Kenny gets his Dunn: White Sox sign slugger

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Kenny gets his Dunn: White Sox sign slugger

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
Updated 8:16 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

When the season ended, Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams threw his boss, team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a bit of a curveball: Instead of the usual four budgetpersonnel recommendations for the next season, Williams offered just two.

As Williams extrapolated during a teleconference on Thursday, one was a young team, and the other was adding to the mix with top talent. We didnt want to be in the middle.

If youre going to be all-in, you go all-in.

As such, Thursdays signing of free agent first baseman Adam Dunn to a four-year, 56 million deal represents just the tip of the offseason, according to Williams.

News broke of the Dunn signing, setting Twitter aflame, directly in advance of Williams conference, initially scheduled to discuss the re-signing of shortstop Alexei Ramirez and non-tendering of closer Bobby Jenks.

And as much as Williams deferred comment on Dunn winding up an initial question with, Ah, since its out there, why dont we talk about that tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the ballpark the GM was in an uncommonly impish mood.

He praised writers for making it easy on him with their questions, and at one point acknowledging with a hearty laugh that not only would a Dunn type (Im not going to speak on something that hasnt happened yet.) help invigorate his fan base and drive sales, but it might be important to the general managers health and his long-term employment prospects.

Amazing what signing a fella who averages 40 homers every 162 games and answers to the name Big Donkey does to lighten an outlook. In fact Dunn has hit at least 38 homers in each of the last seven seasons during time spent with the Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds. That includes 38 home runs and 103 RBI last season with the Nationals.

Indeed, the underpinning of the day wasnt the non-tendering of Jenks but the newfound aggressiveness of a White Sox team most felt would be too busy pulling hair out trying to balance the books all offseason to ink front-line free agents.

If you take the initiative and make a statement by signing top talent, Williams said, hopefully your fan interest follows.

Williams will not stop with inking Dunn, he asserted. Next up though not in the 1-2 fashion thats been speculated is the re-signing of Paul Konerko.

Ive made no secrets that we have strong interest in bringing him back, Williams said. Theres payroll room, and it would be the ideal fit, from my perspective.

Williams added that at the end of the season he assured Konerko of his desire to bring him back, but that he wouldnt hurt his team by endlessly waiting: Its a fine line I have to walk right now where I am respectful of his process, but were also putting the best baseball team on the field.

Nonetheless, the unofficial agreement between the two men was to give Konerko a chance to shop himself at the Winter Meetings next week, so its unlikely the White Sox make another major free agent move before then.

The Dunn signing bears a close resemblance to the last time Konerko was a free agent, in the afterglow of the 2005 World Series win. Williams aggressively swapped Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome, who promptly all but begged Konerko to come to Chicago so the two sluggers could play together. Surely, Dunn will be slipped Paulies digits over the next few days.

Reportedly in too late or reacting too slow to the Detroits wooing of Victor Martinez, Williams pounced to acquire Dunn, amounting to a counterpunch and TKO of the aggressive Tigers.

The 31-year-old has a career isolated power (batting average subtracted from slugging average) of a riotous .271. Bill James projects 39 homers and an .844 OPS for Dunn in 2011, but you can bet your fanny such projections will skyrocket with the prospect of Dunn treating U.S. Cellular Field as his own personal bandbox.

And while Dunn bears distinct similarities to Thome, the Big Donkey arrives in Chicago four years younger and with a much healthier history.

Prioritizing Dunn and Konerko could well cost the White Sox A.J. Pierzynski, who is rumored to have lost patience as a lower priority and is on the verge of inking with the Toronto Blue Jays.

As much as Pierzynski is beloved on the South Side (Williams today saying, I value A.J., as another important piece to a championship and winning a division in 08. Hes an important part of our clubhouse and an important part of Chicago. I would love to have him back.), he is an expendable piece on the whole, and the savings on his 6.75 million deal can be plugged right into Dunn-Konerko.

Williams was also very soft on Jenks, speaking of his pride in the burly fireballer and complimenting his work as, of all things, a father.

The GM explained that the decision to non-tender had almost nothing to do with Jenks himself but that the White Sox couldnt afford another arbitration award of 7 million-plus (Jenks briefly set a record with his 7.5 million award last season.)

