Revisiting the Nomar Mazara trade

Matthew Rago, Managing Editor

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Last week, the Chicago White Sox traded their former #6 prospect Steele Walker to the Texas Rangers in exchange for right fielder Nomar Mazara, setting White Sox twitter ablaze. White Sox fans immediately rejected the move as narrow-sighted and inconsequential, criticizing Mazara’s inability to hit left-handed pitching while championing Walker for his untapped potential. Furthermore, the acquisition of Mazara failed to satiate the appetite of fans expecting the White Sox to make a big free-agent splash at the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego, denouncing the move as a needless forfeiture when capable free agents such as Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna were and still are available.

Now that the emotions have subsided and the trade has been allowed to marinate for a bit, let’s rationally consider the trade at face value. It’s easy to understand why the trade was ill-received by the White Sox faithful. Mazara, despite his enchanting power potential, has disconcerting flaws in his game. Over the course of his four-year career, he has displayed an inability to consistently hit left-handed pitching, batting just .231 against lefties for his career. Additionally, during his time with the Rangers, Mazara compiled an aggregate 1.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), an accumulative stat that measures a players effective when compared to a fictitious replacement-level player. In other words, over the combined 537 games that Mazara has participated in, his direct production has contributed to less than two additional wins relative to what a hypothetical league-average player would have contributed.

On the other hand, Walker, who the Sox drafted in the second round of the 2018 draft, was considered to be one of the best college bats available in his draft class. His instincts at the plate allow him to play above his physical limitations, as evidenced by his breakout 2019 campaign between Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston Salem, where he hit a collective .284 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs.

As touched on before, Sox fans had  not only expected to acquire a higher-caliber player, but also a player that would not have necessitated the relinquishing of a top-six prospect with unexplored potential. Sox fans have developed an emotional connection to their farm system. Watching prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Marcus Semien develop into all-star caliber players while returns such as Jeff Samardizija and James Shields rapidly regressed has been traumatizing. It has created almost an informal marriage between the Sox faithful and their top prospects, a bond predicated on what-ifs and what-could-be’s rather than what actually is.

Additionally, middling power hitters with pedestrian averages haven’t fared well upon transitioning to the South Side of Chicago. The Adam LaRoche debacle has been enshrined in Sox lore as a colossal failure. Adam Dunn taking residence near the Mendoza Line presumably caused quite a bit of premature balding. Todd Frazier’s tenure with the White Sox has already been relegated to the deepest, darkest realms of our collective subconsciouses.

However, there are also plenty of reasons to like the Mazara acquisition. First, at 24 years old, Mazara is a young, inexpensive acquisition that affords the club two years of team control. With a cap hit of only $5.7 million, the Sox can theoretically spend the money saved to address their need at designated hitter or starting pitcher.

Second, while Mazara has seemingly plateaued in recent seasons, as a sub-25 year old, his production against major league pitching would likely earn him a top-20 ranking on the MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects List. At 22 years old, the former Rangers’ top prospect was hitting a respectable .253 with 20 home runs and 101 RBIs over 141 games against major league pitching. For comparison’s sake, at the same age, Walker was producing at a lesser rate (save for batting average) against High-A level pitching.

Furthermore, while Mazara has been woefully average against major league southpaws, Walker’s production has been nonexistent against High-A level lefties, hitting just. 216 against lefties while at Winston-Salem.

Walker was also blocked by other outfield options within the White Sox system.  Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford, Luis Gonzalez and Luis Alexander Basabe were all further along than Walker in their development. While Walker possesses the ability to potentially usurp each of those players, it would be a tough task to penetrate an outfield featuring Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and four prospects jockeying for playing time.

While it is fair to say that the White Sox could, and perhaps should, have have addressed their right field void via the free agent market, it’s objectively difficult to contend that they did not outright win the Mazara trade. Where Mazara is a flawed yet competent major league hitter, Walker operates as an A-level carbon copy with less power potential. Sure, it hurts to see the Sox forego free agent options in favor of needlessly trading prospects, but they can also still sign either Castellanos or Ozuna should they opt to invest their money in constructing a platoon for the 2020 season.  Nevertheless, rejecting the Mazara acquisition is, at the very least, premature, especially considering his age, production and untapped potential.