Baseball

Lance Lynn Heads North to the South Side

Looking at the pitchers in the RosterResource Free Agent Tracker and sorting by projected WAR, we see 10 starters with a projection of at least two wins. The group is topped by Trevor Bauer and his 3.8 WAR projection and $100 million contract aspirations. Of the next nine pitchers, six have already signed contracts for next season. Two, Corey Kluber and James Paxton, come with significant injury concerns. That means that for teams in the market for solid production from a starting pitcher next season either need to pony up for Bauer, go after Masahiro Tanaka and his three projected wins, or look elsewhere. The White Sox opted for that last option yesterday when they traded for Lance Lynn, with Joel Sherman, Jeff Passan and Ken Rosenthal reporting on the players involved. Here’s the deal:

White Sox Receive:

Rangers Receive:

No matter the metric you use, Lynn has been one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball over the last two years. His 8.3 WAR here at FanGraphs puts him fifth while his 8.6 RA9-WAR is sixth. He’s second at Baseball-Reference with 9.8 WAR. He followed up a fifth-place finish in the 2019 AL Cy Young voting with a sixth-place spot this season. For those more inclined to traditional stats, he’s first in the majors in innings and sixth in strikeouts. For those using Statcast, his xwOBA over the last two seasons is .285 and ranks 15th among the 108 pitchers with at least 2,500 pitches thrown, right behind Walker Buehler, Hyun Jin Ryu, Mike Clevinger, and Charlie Morton, and just ahead of Noah Syndergaard, Shane Bieber, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Yu Darvish. Factoring in innings easily pushes Lynn into the top 10, if not the top five, of pitchers over the last two seasons.

Lynn has been good-bordering-on-great the last two years. A shellacking in his final start of the 2020 season sent his ERA and FIP way up, but in his previous three starts, he pitched seven innings in each with a 3.43 FIP and 2.14 ERA. Lynn looked like he might break out in 2015 after several above-average, innings-eating seasons, but injuries resulting in Tommy John surgery hurt his numbers that year and caused him to miss the 2016 season; in his final year heading towards free agency with the Cardinals, he struggled some. After a year of good peripherals but an ugly ERA between the Twins and Yankees, the Rangers signed him to a three-year deal for $30 million that’s turned into a bargain. Lynn used his sinker more selectively to limit damage while increasing the use of his cutter and four-seam fastball to generate more strikeouts. The results have been fantastic, and despite turning 34 next season, his 3.3 WAR projection is in the top 20 among pitchers. He will also be reunited with his first big league manager, as Lynn pitched out of the bullpen for the 2011 World Series title winner in St. Louis.

Whether you want to call Lynn or Lucas Giolito Chicago’s ace is immaterial. Together, they form one of the better duos in the game. Only eight teams have two pitchers projected for at least three wins next year. The move has other benefits. Sliding Dallas Keuchel down to a solid number three provides more depth, as there are a few question marks at the end of the rotation. Dylan Cease had an unusual season, and Michael Kopech opted out after missing 2019 with Tommy John surgery. Reynaldo López’s home, whether in the rotation or the bullpen, is still left to be determined. On paper, it puts the White Sox rotation in the top-half of baseball and with their incredibly promising position players, puts them roughly even with Cleveland (assuming the presence of Francisco Lindor) and Minnesota in the division. Lynn’s modest $8 million salary means the team’s payroll of around $110 million is still close to $30 million below last year’s projected payroll. An additional outfielder, plus more help in the rotation or bullpen, could make the White Sox favorites in the AL Central next year, and one of the best teams in the American League.

As for the Rangers, they receive a competent young starter in Dane Dunning. In seven starts last year, Dunning put up an ERA and FIP right around four, though his appearances were generally limited. He averaged under five innings per start and was fortunate to face the Royals twice along with getting starts against the Pirates, Tigers, Indians, and Cubs. The Twins were the only average offense Dunning faced all year. He uses low-90s four-seamers and two-seamers with a good slider and decent change. It’s a starter’s pitch mix and he’s now a year clear of Tommy John surgery, making him a cheap, solid back-end rotation option for the Rangers. It’s not the most enticing return for Texas, but he’s a long-term option for an organization thinking beyond 2021.

As for Avery Weems, he was an underslot senior sign out of Arizona in 2019 and received just a $10,000 bonus despite his selection in the sixth round. He dominated rookie-league ball in 2019, but hasn’t pitched against better competition as a professional. According to Eric Longenhagen, Weems throws in the low-90s with a sweeping breaking ball. He noted that Weems was “very similar to Josh Fleming, and those types of lateral movement fastball/breaking ball guys who don’t throw hard.” Longenhagen’s verdict: low-leverage long-relief type. Weems is a prospect, but not one projected to have a ton of success in the majors.

After two playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, the Rangers slid down to a third-place finish in 2017, then stopped making meaningful additions to the team, instead opting for significant cuts to payroll in both 2018 and 2019. The team was unsuccessful with a middle of the road payroll last season and doesn’t currently have a bevy of young prospects set to take a leap anytime soon. They are now in year four of their teardown with little hope for the near future. Trading Lance Lynn is probably a necessary move to push the team forward, but an extension or trade for Joey Gallo should probably be next as the Rangers try to build a winner. The White Sox started rebuilding at roughly the same time after failing miserably to try to win with stars and no depth. They’ve hit on enough trades, draft picks, free agent signings, and their big international foray with Luis Robert to win in 2020 and they appear to be in good position to do so for the foreseeable future. These are two organizations going in different directions. The White Sox and Lance Lynn should benefit from Texas’ inability to build a winner over the last few seasons.

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