The Chicago White Sox are a team almost ready to come out of a rebuild that could certainly use some outfield help. Is Joc Pederson the man for the job?
In baseball, starting a rebuild is a fairly simple process with two major steps that Chicago White Sox fans have seen over the last few seasons.
Step one: trade away all of your best players for young prospects who will strengthen your team at some point in the future.
Step two: Lose. A lot.
The process of coming out of a rebuild is far more complicated. A team definitively decides when their rebuild starts, but they don’t have the same control over when it ends, at least not totally.
Player health, player development and the state of the league are all fluid factors that have a major impact on when a team’s contention window opens; teams do their best to forecast and prepare for the future, but their’s no guarantee that they’ll be right.
This is something that the Chicago White Sox are dealing with right now, as they must decide how to add in some more polished players to their rebuilding team without compromising the progress they’ve made so far.
This brings us to Joc Pederson.
This rumor isn’t one that’s been kicking along for long, but it’s certainly an interesting one.
Pederson is certainly a good player. Last year for the Dodgers he slashed .248/.321/.522 in what was a great bounce-back season after a rough 2017. If the White Sox were a middling team just trying to get better acquiring him would be a no brainer.
But, in a rebuild, things aren’t so simple. Pederson needs to be evaluated both for his play and his potential place in what the Sox hope is a future dynasty.
There are quite a few things about Pederson that make him seem like he is a good fit. One of the most important things is his youth; next year in his fifth full big league season Pederson will be 27. So far in his career, he’s been a fairly durable player, and there’s no indication that his prime won’t match up with the team’s prime.
Another thing working in Pederson’s favor is his offensive production. On its own the Pederson’s slashline (mentioned above) looks pretty good; when you put it into the context of the team he’d be joining it’s amazing.
Pederson’s OPS is more than 50 points higher than the highest OPS of any player currently on the White Sox roster, and he trails only Daniel Palka in home runs. If acquired he’d immediately become the team’s most reliable offensive producer, likely having an instant impact.
Things start to get dicier when you start to think about the defensive side of things. Pederson is a fine left fielder, but that’s likely not where the Sox would want him to play, especially in the long term.
Eloy Jimenez is pretty clearly the White Sox left fielder of the future, and it’s expected he’ll be making his major league debut this year. This means that Pederson would probably be taking most of his reps in center, a position he’s less suited for.
Prior to 2018 Pederson actually spent most of his time in center field, and the results weren’t great. In 2017 Pederson had a UZR/150 of -11 when playing center, which is indicative of fielding that is well below average.
Right now the White Sox have Adam Engel starting in center. Engel is mediocre offensively, but his speed and athleticism make him a great defensive option. Having him in center would probably help make Eloy more comfortable manning things in left, and he also can make up some extra ground when Daniel Palka, whose defense needs some work, is in right.
Almost as important as considering Pederson’s play when thinking about him as a part of the rebuild is this: who are the White Sox going to give up for him?
The Dodgers, as you probably know, are already pretty good, which makes it sort of tough to figure out who they want from the sub-middling White Sox.
Jose Abreu is the only player who would match immediately match Pederson’s value, but the Dodgers already have a great first baseman in Max Muncy and it’s unclear how Abreu could fit with the way their roster is currently constructed.
This makes it seem more likely that the Dodgers are looking for prospects. Depending on who the Dodgers want this could be good or bad for the White Sox. The Sox have a lot of prospects and could trade some away without totally compromising the team’s future, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should be on the table.
Eloy, Luis Robert, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Nick Madrigal are the five prospects that are projected to be the White Sox young core in the coming years. They are also the players the Dodgers are most likely to want.
Moving any one of these players as part of a deal for Pederson would be a signal by the Sox that they think the rebuild will be over sooner rather than later, and that the time for acquiring the finishing pieces is now.
If that’s where the team thinks they are then they would likely be better off moving one of their top prospects for a player better than Pederson. If that’s not where they are then it’s pretty likely that a deal won’t materialize.
Another possibility is that the Dodgers mostly want to move Pederson as a salary dump so they can free up some more cap space for a free agent outfielder like A.J. Pollock.
If this is the case, and the Sox can get Pederson without trading a top tier prospect, there’s not much downside to be seen in making a deal. The outfield crowding can be dealt with when it happens, and there’s no harm in having a deep outfield in a league where injuries are a reality.