Currently, under pressure Chicago White Sox GM, Rick Hahn, has a major decision to make. Despite an excellent offseason where he has fixed multiple black holes on a below-average team, two pressing needs still remain: a new everyday left fielder and a right-handed starter. Hahn must decide which position to sink his remaining financial flexibility into, and with big name free agents’ choices looming, Hahn must act fast. While many pundits believe he should add Yoenis Cespedes to fill left field, I believe he should take the opposite path and sign Japanese ace Kenta Maeda to solidify his weakened rotation.
While signing Yoenis Cespedes would undoubtedly benefit the White Sox in the short term, I believe investing in a potential ace to round out an underrated rotation would make much more sense. While Cespedes could help improve one of baseball’s worst offenses from last season, Hahn has already acquired plenty of help through the additions of Brett Lawrie and All-Star Todd Frazier.
Lawrie will provide a much needed upgrade at second base, where multiple players combined for a -0.6 WAR last season, and Frazier should add a reliable middle of the order bat to protect Jose Abreu in the lineup. Instead of spending $20-plus million on a bat like Cespedes, Hahn could rather spend around $5-7 million on a player with cheap upside like Steve Pearce who could provide 15-20 homers for a quarter of the price. Or maybe the White Sox could hit the jackpot and fill both holes with elite options. With such an overcrowded market for left fielders, one player could be left with no other option but to sign a one year deal and re-enter the market next season. The White Sox are excellently positioned if this occurs due to their small ballpark and ability to avoid the loss of draft pick.
Furthermore, the White Sox rotation is in desperate need of a righty starter. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, and John Danks all southpaws, the Sox need to find a way to mix it up. They attempted to fix this issue last season with Jeff Samardzija, but he failed to provide stability and was among the worst qualified starters in the game. Kenta Maeda could bring much needed balance to the Sox rotation and slide right into the two-spot behind Sale. And while he won’t come cheap, Maeda would undoubtedly demand fewer years and dollars than Cespedes, who’s rumored to want at least a six-year deal for around $20 million annually.
Currently, it’s hard to put a price on Maeda due to lack of information, but many believe he won’t come close to the seven-year, $155 million deal that Masahiro Tanaka scored in 2014, but rather something like five or six years and $90-110 million dollars. For this dollar amount Maeda would be an absolute steal for the Sox who would lock up his prime years for far cheaper than the going rate for pitching.There is the anticipated $20 million posting fee, but the White Sox are a big-market team who could write that amount off as a one-time expenditure.
Finally, signing Maeda makes far more sense due to the elimination of uncertainty in this rotation. If the season started today the Sox would have to turn to Erik Johnson to fill their right-handed need. Johnson has never successfully completed a big-league season and would only hurt the team. Why not help the rotation rather than hurt it by adding a potential ace to a young core hoping to rebound from a rough 2015?
To sum up, while Yoenis Cespedes would be a solid addition to the Chicago White Sox, I believe Kenta Maeda would help the South Siders far more. He could help fix the Sox most glaring weakness and provide them with a potential ace to pair with Chris Sale atop the rotation. As for left field, the Sox could go cheap and bring in a veteran or impending free agent at the deadline to provide more support. All in all, I believe Rick Hahn should pass on the Cuban Missile and pony up the posting fee and contract to bring the 27-year-old Japanese stud to U.S. Cellular Field.