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With all the flashy, headline-grabbing moves the Cubs have made the past few weeks, we Sox fans could be excused for feeling like a stray mongrel watching the purebreds parade their wares at the Westminster Show.
But we're moving up in the world. Not enough to gain admittance to Madison Square Garden, but we don't have to feel like a stray canine, scavenging the alley for leftovers anymore. We've been rescued.
Gone from third base are the likes of Conor Gillaspie, Mike Olt and Gordon Beckham. National League All-Star Todd Frazier will report to Glendale, Arizona, for the start of spring training in a couple of months.
And we'll no longer have to wonder if Micah Johnson or Carlos Sanchez is truly a big league second baseman, with Brett Lawrie, a five-year veteran with a healthy - for the South Siders anyway - .263 lifetime average coming over from Oakland.
No, Frazier and Lawrie may not make us forget Joe Crede or Nellie Fox any time soon, but they are a definite upgrade from what we had. Add in free-agent catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, replacing incumbents Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto, and you have to conclude that general manager Rick Hahn is serious about 2016.
Then again, he has to be since the crosstown rivals keep threatening to make the White Sox' future in Chicago about as promising as Anita Alvarez's.
All four of Hahn's new acquisitions have solid major league experience. Navarro has been a big leaguer for 12 seasons, yet he'll be just 32 on Opening Day. Avila, who has spent all of his seven seasons - most of them injury-plagued - with Detroit, where his dad Al succeeded David Dombrowski as general manager, turns 29 next month. (This being the holiday season, let's try not to read too much into the fact that Alex's father neglected to outbid the White Sox for his son's services.)
Frazier, the Reds' regular third baseman the past five years until Wednesday's trade, will be 30 when the season commences. The National League's starting third baseman in last July's All-Star Game, he averages 28 home runs and 83 RBI extrapolated to a 162-game schedule, according to Baseball Reference. Frazier also is a solid defender.
Meanwhile, Lawrie, who appeared to be the new third baseman until Frazier was acquired, now will move over to second where he appeared 42 times last season. Lawrie, the youngest of the newcomers, will be 26 in January. He played four seasons in Toronto before being traded to Oakland in the Josh Donaldson deal a little more than a year ago. We know how that deal turned out for Billy Beane and the A's, but Hahn wasn't required to part with a future MVP as he dealt two minor league pitchers to get Lawrie.
The White Sox said goodbye to three talented young prospects in the Frazier deal, sending Johnson, Trayce Thompson and hard-throwing Frankie Montas to the Dodgers, who then shipped three prospects to the Reds.
Johnson had every chance to be the Sox' regular second baseman last season, but he was demoted to Charlotte by mid-May to work on his defense. Still, you have to like him because of his speed, demeanor, and potential. The same is true of Thompson, who played the final two months of the season for the Sox, hitting .295 with some power (five HRs) while establishing himself as the best outfielder in the organization. And Montas, just 22 and possessing a 100-mph fastball, made seven September appearances for the big club, striking out 20 hitters in 15 innings.
Yet the trio of youngsters are exactly as advertised: prospects. Thompson never hit higher than .260 in seven minor league seasons. Johnson was a much better minor league hitter with a .301 average, but he struggled with the Sox last season. While Montas strikes out a bunch of guys, he'll need to walk fewer hitters to become a legitimate big league pitcher.
The bottom line is that the White Sox - although they would never say so - can't wait on talented prospects like the just-traded three. The emergence of the Cubs as members of baseball's elite dictates that the Sox had better be competitive now or risk playing in front of just a few thousand airheads like the one writing this column.
Of course, the Cubs had the luxury of fielding horrible teams in the recent past while awaiting the development of players like Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Jorge Soler and Anthony Rizzo because there are no shortages of airheads willing to spill formidable dollars to watch inferior baseball at Wrigley Field. The Sox clientele never has displayed those tendencies, and the front office knows it.
Of course, as with most life situations, this one also is filled with risk.
For instance, the White Sox have had dismal luck bringing over National Leaguers - see Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche - in hopes that they will continue to produce. Kindly keep this to yourself. Don't tell Todd Frazier.
And while Avila was an All-Star in 2011 with a .295 average and 19 homers, last season he caught only 44 games due to the concussion-like symptoms he encountered from being hit with multiple foul balls. Avila hit just .191 while making $5.4 million in 2015. He took a $3 million pay cut to sign with the Sox. That's gotta hurt more than a concussion.
Then there's Lawrie's hyper personality. Hahn used terms like "high intensity" and "energy" in describing Lawrie, a Canadian who played a lot of hockey growing up. Couple him with the "energetic" Adam Eaton in the clubhouse, and you might find their teammates scurrying for the privacy of the trainers' room.
On the other hand, this is a group which could use some energy, judging from their play of last season. So turn Lawrie loose. If he grates on teammates' nerves, so be it as long as he can hit.
Once the 2015 season concluded, the general consensus was that Hahn would have to part with a starting pitcher - Jose Quintana was most frequently mentioned - in order to trade for some punch to help the impotent White Sox attack. Yet, the combo of Chris Sale, Quintana, Carlos Rodon, John Danks and Erik Johnson remains undisturbed. Same with the bullpen. Closer David Robertson, another genuine pitcher, was mentioned as trade fodder. He also remains on the roster at this juncture.
Hahn is to be commended. These latest moves make tons of sense for the short term, which, as mentioned, is where the focus needs to be. The GM's maneuverings might be less spectacular than last year when he landed Melky Cabrera, Robertson, Jeff Samardzija, LaRoche, and left-handed reliever Zach Duke. That's a good thing in light of the way the new additions performed last season.
Hahn had some gaping holes to fill, and he's addressed most of those needs. Theo Epstein still is Best in Show in this city, but at least the Sox GM won't have to scrounge for scraps in the garbage this holiday season.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.
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Posted on Feb 18, 2019
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