Just before midnight on Monday, the Texas Rangers traded Lance Lynn to the Chicago White Sox. The late-night deal gave the White Sox one of the best pitchers in baseball, returned to the Rangers Dane Dunning, a solid right-handed pitching prospect, and injected the virtual Winter Meetings with a tinge of normalcy. Let’s grade the trade.
White Sox acquire: RHP Lance Lynn
Rangers acquire: RHP Dane Dunning, LHP Avery Weems
Full trade details per ESPN's Jeff Passan and other reports.
Grading Chicago’s Side of the Deal
This is a brilliant move for the White Sox. Over the last two seasons, Lynn has been baseball’s most durable starter, leading the majors in starts (46) and innings (292 1/3), and he has more WAR (9.8) than any pitcher other than Jacob deGrom (10.2) in that span. He joins a rotation that already includes Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. That trio, which finished fifth, sixth and seventh in the AL Cy Young voting last season, will anchor what should be the American League's best starting staff, boosted further by the expected return of Chicago’s top prospect Michael Kopech.
Lynn, who will be 34 next season, is entering the final year of his contract. Typically the lack of long-term control would keep teams from dealing one of their best pitching prospects—Dunning ranked fifth in the Chicago system entering last season, according to FanGraphs—even for a pitcher as good as Lynn. However, considering his age and relatively low salary of $8 million, the White Sox are getting an elite starter without the commitment of a lengthy and expensive contract. And, of course, nothing says they can’t re-sign or extend Lynn beyond the 2021 season. If they were going to target him next winter anyway, acquiring him before he becomes a free agent should give them a better shot to retain him.
Grading Texas’s Side of the Deal
Getting Dunning and left-handed pitching prospect Avery Weems, Chicago’s sixth-round draft pick in 2019, was about as strong a package the Rangers could have received for Lynn. The trade value for any starting pitcher with one year left on his contract, even a contract as team-friendly as Lynn’s, is limited. That is especially true now with baseball’s financial uncertainty due to the pandemic. The demand for Lynn couldn’t have been all that high, which makes this maneuver all the more impressive for president of baseball operations Jon Daniels. (It’s unknown how much of a role new GM Chris Young played in all this, considering he was hired on Friday.) Last week, I wrote that Lynn would’ve been a great fit for the Yankees, though they were not involved in any trade talks for him, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
The biggest criticism of Daniels regarding Lynn came just after the 2020 trade deadline, when he did not trade him despite plenty of reported interest. Now we know why. As Ken Rosenthal wrote Tuesday morning for The Athletic, Lynn and his agent told the Rangers that if they traded him to a team he did not want to play for, he would’ve opted out for the remainder of the season. Lynn does not have a no-trade clause in his contract, but players were allowed to opt out of the 2020 season at any time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bottom line: The Rangers now have two good pitching prospects to bolster their farm system. Considering they are a few years from contention and all the constraints they faced in dealing Lynn, this is probably the best they could’ve done.