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Sox will see if 'juice is worth the squeeze' in trade talks originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Is it time to figure out if "the juice is worth the squeeze"?
That was the metaphor Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn used the day he announced Luis Robert was the latest South Side outfielder to suffer a significant injury that would require a months-long stay on the injured list.
Hahn was talking about trades, hypothetical ones at the time, involving a potentially necessary addition to a White Sox outfield that was suddenly down two starters and a White Sox lineup that was suddenly down two middle-of-the-order bats.
Weeks later, the White Sox remain one of the American League's top teams and one of its most offensively productive ones, at that. The team has done a more than admirable job keeping its World Series hopes afloat with Jiménez and Robert sidelined, validation of the strategy the front office initially employed when Jiménez went down at the end of spring training. Instead of rushing out and signing whatever player was available at the time, the White Sox opted to roll the dice on rookies Andrew Vaughn and Yermín Mercedes, and so far, they've been rewarded for it.
But running into a high quality group of New York Yankees pitchers over the weekend, the White Sox looked like a team that was desperately missing two of its most important hitters, scoring five runs in three games and dominated by the starting-pitching trio of Jordan Montgomery, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.
They scored zero runs against those starters, and while the weekend series featured a couple games that lived up to the playoff-preview hype, it also ended with the White Sox on the wrong end of a sweep, signaling that an outside boost, annually commonplace for the game's contenders, could be more than a little helpful in their quest to get to baseball's mountaintop.
"The nature of how we're all wired here, there's always this inclination to try to fix it, to solve the problem, to find the right answer outside if you don't feel like you have it internally," Hahn said earlier this month. "That's going to continue to gnaw at all of us who are charged with trying to put the best roster we possibly can out there.
"We're going to start with some of the internal solutions or internal options we have here as we continue to evaluate what else potentially could be available to us. We're still early in the season, it's not exactly the time where you see potentially impactful players changing teams, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to at least explore what is potentially out there and evaluate it."
Nearly a month later, the White Sox have seen plenty of their internal options. Fill-ins like Leury García, Billy Hamilton, Jake Lamb and Danny Mendick have looked like role players forced into everyday duty, which is what they are. They've provided some big hits and some big days. They haven't provided consistent offensive presence to make up for what the White Sox are missing.
Down in the minor leagues, Gavin Sheets is off to a hot start at Triple-A Charlotte. Moved from first base to the outfield, Sheets has a .300/.347/.486 slash line to go along with seven extra-base hits in 17 games after receiving rave reviews during spring training. He would figure to be the best option inside the organization if that's where the White Sox turn for help, but that is an undoubted risk for a team trying to win the World Series, even if they've already hit on a couple rookies two months in.
As Hahn mentioned, it's difficult to make impactful acquisitions so long before trade season arrives. Throw in the fact that the White Sox have an obvious need, and pricing might not be ideal. As will come as no surprise to folks following this team, while it's obviously winning time on the South Side, the plan is for winning time to extend deep into the decade.
While Hahn signaled he's perfectly willing to trade promising youngsters for win-now help by dealing Dane Dunning for Lance Lynn in December, he also has his eye on future championship chases, planning for the White Sox to be competitive beyond 2021, as well. Long-term pieces like Vaughn, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet — the types of names that could come up in trade conversations — wouldn't be easy to part with, if the White Sox have any inclination to even think about parting with them in the first place.
"We certainly went into this season with the intent to be aggressive, and we haven't moved off that, in terms of our focus and expectations," he said in early May. "That said, we are in the midst, or the opening, I would say, of what we hope will be an extended window. You certainly don't want to do anything shortsighted to short circuit that long-term.
"It's going to be a balancing act. First you have to figure out what the options are before you figure out if the juice is worth the squeeze, so to speak."
The coming weeks will provide much more insight into which teams could be sellers and which players could be available. At the moment, only a few teams look out of it, and fewer still boast intriguing outfield options.
The name generating the most trade-deadline buzz around baseball, Kris Bryant, plays for a Cubs team that's north of .500 and in second place in the NL Central thanks to a strong 13-7 record in May.
Teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks, at 18-30 in the basement of the highly competitive NL West, might be easier to work with at this point in the calendar. They have a couple interesting outfielders in Ketel Marte and David Peralta, both of whom are under contract past this season.
The Colorado Rockies are similarly out of that NL West race, but All-Star outfielder Charlie Blackmon has a potential albatross of a contract, with a pair of player options after this season. The Miami Marlins aren't exactly out of it in the NL East, just two games from first place, meaning they might not be ready to ship Starling Marte out of South Florida.
And then there's the matter of what any of that might cost. The Cubs might have dealt Yu Darvish away for a collection of teenaged prospects, but does their recent success — not to mention the possibility of seeing Bryant competing for a World Series alongside Jiménez and Cease — drive up the asking price? The two aforementioned D-backs being under control past 2021 might mean something different than a run-of-the-mill player heading toward free agency at season's end.
It all goes into the gumbo of Hahn's decision-making process as the summer progresses.
And with the White Sox finally where they long wanted to be, in contention for a championship, Hahn is in the position of needing to make big-time decisions to help his team get to the promised land.
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