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Avisail Garcia plan might be most important piece of White Sox season

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The Chicago White Sox enter the 2018 season with Avisail Garcia hoping to build off a breakout year in the middle of their lineup.

The one-time Miguel Cabrera comp, who powered through the Detroit Tigers system to earn an MLB debut as a 21-year-old, hadn’t lived up to what the scouts projected for him over the course of his three seasons with the White Sox. However, an incredible 2017 season suddenly has Chicago reevaluating their plan.

Garcia not only finished the year with 18 home runs and 80 RBI, but he also hit a robust .330 and carried an impressive .885 OPS over the course of 561 plate appearances. He earned a spot on the All-Star team and, most importantly, reasserted himself as a threat in the middle of the lineup.

However, his impressive stat line was buoyed by an unsustainable .392 BABIP. Garcia has always profiled as a player who will have a BABIP on the higher side because he hits the ball down and hard, but regression to even a .340 BABIP will pretty much guarantee that his average dips back below .300.

And Garcia doesn’t walk often, so it’s going to change his slash line dramatically to see his average drop by more than 30 points. This makes it remarkably difficult for the White Sox to decide if he should be a part of their future.

Everything general manager Rick Hahn has done over the course of the last 16 months has been forward-facing. The White Sox are in the middle of a rebuild, and they’ve been more than comfortable moving every asset they have in order to get younger and more talented.

So do you keep Garcia, or do you try to flip him for a prospect this season?

He’s 26 years old, so if the White Sox feel like they’re within a year or two of succeeding, they could very easily keep him and make sure he remains a fixture in the middle of the lineup. If not, timing is going to be incredibly critical.

For the same reasons the White Sox still are uncertain about building around Garcia, other teams also are uncertain. This makes it incredibly difficult to gauge exactly what they might be able to get in return for him. But it’s a time-sensitive issue because Garcia hits free agency in 2020.

If Garcia continues to hit well, Chicago might have an opportunity to flip him for a Top-100 prospect and can free up at-bats for Eloy Jimenez, who very well may be ready to make his debut by the summer. However, one of the two could also bump to left field if the team feels their lineup is stronger with both players in it.

The White Sox also have Blake Rutherford, Micker Adolfo and Luis Basabe (along with several other fringe outfield prospects), all of whom could profile as eventual big-leaguers. But none are expected to be ready until 2020. This is convenient because if Garcia continues to hit well for the next two seasons he’ll be due a big contract in free agency and could likely land a compensatory pick if he leaves.

So they essentially have to weigh whether they take what’s available for him now or attempt to milk a couple years worth of production out of him. But that’s all complicated by the reality that Garcia could easily slip back into being a sub-.700 OPS player.

Collectively, baseball fans have wanted to buy into the talent we know Garcia has. But, in reality, he was a replacement-level player throughout his first 400 games in the majors. That makes 2018 such an interesting case study.

How they handle Garcia will probably tell us a lot about how the organization plans to handle their deep and talented farm system and where they think they’re at in this rebuild.

Hahn has been diligent about selling high and making sure he’s maximizing return as he’s moved assets. Keeping Garcia would be a departure from the norm in the last year and change, and it’d probably be concerning if Hahn did change course and held onto the Venezuelan slugger.

There’s simply too much risk that comes with keeping him. Perhaps 2017 is an accurate representation of what Garcia is and maybe he keeps that going in 2018, but his history means it could also be a mirage.

Expect Hahn and the White Sox to make the prudent move and look to trade Garcia at the deadline if he can continue to produce. It’s the sensible choice but not necessarily an easy one for all the reasons we just described, which is why it will be so fascinating to see how the organization navigates the situation this season.

And whatever decision is made could have a lasting impact on the success of this rebuild moving forward.

Ryan Wooden is a full-time sports writer based in the Chicago suburbs. In addition to co-founding The Chicago Sports Column, he is a staffer for SportsLine.com, a premium gambling and fantasy brand from CBS Interactive. Find him away from the computer (or don't) on some body of water or some golf course somewhere.