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White Sox finally ready to sell; Adam Eaton in play

The Chris Sale deal means the White Sox should be looking to move a player the Cardinals should have interest in.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t heard, a blockbuster occurred today. Chris Sale, one of the game’s very best pitchers and on a very reasonable contract, was traded to the Boston Red Sox, for a package headlined by one of the very best prospects in the game in Yoan Moncada. While we here at VEB have hypothesized a deal that would send Sale to St. Louis on two different occasions, the Cardinals were never rumored to be in the running.

However, the deal should have an affect on the Cardinals’ offseason plans. The White Sox have been a middling team for several years now. Analysts for years have suggested that rather than building to a .500 team, they ought to use the major league assets they have presently and turn them into a farm system that could compete for the playoffs in the future. This deal indicates that the White Sox are indeed finally deciding to sell.

The player that should catch the Cardinals’ attention, is outfielder Adam Eaton. Eaton is owed just under $20M for the next three years, plus options for $9.5M (with a $1.5M buyout) and $10.5M (also a $1.5M buyout) following that. Here’s Eaton’s stats the last three years:

At the plate, Eaton’s profile has been boosted by consistently posting strong BABIP’s. Superior base-running also helps. Eaton has consistently posted poor scores on defense, though a shift to right field coincided with a strong showing in 2016. The speed, concerns on defense, and consistently strong BABIP’s make him very similar to free agent Dexter Fowler.

One big difference though, is that when I looked at Eaton’s Statcast-based batted ball quality, it seemed much weaker than Fowler’s. Here’s his BABIP the last two years , based on the league average success rate of his specific assortment of balls in play:

For reference, Fowler scored a .328 xBABIP in 2016, and according to Fangraphs’ Speed Score, he’s also faster. With BABIP being the main reason to expect Eaton to be an above-average player, these scores make me very cautious about a trade for Eaton.

In the article I linked above, I calculated his value based on his projection, an average aging curve, an $8M price of WAR and 5% inflation. That comes out to a $48M surplus value. At the time, he was projected for 3 WAR, now an average of Steamer and Zips puts him a little lower than that. However, if you’re lower on him than the projections (like me), that contract is worth a little less. Even if you take his projection as a given though, Luke Weaver seems to be a much more valuable trade chip than Eaton. I myself would be very disappointed if the teams decided to swap the two.

With the White Sox rebuilding, they’ll be interested in the best prospect package they can get. Harrison Bader seems like someone the White Sox would ask for, as a near-MLB replacement for Eaton. I’d be willing to part with Bader for Eaton straight up, but it would certainly take additional prospects to get it done. That would likely mean adding some combination of Paul Dejong, Carson Kelly, Jack Flaherty, along with talent more in the middle of the farm system. I’d be fine with trading Bader, Flaherty, and a lottery ticket or two lower in the system, but I doubt that’s enough.

On the open market, they may even be able to get a better deal than Luke Weaver. Not budging on Weaver alone could cause the White Sox to move on to other potential deals. The Red Sox made a giant deal today for a few reasons: they still have a very deep farm system after the deal, their window is wide open, and they have a mandate from ownership to win now. The Cardinals are not one 3 WAR player away from competing with the Cubs. Heck, they’re not three 3+ WAR players away from competing with the Cubs.

Rather than cull the Cardinals’ farm system, I continue to prefer to instead sign Dexter Fowler, who will only cost money and a draft pick. I’d also prefer Carlos Gomez to Eaton, who should cost significantly less than Fowler, and won’t come with draft pick compensation attached. The Cardinals should do their own due diligence, but I don’t think they should be involved in the Adam Eaton sweepstakes.