Bobby helped bring a World Series to Chicago and I will never forget that, Williams said. And I havent closed the door on bringing him back.

Still, Williams said he was perfectly comfortable with Matt Thornton as his closer for 2011 and would be willing to kick the tires on Sergio Santos or even Chris Sale in the role.

Sales position this season appears entirely dependent on Jake Peavys readiness without Peavy, Sale is the teams fifth starter, and with a healthy Peavy, Sale is the No. 2 lefty in the bullpen.

And finally, while its been assumed that Carlos Quentins role on the White Sox will shrink with the acquisition of a new primary DH and CQs defensive ability being best suited for that position, Williams was having none of it. Quentin is decidedly not on the trading block.

Carlos Quentin is playing right field for us, and Ozzie Guillen will decide where he hits in the lineup, said the GM as he turned deadpan.

Fridays presumed press conference will give the giddy side of Ken Williams another chance to surface. If the player next to him being introduced as the newest member of the White Sox is indeed Dunn, you can bet that the hardliner will turn to grins and giggles once more.

Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, Victor Diaz and the rest of the return for Chris Sale

Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, Victor Diaz and the rest of the return for Chris Sale

The White Sox return for Chris Sale has been generally praised in the aftermath of Tuesday’s megadeal with the Boston Red Sox, with the headliner being 21-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada

But the White Sox also acquired three other prospects with varying ranges of hype: 20-year-old right-hander Michael Kopech, 20-year-old outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and 22-year-old right-hander Victor Diaz. Baseball America ranked all three among the top 20 prospects in the Red Sox farm system, while MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Kopech No. 5, Basabe No. 8 and Diaz No. 28 in Boston’s farm system. 

Kopech is a hard-throwing former No. 33 overall pick out of Mount Pleasant, Texas who was rated as a top 100 prospect in baseball by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2016 season. Over three minor league seasons from rookie ball to high Single-A, Kopech has 172 strikeouts, 69 walks and only three home runs allowed in 134 2/3 innings with a 2.61 ERA.

Whether or not Kopech sticks as a starting pitcher (35 of his 36 professional games have been starts) remains a point of contention among prospect evaluators, though he features a power slider and a low-90’s changeup that Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser wrote has drawn comparisons to New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard. He also reportedly threw a 105 mph pitch last summer with Double-A Salem — and even if that radar gun reading was inaccurate, he’s able to fairly regularly throw his fastball at or above 100 mph. 

[Complete coverage of the White Sox-Red Sox Chris Sale blockbuster trade]

There have been two off-the-field issues with Kopech, though, that are why he’s been dinged in some prospect rankings. In 2015, he was suspended for the final 50 games of the season after testing positive for amphetamine use, and in March of 2016 he fractured his hand following an altercation with a teammate

Basabe — not to be confused with his twin brother, infielder Luis Alejandro Basabe, who the Red Sox traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer — is a toolsy outfielder who hit .264/.328/.452 with 25 stolen bases in 30 attempts between Single-A Greenville and high Single-A Salem last year. FutureSox’s Rob Young wrote that Basabe has “immense upside” as a potential five-tool player, while Baseball America’s best-case is Basabe’s raw talent develops into a "top of the order center fielder" 

Over four minor league seasons, Basabe has a .253/.353/.408 slash line with 21 home runs, 25 triples and 73 stolen bases in 93 attempts (78 percent). 

Diaz has had some control issues, issuing an average of 3.97 walks per nine innings, over his first two professional seasons. The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 3.88 ERA with 63 strikeouts out of Single-A Greenville’s bullpen last year, and with a fastball touching 100 mph, he could develop into a legitimate relief option down the road if he can find the strike zone more consistently. 

What’s worth noting here is the depth of the trade for the White Sox. This is a farm system that lacked both top-end and raw talent when Rick Hahn & Co. woke up on Tuesday, but adding Moncada, Kopech, Basabe and Diaz to a group headlined by recent draft picks like right-hander Carson Fulmer, catcher Zack Collins and right-hander Zack Burdi should have a significant impact on the quality of the White Sox minor league ranks. 

