer Sanchez. Moreover, if the White Sox are serious about grabbing Encarnacion I don’t see them swapping Abreu in a straight-up trade.
Losing Abreu in favor of Encarnacion doesn’t improve their lineup in 2019. Jettisoning another prospect like Call for Encarnacion makes sense, but in this type of move the logjam at 1B/DH still exists and the possibility of dropping Abreu in a trade becomes strikingly serious. The bigger question is whether losing Abreu in favor of Encarnacion helps them court Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Does having three slugging DH/1B help sell both those free agents, too?
In my view, trading Abreu is toxic to the White Sox faithful. But ballclubs don’t operate in that vacuum and if the opportunity to extract value from Abreu in a trade exists expect the White Sox to pull the trigger. It would be a sad day on the South Side, but hope glimmers that the White Sox would be able and willing to reclaim Abreu in free agency; albeit at an expensive price.