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Did Trading James Shields Cost the White Sox Manny Machado

On June 4, 2016 the White Sox made a trade to try to push themselves into playoff contention, acquiring 34-year-old, former all-star pitcher James Shields from the San Diego Padres. In exchange for Shields the White Sox gave away two minor leaguers: a pitcher named Erik Johnson, who never amounted to anything, and a young, undeveloped, but high potential shortstop, who had yet to make his professional debut, named Fernando Tatis Jr. 

Four years later, the trade was an obvious fail for the White Sox, who finished 16.5 games out of first-place in the American League Central in 2016. Shields was a shell of his former self, pitching two-and-a-half very forgettable seasons in Chicago, calling it quits after 2018. While he was still pitching a large amount of innings when healthy, he was no longer the reliable pitching force he was in his prime. In 77 games (76 starts) with the White Sox, Shields went 16-35 with a 5.31 ERA. 

What hurts even more than the team shelling out for Shields’ big salary is the south side bottom feeders gave up a superstar in the making in Tatis. 

Tatis made his Major League debut in 2019, but only played 84 games in his rookie season, missing a large portion of the year due to injury. But when the second-generation major leaguer was in the game, he was nothing short of dynamic.

The shortstop hit for 22 home runs, 53 RBIs and a .317 average in his debut season. He also flashed his speed, stealing 16 bases on 22 attempts. Despite missing much of the season, Tatis finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Mets first baseman Pete Alonso and Braves Pitcher Mike Soroka, who were both named All-Stars, were the only players to finish ahead of Tatis.

The expectations around Tatis are astronomical entering his sophomore season. But many are confident that he has the talent and composure to live up to and possibly surpass those lofty expectations to cement himself as one of the game’s stars.

It’s bad enough that the White Sox, who have perpetually floundered around the basement of the American League since this trade gave up a developing star, for less than three years of lackluster overpriced pitching, but what if it cost them more?

What if it cost them the superstar free agent the team had been wooing for years: Manny Machado. 

Machado was practically presumed to be wearing silver and black when he entered free agency, after nearly winning the World Series with the Dodgers. The team had put all their eggs in the Machado basket, trading for his brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, and signing one of his best friends in Jon Jay. The team was armed with a big contract, two of Machado’s closest colleagues and a plethora of developing talent. Things didn’t go the way people expected.

To the surprise of many, Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. The move was crushing, but as it often happens in baseball, a dark horse came out and swept a star right out of a team’s grasp. 

A Sports Illustrated article detailing Machado’s free agency notes how close the competition between the White Sox and Padres was for the perennial all-star.

Machado reportedly realized that he could have been a mentor to Tatis, who was Baseball America’s No. 2 prospect at the time, and represented by the same agent as Machado, or White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who was developing into one of the team’s key contributors. 

Ken Williams, the White Sox executive Vice President, spoke of the Padres and Machado’s decision to the Chicago Tribune, saying, “You’ve got to give it to them [the Padres]. They are in a similar trajectory as we are. And for the same reasons we were after him, they were after him.” 

But if General Manager Rick Hahn never trades for Shields; the Padres may not be on the same trajectory without one of baseball’s best prospects. This also means Tatis is likely still on the White Sox, meaning Machado has the ability to play mentor to both Tatis and Anderson, likely making their offer the standalone top option. Hypothetically this would secure Machado, giving the White Sox one of the most dominant infields of recent memory.

Imagine the White Sox Opening Day infield being, three-time All-Star Jose Abreu at first-base, Tatis, who makes a Gleyber Torres-like-switch over to second base, 2019 batting-champion Tim Anderson at short, and one of the best players in baseball: Manny Machado at third base. I haven’t even mentioned Yoan Moncado, who broke out last season, hitting 315. To go along with 25 home runs and an OPS. upwards of 900. Assuming one of the infielders DH’s almost everyday; the five of them would make up one of the best infields in recent memory.

The White Sox are armed with young developing talent everywhere. Fans are wondering if they have the ability to one day bring home a world series. But if you add in Machado and Tatis to a team that has both Anderson and Abreu, three top-40 prospects, a blossoming ace in Lucas Giolito, and one of baseball’s best young sluggers in Eloy Jiminez. 

The White Sox become a team not of if, but when. 

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