Luis Avilan pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Photo taken by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
General manager Rick Hahn didn’t wait long into the new year to make improvements to the south side franchise. The 3-team trade between the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago White Sox came to fruition late on January 4th. The White Sox received 28-year-old LHP Luis Avilan from the Dodgers and 33-year-old RHP Joakim Soria from the Royals. The Dodgers also sent $2 million to the Pale Hose and the Royals chipped in another $1 million.
After trading away a big crop of relievers last season, the White Sox needed to restock the bullpen to get through this year. Rick Hahn did just that with this trade and the two relievers he acquired were at a very low cost. Jake Peter, a minor league infielder for the White Sox, was the only piece contributed by the White Sox in the 3-team trade. With second base and shortstop currently blocked by Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada, there was no spot for him on the major league roster. The ceiling of Jake Peter isn’t very high either as he compiled a .270/.340/.361 slash line and a wRC+ of 106 in 75 games at Double-A in 2017. Peter broke out in Triple-A during the 45 games he played for the White Sox Triple-A affiliate with a .292/.351/.506 slash line. That kind of production is likely unsustainable as he had a .213 ISO, or isolated power, during his time in Triple-A, but Peter’s career ISO is below .100 meaning that his improved production was likely a mirage.
White Sox fans remember Joakim Soria well as he pitched for the rival Royals from 2007 until 2011 and then again in the past 2 seasons. The right-hander was worth 1.7 fWAR in 2017 to go along with a 3.70 ERA, 2.23 FIP, and the best ground ball percentage of his career at 54.8%. There is still a lot of promise in the 33-year-old’s arm and Rick Hahn knows this acquisition is low-risk and high-reward. Soria is still owed $9 million the rest of this season and has a $10 million option for 2019 along with a $1 million buyout. Pitching coach Don Cooper is known for his ability to salvage a pitcher’s value after teams have given up on them. If Soria takes advantage of Cooper’s knowledge, he could add a cutter to his repertoire to give batters something extra to think about during their at-bat. Soria is in line to compete for a back-end of the bullpen spot in spring training. With how valuable bullpen arms have become in the current environment, Soria could bring back a good piece at the trade deadline to help accelerate the White Sox rebuild even more.
The other reliever the White Sox acquired is the 28-year-old Luis Avilan, who is under arbitration control through the 2019 season. Avilan used a good mix of his fastball and curveball in 2017 while throwing his curveball around nine percent of the time. The left-hander threw 46 innings out of the bullpen for the Dodgers with most of them coming in the 7th inning. He was dominant against lefties in 2017 as he held opponents to a .195 average, .290 on-base, .260 wOBA (weighted on-base average) and most impressive .280 slugging. However, it wasn’t all great for Avilan as right-handed hitters crushed him to the tune of a .292 average, .376 on-base, .347 wOBA, and slugging percentage of .449. The heatmaps below show how well right-handed hitters slugged against Avilan’s fastball and changeup in 2017.
As you can see, right-handed hitters fared well against Avilan on the inside third of the strike zone. When Avilan tried to attack the inside third, he wasn’t going inside enough to get the swings and misses he was hoping for. His changeup wasn’t hit as hard as his fastball, except when thrown down and in. Avilan isn’t a flamethrower as his fastball comfortably sits at 93 mph. The movement that Avilan has on his pitches is great, but Don Cooper needs to find a way to make the difference in his splits less dramatic. If Cooper can do that during the season, it would make Avilan a valuable trade chip in the coming months to a contender.
With this deal, the White Sox are killing two birds with one stone. The bullpen is being rebuilt with reliable proven arms while the Sox are adapting to the changing times. Teams have shown during this off-season that they value bullpen arms more than aging starters. With Soria and Avilan already having spots in the bullpen, the White Sox will have a chance to advertise these two pitchers to the rest of the league. Everyone knows what Don Cooper is able to do in terms of fixing pitchers and getting the most out of them. One great example was the acquisition of Tyler Clippard last season. The White Sox acquired Clippard from the Yankees and then dealt to the Astros less than a month later for a player to be named later. With the extra amount of time that the White Sox have to recoup value in their two new pitchers, the south side franchise will have the advantage at the trade deadline here in 2018. The White Sox have moved into the future quickly thanks to the wheeling and dealing done by Rick Hahn and this trade only moves them closer to their competitive window.