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The White Sox are a half-game out. Should they have kept Chris Sale and Adam Eaton?

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The White Sox held a fire sale, but now they’re contending. Do they have regrets?

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In November, I descended down the rocky slopes of Mt. Take with stone tablets, and I announced to the world that The White Sox Should Think Hard Before Trading Chris Sale. The reasoning went something like this: Sale is excellent, cheap, and excellent. He’s a fine head start on a would-be contender, especially one that has players like Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, and Jose Abreu. Maybe there was a way to patch the team’s holes and give it one last go.

After the world fawned at how much the White Sox extracted from the Red Sox and Nationals in separate trades, I shut up because I’m timid and want people to like me. The question still bugged me, though. When you start with Sale, Eaton, and Quintana, haven’t you done most of the heavy lifting? The White Sox were doing well in the fantasy draft of real life.

It’s May, and the White Sox are in second place. If the season ended right now, they would go to Yankee Stadium for the Wild Card Game, and they’re just a half-game behind the Indians for first place. I’d reckon one Chris Sale would be worth that half-game, if not much more, and with him on the roster, the White Sox would be in first. Eaton wouldn’t have gotten hurt on a freak play, either, which is better for everyone involved.

This validates my November opinions, right? This must be analogous to when the Twins traded Johan Santana and missed the postseason by a single game the next season. I get to take a victory lap and write the piece I was hoping for, which is, “The White Sox are contending, and they shouldn’t have traded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton?”

Nah. I was wrong then, and I’m not going to double down on it. The White Sox are going to be really bad, everyone, and they’re going to enjoy their Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech spoils for years. Some words to convince you:

The White Sox aren’t actually hitting that well

You can break the hitters into a few categories.

Crushing the ball
Avisail Garcia
Leury Garcia
Matt Davidson

Head above water/doin’ fine
Jose Abreu
Omar Narvaez

Struggling mightily
Todd Frazier
Melky Cabrera
Cody Asche
Tyler Saladino
Tim Anderson

It’s a topsy-turvy collection of players who are doing the opposite of what you would expect, mostly. If you use Base Runs, the White Sox have scored 17 more runs than expected, which suggests a healthy heaping of luck and fortuitous timing.

Focus on the players crushing the ball, though. Is this a new Avisail Garcia, or are there red flags? He’s struck out 21 times to just five walks in 93 plate appearances, and his batting average on balls in play is .443. It’s gauche to use BABIP as the explanation for everything, so I don’t use it often, but it’s an obvious culprit here. There’s a strong, strong chance that Avisail Garcia is going to hit like Avisail Garcia this year, not a twitchier Manny Ramirez.

Leury Garcia and Matt Davidson fall into a similar category. You can point to specific improvements and suggest they’ve figured something out at age 26, or you can retreat behind easy appeals to sample size. If I’m arguing for undoing the Sale trade, I’ll need more evidence for this.

Their pitching probably isn’t this good

FIP is the BABIP of easy excuses for pitchers, sure. But just like the last section, it’s a pretty obvious indicator that something fishy is going on with the White Sox’ pitchers.

Team ERA: 3.24
Team FIP: 4.24

A nice, clean, one-run difference for every nine innings on average over a full month. Derek Holland’s 2.17 ERA isn’t going to last (even if he might remain super useful). Miguel Gonzalez is still a fine pitcher, but he shouldn’t be an All-Star. James Shields should have given up about a dozen runs so far, not three, and now he’s hurt.

Mike Pelfrey is in the rotation.

Mike Pelfrey.

Chris Sale would have helped, of course, but when I look at the rotation, I’m not seeing a pitcher that’s an ace away, especially with Quintana struggling. The brightest spot of the roster is the bullpen, and that could be a sustainable strength. That makes me excited for the organization in July, not disappointed that they won’t have Sale in September.

Just about every one of their best players is either hurt or in a funk right now

There are two ways to look at this. The first is that if Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, Tim Anderson, and Carlos Rodon aren’t contributing much now, just imagine how good the White Sox will be when they all snap out of it! Abreu can hit a dozen homers next month and carry the team. Quintana could rattle off five one-run outings in a row. If the White Sox are good now, just imagine when the rest of the team starts to show up.

This is how I would normally look at a situation like this. Watch out: The varsity team hasn’t even shown up yet.

The other way to look at it is that not all of these players has to have a good season. And the only way the White Sox were going to contend, the only reasoning behind my argument from November, was if all of these players hit. Not one. Not most of them. They needed a parlay, right down the line. Abreu would have needed to slug 30 or 40 dingers. Cabrera would have had to hold his value. Quintana would have needed to be a sneaky-ace. Anderson would have to saw through the chrysalis, and Rodon would have to develop into a reliable starter instead of an erratic slider machine.

With all of these players going through some weirdness, I’m less convinced that the parlay will happen. While I’m not comfortable saying that both Abreu and Quintana will continue their funks indefinitely, I’m pretty comfortable suggesting that neither of them have to snap out of it. The White Sox, if they were going to make a run with Sale, needed contributions of all the above players. That they’re all struggling is proof that it doesn’t have to happen so nice and neat, not that they’re do and the White Sox will be even better in May.

So put the glowing red button in front of me, the one that reads, “Undo the Sale and Eaton trades?” and I’ll pass. Moncada is doing well in Triple-A, even if he’s a little aggressive, and Michael Kopech is still a rare member of the baseball bestiary. Lucas Giolito still has the pedigree and that new prospect smell. And this White Sox team probably isn’t good enough to give that all back.

They still might surprise. They still might linger around the top of the Central, and they might even surge with Quintana and Abreu coming around. But I regret my take from November. The warmer start than anticipated doesn’t change that.