For White Sox, would Ian Desmond also be too good to pass up?
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The White Sox’ patience in a buyer’s market could pay off with some last minute bargain shopping before spring training.
The cost? Besides a sizable added salary to a payroll that is sitting around $123 million, the Sox would forfeit a compensation draft pick it costs teams to sign a free agent who turned down $15.8 million qualifying offers from their clubs, a group that includes outfielder Dexter Fowler, shortstop Ian Desmond and right-hander Yovani Gallardo.
The Sox, among others, are hesitant to give up such picks as they aim to replenish their farm systems with quality prospects. The Sox’ No. 10 pick in the draft is protected, however, so they would be on the hook for what currently stands as the No. 28 pick, which they got when Jeff Samardzija signed with the Giants.
Desmond and Fowler have been on the free-agent radar all offseason, and both fill Sox needs — Fowler as a switch-hitting outfielder with a career .363 on-base percentage and Desmond as a power hitting shortstop who has averaged 22 homers over the last four years. With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training next week, Desmond finds himself still available in the market with few teams in pressing need of a shortstop. The Sox, who signed right-hander Mat Latos for one year and $3 million on Tuesday because the price was “too good to pass up” according to general manager Rick Hahn, have been interested in Desmond throughout the offseason but not for an exorbitant price. Speculation has picked up in the last day or two that interest is intensifying.
Tyler Saladino (an above average fielding infielder who hit .225 in his first season) is the Sox’ top shortstop for now, with top prospect Tim Anderson probably needing more seasoning in the minors. Desmond is athletic enough to be tried in the outfield, however, which presents a possibility should he sign for multiple years and in the event Anderson is ready to play shortstop in the majors in 2017. That kind of flexibility also appeals to the Sox.
But that’s getting ahead of the matter at hand, which for the Sox, is finding one more bat for a lineup that sagged terribly last season. Third baseman Todd Frazier and second baseman Brett Lawrie were acquired at the expense of five prospects in trades and catchers Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro have been signed as free agents, signaling the Sox’ intent to go for it in 2016. The loss of those prospects also heightens the desire to keep as many high draft picks as possible.
Desmond, who will be 30 this season, is a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner who turned down a reported seven-year $107 million offer from the Washington Nationals last offseason anticipating a bigger payday in free agency.
But he hit for a .233/.290/.384 slash line, with 19 home runs, 62 RBI and 13 steals in 2015 while his defense also suffered, especially during the first half. He did have a better second half, posting a .777 OPS after the All-Star break, and is known to be a plus in the clubhouse.
Giving up the pick wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for the Sox, as much as they’d like to keep it.
“We’ve engaged on players this offseason that would have cost us the pick,’’ Hahn said two weeks ago.
“At some level, you balance the ability to improve this club vs. the long term impact that losing a pick like that would have. Obviously we are lucky, it’s good we have the 10th pick and it’s protected. If for whatever reason we did wind up without the 28th pick, we still would have at least a full complement of our picks.”