Before the season began, I figured that the Chicago White Sox were in for a developmental campaign in which they rid themselves of veterans like Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy to help bolster their farm system and handed their playing time to their young and inexperienced players. That belief only got stronger when the White Sox dealt the very talented and very injury prone Carlos Quentin to the San Diego Padres in January. At that point it seemed like the White Sox would spend most of the year with their elder-statesmen on the trading block while rookie manager Robin Ventura attempted to familiarize himself with guys like Gordon Beckham, Tyler Flowers and the like to prepare for the longhaul.
But the White Sox weren’t content with throwing away the season and those veteran players, previously major hindrances (at least in the cases of Rios and Dunn), have instead flipped the switch and put together very effective seasons that have played a big part in Chicago’s two and half game lead in the central division. Dunn is mashing again, belting out 31 homers so far this season while posting the second highest ISO (isolated slugging) mark in baseball, Rios has the best WAR on the team and has a very solid .314 batting average to go with his fantastic .884 OBS (on-base plus slugging) and Peavy is one of the best pitchers in baseball, producing the seventh most WAR among non-position players and putting up his highest K-rate since 2009 (8.1 Ks per 9).
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…
With their veterans re-surging, youngsters like Chris Sale and Addison Reed busting onto the scene (Sale is a legitimate Cy Young candidate) and the immortal Paul Konerko putting together an MVP caliber season, the White Sox are doing anything but selling this season. Instead they’ve positioned themselves as buyers in the trade market and with just a few hours left until the deadline, they’ve already made some moves to help them make an unexpected post-season push. Their first move was swiping the ultimate “needs a change of scenery” guy in Kevin Youkilis from the Boston Red Sox. Youkili got off to a scorching start but has settled into a nice .273/.387/.882 hitter. When combine all of the components (Dunn and Rios’ resurgence, Konerko’s continued dominance and Youkilis’ steadying hand) you get a team that is sixth in baseball in runs scored and fourth in homers.
Now that their offense is set for a post-season run, the White Sox have focused on adding depth to their pitching staff. Yesterday they acquired starting pitcher Fransisco Liriano from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Eduardo Escobar, an infield prospect whose value lies solely in his glove, and Pedro Hernández, a 23-year old lefty with only one MLB game under his belt. That may seem like a timid haul for a player like Liriano but it’s important to remember that Liriano hasn’t been even a league average pitcher since his beastly 2010 campaign. He’s walking almost five batters per nine innings and he’s only produced 1.1 WAR in 17 starts this season (22 appearances overall).
That said, Liriano is still an incredibly talented pitcher, one that is certainly worth taking a flier on, which is essentially what the White Sox have done in this deal. Liriano didn’t cost them any big time prospects nor did it poach any major pieces from their current pro squad. When evaluating Liriano don’t get hung up on the meaningless stats like his win-loss record or his ERA. The real reasons for concern are his awful walk rate and the fact that opponents are hitting .308 off his fastball, which Liriano is actually throwing faster than he was last year (93.2 MPH this year to 91.8 MPH last year).
Even with those issues, there is also plenty of reason to like the Liriano acquisition for the White Sox: He makes bats miss at an elite rate (he has a sick 9.81 K-rate, good for the sixth best mark in baseball), his breaking stuff is nasty (opponents are hitting just .248 on his change-ups and a microscopic .178 against his slider) and, despite his vile ERA, his xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) is just about average.
When you consider what the White Sox gave up for Liriano, this was a really great deal for them. Liriano is still a very talented pitcher and if he can focus on his control, he has a chance to be one of the better left-handed starters in baseball again. He’s only 28-years old and even though he’s set to become a free agent this off-season, it’s possible that Chicago is talking to him about an extension right now. Nonetheless, even if Liriano bolts this off-season, the White Sox are set to enter the post-season with a very solid top three starters with Sale, Peavy and Liriano. Couple that with their white hot offense and you have a team capable of taking the playoffs by storm in a couple of months.