Who’s on the South Side starters short list to sign? This guy! (@HyunJinRyu99)
Zack Wheeler is truly the one who got away for the Chicago White Sox.
A swift and sudden deviation from the franchise’s free agent strategy was evident after the embarrassing escapade involving the pursuit of Manny Machado last winter, with many fans sick of hearing about the White Sox settling for second and bragging about being hypothetical bridesmaids.
Atypical to the Machado discussions, the front office handled the Wheeler negotiations like a large-market operation should. With Wheeler, the organization was out in front of the pack and jumped the marketplace in a similar fashion to how they landed free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal in November. Cold, hard cash had more to do with the early signing than anything else, and a similar plan was put together to land the 29-year-old righthander.
There were many reports linking the White Sox to Wheeler prior the Winter Meetings, more fact than fiction as the front office was bearing down on its top pitching target. But after offering five years and $125 million and making a significant gamble on upside, the White Sox were spurned once again. For no fault of their own, Wheeler ended up remaining closer to his family on the East Coast and the White Sox were left pondering what the future would entail without their pitching prize.
The front office had reason to believe that a deal with Wheeler appeared imminent — until he changed course. The South Side decision makers have lost out similarly for pitchers like Jordan Lyles and Wade Miley who chose a destination (Texas) or familiarity (Cincinnati) instead of taking the money to play in Chicago. These things happen every year in free agency, and not only to the White Sox.
The organization will have to take the arrows that they’ve rightfully earned after 11 straight seasons without a playoff appearance. The White Sox just haven’t secured the trust of their fanbase, regardless of how sound their 2020 free agent plan actually was. People don’t like to be told how to act, but irrationality is at an all-time high in response to the perceived inaction by the club on the pitching front. A minor league signing as minute as Ross Detwiler‘s return had social media in an uproar, despite the need for depth at Triple-A Charlotte being an offseason necessity as well.
Salvageable winter for Sox?
There are still two free agent starters on the market who would offer the White Sox a stabilizing force in the middle of their young rotation going forward. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score has reported on the club’s interest in lefties Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com wrote a detailed piece on Scott Boras’ remaining clients, and the two southpaws are among them.
According to Feinsand, Boras seems to be focused on getting deals completed. “The pitching market has obviously been fast and furious as it was from the start,” Boras says. “Clubs are identifying their needs, and we’re certainly narrowing the corridor of finality. It could happen soon.” While baseball’s most recognizable power agent wouldn’t disclose the names of interested parties, Feinsand listed the White Sox as one of the primary suitors for both pitchers.
Ryu signed with the Dodgers back in 2013 after pitching multiple seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization. He just completed his best season as a professional after compiling a 4.8 fWAR and finishing in second for the National League Cy Young Award. The 6´3´´, 255-pound southpaw has battled myriad injuries in his time pitching in the United States. He was mostly healthy in his 182 ⅔ innings last season. The 32-year-old lefty posted a 2.32 ERA with a 3.10 FIP. Ryu only threw 82 ⅓ innings in 2018 but posted a 1.97 ERA in that limited time. That innings total was fewer than 2017, when he threw 126.
Keuchel’s market was nonexistent at a price point that suited him last offseason, so he signed a one-year placemarker deal late and joined the Atlanta Braves after the All-Star break in 2019. The 31-year-old southpaw no longer has a draft pick attached to his services, making his market more vibrant this time around. The 6´3´´, 205-pounder posted a 3.75 ERA with a 4.06 xFIP in 112 ⅔ innings last year. However, Keuchel hasn’t been the same since his 5.7 fWAR campaign for the Astros back in 2015.
Keuchel has a solid reputation as a teammate and has a long history of working positively with younger starters. He still induces lots of ground balls and would fit in nicely as a stabilizing force in the middle of the White Sox rotation. After seeing the deals already inked on the free agent market, it appears that Dallas would be seeking a four-year contract at a similar annual average value to what Madison Bumgarner pulled down in Arizona.
Another rumored name to fill the gaping hole in the rotation is Boston’s David Price. Feinsand and others have also linked the former Commodore to the White Sox in trade discussions. The Red Sox have indicated a need to get under the competitive balance tax, and shedding some of his exorbitant salary could be one way to appease the wishes of ownership. It doesn’t seem likely that new baseball operations chief Chaim Bloom would attach a guy like Andrew Benintendi to move Price’s deal, but Boston could offer to pay down the contract substantially.
The rumor is that Boston might be willing to eat $30 million of Price’s contract, and a three-year, $66 million outlay would be much more palatable for the White Sox. Price is a leader and lauded as a fantastic teammate. The 34-year-old former first overall pick is recovering from wrist surgery but should be ready for spring training. The southpaw posted a 2.3 fWAR with a 3.62 FIP and averaged almost 11 K/9, making him an attractive alternative if things don’t work out on the free agent market.
Insulating the rotation
According to reports, a familiar face will be playing his home games at 35th and Shields for the first time.
The White Sox drafted González with the 38th overall pick back in 2004. He’s never actually pitched a game with the big league club, but this is his third spin with the organization. The 34-year-old lefty offers insulation to a starting rotation in need of two veterans. González is a back-end starter at this point in his career, a fly ball pitcher who walks too many guys, but he posted a 3.50 ERA and accumulated 1.4 fWAR in 87 innings with the Brewers last year. He’s also familiar with new catcher Grandal and is said to be an excellent teammate.
González is a move in the same vein as Wade Miley or Martin Perez would have been. The White Sox need to procure two starters this offseason. The order in which they do so isn’t important. The perceived lack of a Plan B for the organization has ruffled the feathers of an impatient fan base that is ready to win. The organization has a stated goal of adding two starters this winter, and they should be held to that platitude. The quest for another starter should continue as this latest González contract becomes finalized.
Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodón will likely pitch at some point for the 2020 Chicago White Sox. Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert are on the mend from elbow surgery and should be knocking on the door as well. The starting rotation at the conclusion of next season will look much different than it looks currently. While the same figures at the top of the organization remain, the franchise as a whole is much different.
The decision makers stated a need for starting pitching, and they meant it. González is a step in the right direction. Will the front office make a trade for a former Cy Young winner, or destroy its Boras narrative instead?
The team’s intention is to add someone to their rotation who is better than what they’ve already added. The time to prove it is now.