Did the White Sox Win the John Danks Trade?

Two days before Christmas in 2006 the White Sox made a surprise trade. They shipped lanky right hander Brandon McCarthy to the Texas Rangers for left-hander John Danks. Six seasons later it’s worth wondering if they “won” the trade or not.

There are a couple of ways to look at a trade’s result. The most obvious, and probably the right way is to just consider the two teams involved. McCarthy was a spot starter for the 2005 World Series Champs but spent most of the following season as a long reliever. He was good, but not great. It was surprising when they shipped him out. He was a full time starter from that point on and started 22 games for Texas in 2007. His ERA+ was 94 which is below league average (100). He also got hurt late in the season. That trend would continue into 2008 when a spring training injury limited him to 5 games in 2008. He was limited to just 17 games in 2009 and missed all of 2010 before getting released. In four years with the Rangers he managed just 44 starts.

He moved on to the A’s and was a pretty good starter for two seasons but was still limited to just 43 starts over two seasons. His one year in Arizona less than impressive, and according to Baseball Reference he accrued just 7 wins above replacement (WAR) after leaving the White Sox.

John Danks was immediately thrust into a starting role as well. After a rough rookie campaign Danks was awesome in year 2. He recorded 6.4 WAR according to Baseball Reference, almost as much as McCarthy got in his entire time after leaving Chicago. That season was by far Danks best, and although he strung together two more good pretty good seasons in 2009 and 2010, his 2011 was mostly unspectacular. After that unspectacular season, he signed a 5-year extension with a significant bump in pay starting in 2013.

Unfortunately he got hurt in the following season after just 9 mostly forgettable starts. He made just 22 starts in 2013 and is owed about $14M for each of the next three seasons. His strikeout rate is down over the last two years and his home run rate has gone up. He last two seasons (just 31 starts) have been far worse than the ones prior. He will turn 29 just after Opening Day.

He has accumulated 20.6 WAR over his career, three times what McCarthy accrued after he left the White Sox. One has to wonder if the White Sox saw something that made them think McCarthy was brittle and tried to cut their losses while they could. Maybe the White Sox staff could have kept him healthier, or maybe he would have broke down either way. But with the three years left on Danks contract, and every year of that extension being a disaster so far, one has to wonder if ultimately Danks will hurt the White Sox more than he helped them.

It’s a strange way to look at things. Danks looked like an ace in the making. And there is no one in baseball that would take McCarthy over him during this time span. But when it’s all said and done, would moving on after three seasons of McCarthy have been a better outcome than all of this money spent on Danks? Time will tell.