The Nate Jones Quandry

Good day all, it’s your buddy BeefLoaf, why don’t you pour yourself a drink and get comfortable.  I was enjoying an article at BP Southside by Mark Primiano about one of our favorite homegrown players, Nate Jones.  The crux of the article is how great Nate Jones has been the last few years and how the value of high end relievers has been going up, up, up over the last several years.  This value has reached a new creshendo this offseason with the contract that Aroldis Chapman signed with the New York Yankees.  In the piece, Primiano points out how team friendly Jones’ contract is and how good he has been, leading to the conclusion that we as Sox fans should enjoy Jones while we can because he’s likely the best trade asset on the roster other than Jose Quintana.  I have been thinking about this situation quite a bit and have a few caveats about this whole situation.

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Trade value
Given the recent arbitration decision on Dellin Betances and the fact that Andrew Miller is the only non-closer who has been given a big contract, in order to maximize Nate Jones outstanding trade value, he needs to earn his 9th inning participation trophy’s, commonly known in the modern era as “Saves”.  The folks with the spreadsheets realize how damn valuable the Nate Joneses of the world are worth, but given that value and compensation don’t always match up this is a blind spot in the code, or, conquering the 9th inning (as arbitrary as some believe it to be) has this excess value that allows you to unlock a top 20 prospect.  Regardless, the reason for this isn’t important to you and I as a White Sox fan looking for the best case scenario to gettting young controllable prospects in a rebuild.  The best case for us is to figure out a way to pack David Robertson’s bags and send him somewhere so that Nate Jones can take over the closer role (this, like my recent column about Quintana, show examples of why holding out for the most value on Q and DRob aren’t necessarily the best angles).
The Contract
From MLB.com
 Jones will earn $900,000 in 2016, $1.9 million in ’17 and $3.95 million in ’18. The White Sox hold club options for ’19 ($4.65 million) and ’20 ($5.15 million), with a mutual option for ’21 ($6 million). If either club option is declined, Jones would receive a $1.25 million buyout.
This is an excellent contract, and definitely adds to his trade value, even if he can’t log enough saves before the deadline or the offseason or the 2018 deadline, etc.  This is also a friendly enough deal that Jones could still be a White Sox on the next contender.  Assuming 2017 is a disaster and 2018 is still pretty lousy, with the advanced age of some of the current prospect haul, you can expect a good chunk of the prospects/young players to finally be showing their wears in Bridgeport in 2019 and some of them should actually be good (set aside the fact that the free agent market after 2018 will be one of the best all-time, so if the White Sox are heading where we think they should be, they’ll be spending in it).  That 2019 season, when the fog should start to lift and the White Sox should be an above average team, Jones makes $4.65 million, a mere pittance, if he’s your shutdown closer or realistically, even if he’s just as good as he is RIGHT. DAMN. NOW.
Conclusion!?!?!?!
So, given all of this, you are probably sitting around wondering….”BeefLoaf, What say you?”……….I’ll be honest, I am not completely sure.  On one hand, you’d think you would like to trade your bullpen pieces while the value of those pieces appears to be en vogue by the rest of the marketplace.  These things ebb and flow, right now, right handed sluggers that can’t run or play defense are damn near worthless and bullpen arms are super valuable.  A decade ago, those values were flipped, so you never know what will happen.  On the other hand, assuming the perceived timeline of these White Sox is accurate, Nate Jones is your lead dog through the 2019-2021 seasons, which are the front end of the contending years.  Theoretically, he’s leading a potentially excellent bullpen (with Zach Burdi and Carson Fulmer as two guys that project to be ++ back of the bullpen options).  Think the 2015 Royals back end of the bullpen (that’s the best case scenario, and these guys are mostly still in the minors so don’t @ me).
I think my (substantial) gut is telling me that trading him makes the most sense.  This system already contains a lot of arms that are going to be airing out high velocity fastballs and sliders and its exceedingly low on other stuff (namely middle of the order hitters).  If I were a gambling man (AND I AM), I would be making my bets on Nate Jones (and David Robertson, ldo) being on other teams and the Zach Burdi’s and Carson Fulmer’s of the world being the back end of the bullpen when the 2020 White Sox are battling the Twins and Indians for the AL Central.  What do you think?  Should Nate stay or should he go?  Let me know on twitter, facebook or in the comments below.
– BeefLoaf
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