Wednesday, February 8, 2023

White Sox Interest In Nicky Lopez Makes No Sense


The White Sox are looking within the division to address their hole at second base and reportedly have their eyes on a local kid from Naperville, Illinois. On Monday night Ken Rosenthal, a senior writer for The Athletic, reported that the White Sox have expressed interest in trading for Royals infielder Nicky Lopez.

Lopez, who grew up just an hour away from Guaranteed Rate Field and played his high school ball at Naperville Central, has served as the Royals’ starting second baseman for the last four seasons. Given his connections to White Sox manager Pedro Grifol, who previously served as a coach for the Royals, the rumor is not surprising.

Lopez enters his fifth season in the MLB, having played every infield position except first base. He owns a career slash line of .252/.309/.321/ at the plate. The 27-year-old is coming off a down year that saw him post a -0.2 WAR, a .227 average, and .554 OPS.

His best offensive season came in 2021 when he batted .300 in 565 plate appearances. That season he had career highs across the board, with 149 hits, 29 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs, 22 stolen bases (12th most in the MLB), 49 walks, and a .744 OPS. If Lopez could consistently put up these types of numbers, then he would be a great addition to any lineup.

The problem is the 2021 season is more of an outlier. Lopez has failed to hit above .240 in his other three big league seasons. If he isn’t hitting for average, he is ineffective offensively, given his lack of power. His career high in home runs is two, and he consistently posts a sub .400 slugging percentage. Lopez’s career seven percent walk rate doesn’t help matters.

Plenty of red flags at the plate in 2022 indicate those numbers won’t improve anytime soon. He ranked in the bottom two percentile in average exit velocity and barrel percentage. His max exit velocity was in the 27th percentile, while his expected slugging percentage was in the bottom three percentile. Perhaps the most alarming was his 22.9 hard-hit percentage, which was the worst in baseball.

What Lopez would provide is good defense. His Outs Above Average in 2022 placed him in the 98th percentile. In 2020 his range factor per game was the second-highest in the American League, while his .991 fielding percentage was the second-highest amongst second baseman. His 143 assists also placed him fourth in the AL.

The following season he led AL shortstops in Fielding Percentage with a .987 mark. He had an OAA of 24 that season and was fourth in the AL in shortstop assists. His 2022 campaign saw him record his worst defensive runs saved value at -8. Despite the down year with the glove, he would be an upgrade from Romy Gonzalez and Lenyn Sosa defensively.

His experience at the MLB level would also be a safer option, albeit with a much lower ceiling. Yet the White Sox interest in Lopez is surprising for several reasons. If you are going to act like you are trying to address second base, you can at least express interest in an average player. Lopez is below the MLB average for in his career in nearly every Statcast Batting measurement outside of his career 14 percent strikeout rate.

Interdivisional trades also take a lot of work to pull off. Clubs do not like the idea of helping out a rival. If the Royals can trade Lopez outside of the division, they will. Any trade package the White Sox put together will have to be far and away, the best offer on the board.

Given the White Sox limited resources in the farm system, it’s hard to see them offering anything of value. The price for Lopez shouldn’t take any top prospects to pull off, but it will cost the White Sox more than he is worth. This, of course, is assuming the Royals want to move Lopez. Kansas City has been active in the trade market, recently trading Michael Taylor Jr to the Minnesota Twins and Adalberto Mondesi to the Boston Red Sox.

However, the Royals are not eager to move Lopez, viewing him as an important depth piece. Their current plan is to have former second-overall pick Bobby Witt Jr. as their starting shortstop and Palos Park native Michael Massey start at second base. Lopez would serve as their utility infielder. If Massey is not ready by Opening Day, then Lopez will serve as the starting second baseman.

If the White Sox were able to get a deal done, it would improve their infield depth. The committee of Gonzalez, Sosa, and Leury Garcia doesn’t inspire much confidence. Throwing Lopez into the group makes it better but still mediocre.

Lopez can be a great player if he is at the top of his game. But he still needs to put it together consistently, which he has failed to do in three of his four MLB seasons. The White Sox would be banking on Grifol, who Lopez has played under for the entirety of his career, to maximize his potential.

It’s a typical White Sox move. They are buying low for a guy coming off a terrible season, hoping he can rebound. Would Lopez be better than Gonzalez at second base? Sure. But the gap is not big enough to justify not spending on an actual free-agent upgrade. Since none are left on the board, the White Sox will have to settle for less.


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Jan 25, 2023 4:02 pm

Need to trade with the cubs and get back Madrigal. Easier to fix his issues than hope for Lopez to play better

John kocelko
John kocelko
Jan 25, 2023 3:20 pm

Been a sox fan for 60 years there only interest is money not championship

Jan 25, 2023 3:09 pm

The Sox have no interest. They are simply hoping it take attention away from the Clevinger debacle. Nothing more!!!

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