Examining Yoan Moncada, baseball’s No. 1 prospect and the newest member of the White Sox

Examining Yoan Moncada, baseball’s No. 1 prospect and the newest member of the White Sox

The White Sox pulled off what may be the biggest deal in team history on Tuesday, dealing ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for four prospects. The rebuild is officially underway on 35th and Shields. 

In trading Sale, the White Sox acquired infielder/outfielder Yoan Moncada, outfielder Luis Basabe and right-handers Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz.  Moncada, though, is regarded by some as the best prospect in baseball and is certainly the prize return in the megadeal.

A 21-year-old, 6-foot-2, 205 pound switch hitting native of Cuba, Moncada regarded as baseball’s top prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America. One of the comparisons MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo offered for Moncada was “Robinson Cano with more speed,” referring to the Seattle Mariners All-Star (and possible future Hall of Fame) second baseman who has 278 home runs and a .307/.355/.498 career slash line.

Moncada had a monster season in the minors in 2016, slamming 31 home runs with a 45 stolen bases and a .294/.407/.511 slash line in 491 plate appearances across high Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. In 2015, his first season in the Red Sox farm system, Moncada hit eight home runs with 49 stolen bases a .278/.380/.817 slash line over 81 games with Single-A Greenville. 

[Complete coverage of the White Sox-Red Sox Chris Sale blockbuster trade]

What position Moncada ultimately winds up playing remains to be seen, but he has the flexibility to play second base, third base or center field. He played 163 of his minor league games at second base and has played 15 games at third base between the minors and majors. The White Sox, though, reportedly see Moncada playing his natural position of second base.

From MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo’s analysis of Moncada:

Few middle infielders can match Moncada's huge offensive ceiling, which earns him comparisons to Robinson Cano with more speed. He's a switch-hitter with outstanding bat speed who makes consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate. Moncada has added some loft to his swing in 2016 and has the potential for 20-25 home runs per season.
Moncada's best pure tool is his well-above-average speed, which he has put to good use with back-to-back 45-steal seasons and an 86 percent success rate in the Minors. His quickness doesn't translate consistently as well in the field, though he has the range and arm strength to play almost anywhere on the diamond he might be needed. 
The biggest knock on Moncada is his 24.2 percent strikeout rate over his 854 minor league at-bats. That percentage spiked to 30.9 in 207 Double-A plate appearances, though his walk rate remained high there too (13 percent).

And here’s FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, who projects Moncada to be worth five-plus WAR per season, on the newest member of the White Sox organization:

A plus-hitting middle infielder with plus raw and game power as well as 70-grade wheels is basically in-his-prime Ian Kinsler, except faster. That’s really good, and Moncada is debuting three years earlier than Kinsler, who is still stroking it at age 34, did. This is the best prospect in baseball, a player I think will be a perennial All-Star and a potential MVP type of talent, with tools so deafeningly loud that it may be a while before we hear the echoes of his historical significance. 

Moncada and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu briefly played together for Cienfuegos in Cuba in 2012, two years before Abreu defected and signed a six-year contract with the White Sox. In his age-17 and age-18 seasons, Moncada hit .277/.388/.380 with four home runs for Cienfuegos in 2012 and 2013. The Red Sox shelled out $63 million to sign Moncada in February of 2015.

If Moncada remains Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect — as he was in their midseason 2016 rankings — he’ll join an illustrious group of players with that designation:

2016: Corey Seager (SS, Dodgers)
2015: Kris Bryant (3B, Cubs)
2014: Byron Buxton (OF, Twins)
2013: Jurickson Profar (IF, Rangers)
2012: Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals)
2011: Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals)
2010: Jason Heyward (OF, Braves)
2009: Matt Wieters (C, Orioles)
2008: Jay Bruce (OF, Reds)
2007: Daisuke Matsuzaka (RHP, Red Sox)
2006: Delmon Young (OF, Rays)
2005: Joe Mauer (C, Twins)
2004: Joe Mauer (C, Twins)
2003: Mark Teixeira (3B, Rangers)
2002: Josh Beckett (RHP, Marlins)
2001: Josh Hamilton (OF, Rays)
2000: Rick Ankiel (RHP, Cardinals)