Loss Of Jose Abreu Hardly Qualifies As Addition By Subtraction For White Sox

Now comes the hard part.

Having allowed the loyal run-producer Jose Abreu to leave as a free agent, the White Sox must replace what he brought to a team that still has intentions of making an October run, sooner rather than later. It will take more than just rearranging the current roster to pull this off.

You’ll hear a lot of talk about how the White Sox will be better off defensively with Andrew Vaughn playing first base, not the outfield, as he moves into his age-25 season. There’s truth in that; the Sox were a horrible defensive team in 2022, with weaknesses both in the play of individuals and their ability to play together. They combined for -35 Defensive Runs Saved, ahead of only Kansas City in the American League (and 112 DRS behind Cleveland).

Chicago Tribune columnist Paul Sullivan wrote the Sox had no choice but to jettison Abreu so they could let Vaughn develop while playing his natural position. He’s a smart guy but here he’s parroting the company line.

Couldn’t the Sox have re-signed Abreu and traded Vaughn, even if he is 11 years younger? They absolutely could have but apparently didn’t have the appetite to pay Abreu his market price, which turned out to be $19.5 million after he signed with Houston.

The Abreu/Vaughn decision smacks of one the same White Sox front office made 11 years ago, allowing Mark Buehrle to leave as a free agent after his age-32 season while extended John Danks. Rick Hahn and Ken Williams had better hope this one ages better.

In nine seasons on the South Side, Abreu generated an average of 4.1 rWAR, prorating his MVP-level work in the shortened 2020 season. For what it’s worth, Fangraphs says he’s been worth $218.9 million in the time the White Sox have paid him $118.8 million, illustrating how he wasn’t the problem on a team that never won a postseason series with him in uniform.

Vaughn, the third overall pick in the 2019 draft, has been inconsistent since moving to the big leagues at the start of 2021. He can be a tough out, looking like the guy who dominated college pitchers at Cal-Berkeley, but he too often slips into extended slumps, sometimes while trying to play through injuries.

Vaughn’s career slash line is .255/.315/.414 in 261 games. His poor play in the outfield has completely drained away that contribution, however, leaving him with a 0.0 rWAR — 0.2 in ’21, -0.2 in ’22.

How much better will he hit playing first base? Can a rearranged outfield offset the value that Abreu could be counted on to deliver?

Looking only at offensive value, Fangraphs ranked Abreu 20th among 132 big-leaguers who had 550 plate appearances last season. Vaughn was 84th. The fact Vaughn is a more plodding base-runner than Abreu — Statcast ranks him in the 25th percentile in sprint speed and he rarely pushes the envelope, taking the extra base only 26 percent of the time — hurts Vaughn’s mark. He ranked 68th as hitter last season, 48 spots behind Abreu.

None of the Sox’s holdover veterans are as reliable as Abreu has been, with Luis Robert and Tim Anderson averaging 3.5 and 3.4 rWAR, respectively (also adjusted to treat 2020 as a 162-game season). Yoan Moncada averages out to 2.8 on an annual basis; Eloy Jimenez, 1.9.

The White Sox’s best-case scenario for 2023 is that the four lineup cornerstones each turn in a better-than-average season, gaining half a run each in WAR. Add to that Vaughn, freed from the burden of playing outfield, delivering a season of 2-3 WAR, essentially the annual average of the core four.

Should all that happen, the Sox would have filled the void created by allowing Abreu to leave. And, in theory, they would also have fixed their faulty outfield defense.

Hahn meanwhile heads to San Diego for the winter meetings hunting for productive hitters, especially left-handed hitters. He’ll look to trade from his supply of pitchers and prospects to add a left fielder, right fielder and second baseman.

It will be a challenge.

The addition of right-hander Mike Clevinger last week raised the running payroll to $171.6 million, which is about $22 million below the Opening Day payroll a year ago. Had the Sox, not the Astros, signed Abreu they would be almost to the record level from last year, without adding inventory to the lineup.

This payroll crunch may have had as much to do with the Abreu decision as the need to move Vaughn to first base. But for whatever reason, parting ways with Abreu was the choice the White Sox made. Now they have to find a way to live with it.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/philrogers/2022/12/02/loss-of-abreu-anything-but-addition-by-subtraction-for-white-sox/