By Luke Stanczyk
You might have been asleep at around 11:00 p.m. last night, but Rick Hahn was awake on the West Coast making a deal. The White Sox sent their sixth ranked prospect in their system, Steele Walker, to the Texas Rangers for left-handed hitting right fielder Nomar Mazara.
“At just 24 years old, Nomar provides us with a left-handed hitting right fielder who fits into our current team’s development arc and who still has untapped potential, said Rick Hahn, White Sox senior vice president/general manager. “Nomar adds yet another young, exciting bat with upside to our lineup.”
Predictably, reaction from White Sox Twitter wasn’t all that positive aside from a few Walker Texas Ranger puns (guilty as charged here). With options such as Nick Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna still on the market and right field being such a point of emphasis this offseason, the fan base is worried that the Sox are going to plug Mazara into right field every day and expect that to be a suitable solution.
The reason for the pessimism is warranted. While Mazara will be just 24 years old on Opening Day and was a Top 20 prospect in the game just four years ago (depending on what source you look at), he’s underwhelmed since reaching the big leagues in 2016. The defensive metrics have not been kind, he’s never had an OPS+ at or above the league average of 100, has never hit more than 20 home runs in a season despite playing in a hitter’s paradise and has a career OBP of just .320.
White Sox right fielders hit .220 with six home runs and a .565 OPS last season while recording a bWAR of -0.8 (yes, you read all of that right). While he represents an upgrade over those abysmal numbers (I can probably find a few guys in the men’s league I play in who can put those numbers up), it’s hardly the kind of impact upgrade you expected the Sox to make heading into this offseason where we’ve been told the money is aplenty and Jerry is ready to open the checkbook.
On the flip side, there is a scenario where Mazara does provide a good amount of value for the 2020 ball club. Mazara’s splits, like a lot of left-handed hitters, show his production was heavy against right-handed pitching. Last season, he hit .288 with a .344 OBP and .840 OPS against righties while posting an abysmal .220 average with a .252 OBP and .646 OPS against lefties. Considering the White Sox will pay Mazara just a hair over $5 million next season and gave up a 23 year old prospect that had similar numbers in A+ ball last season to get him, he could, theoretically, give the team some value if properly used as a platoon-based player who plays against right handed pitching.
The question that will be answered over the rest of this offseason is whether or not the Sox are willing to extend out on a limb monetarily to use him properly or simply be content with putting an underachieving 24 year old in right field 140 games and hope a change of scenery equals a breakthrough. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened for a player, but it’s hardly a sound strategy for a team that tells you it’s hellbent on competing for what looks like a very winnable and attainable American League Central crown in 2020.
It’s easy to be negative as a White Sox fan, but if the Sox aren’t looking at Mazara as we think they are, then the options for a platoon-based situation for him still exist. One name who jumps to mind immediately is Yasiel Puig, who most think will command less dollars and years than Ozuna and Castellanos. While Puig probably isn’t signing anywhere without a guarantee of everyday at-bats, that’s still more than possible in this lineup. Theoretically, Renteria could play Puig out in RF everyday with Nomar Mazara and James McCann being a more than competent lefty/righty platoon at the DH spot.
This is just me spinning my wheels here as there’s no smoke out there around Puig to Chicago at the moment, but it’s just one example of how the Sox can put Mazara in a position succeed. As the roster stands right now, I don’t think they are allowing him that chance.
There’s a lot of time left this offseason and this surely won’t be the last tweak to the 2020 roster, but the bottom line to the Nomar Mazara trade is this:
⁃ It’s not a bad trade on it’s own, as Steele Walker doesn’t project to be an every day big leaguer.
⁃ Mazara can be productive if used correctly.
⁃ Banking on him to produce like an everyday big leaguer for a team in contention over 140 games would be a disappointment for how right field was addressed this offseason.
Sox fans everywhere are hoping for more than Nomar Mazara. It’s up for Reinsdorf, Hahn and company to make that happen and turn this move from a “meh” to a productive piece in your lineup.