Fixing a Hole: White Sox still looking to patch rotation

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.

 

South Side Hit Pen Podcast: Episode 2

Marcell Polo: Will Marcell Ozuna land in Chicago on Monday? If so, we have a plan to keep him from getting lost in the netting with his disorienting move from left to right field. (@CespedesBBQ)


So, with Clinton Cole off doing his divine work photographing and videographing the Big 10 Championship Game this weekend, Episode 2 features editor-in-chief Brett Ballantini and writer Leonard Gore talking will-he-won’t-he-Marcell Ozuna, Marcell Polo, Yaz Grandal, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ken Williams, Wiffleball in the house, humor in baseball, and fanfic-on-demand.

 

Please consider supporting our South Side Sox Patreon in order to keep the podcast rolling. Site support not only allows you to tap into our future Patreon podcast exclusives, but some great site swag sent out every anniversary of your backing.

Wheels down, it’s time to show (R)yu the money

Back to the drawing board: The White Sox should shift their focus towards signing Hyun-Jin Ryu. (@Dodgers)


On Wednesday afternoon, the White Sox learned that they lost the bidding war for their primary pitching target, Zack Wheeler. The Philadelphia Phillies made a late push and eventually inked the righthander to a five-year, $118 million contract that will keep him in the NL East. It hurts when you come up empty on someone who was your priority, although it’s worth noting that the White Sox did offer Wheeler the most money, but it was his fiancee’s preference of being closer to home that ultimately led to signing with the Phillies.

Go figure. The one time the White Sox don’t make any moves to acquire family or friends of a free agent and they go the route of offering the most money yet they still come up empty. Wheeler would have been a great addition to a young pitching staff and would’ve had the opportunity to solidify himself near the top of the rotation for many years down the road, but it’s not the end of the world. There are still plenty of good free agent starters that the White Sox can shift their focus towards.

One starter the White Sox should make a run at is Hyun-Jin Ryu from the Los Angeles Dodgers. If Ryu was in any other free agent class, he would be more popular among teams looking for pitching, but he gets a little lost alongside Wheeler, Gerrit Cole, and Stephen Strasburg. Ryu is a bit of a unique situation, given the fact that he will be 33 at the start of next season, but has only had four full seasons where he’s made 20 or more starts.

Staying healthy has been a struggle for Ryu, especially in the early portion of his career. After debuting in 2013, he landed on the 60-day injured list four times with various shoulder, elbow, and groin injuries. Even with all of the injury history, he has still managed to put together a very successful career: Through 125 starts in six seasons, Ryu has a 2.98 career ERA with 665 strikeouts and 164 walks in 740 ⅓ innings. Those numbers have given him a 8.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, and a 1.16 WHIP, which is very respectable for a starting pitcher.

The Dodgers have been careful with Ryu returning from injury, making sure they didn’t stretch him out too long and trying to limit the stress he puts on his body. In 2019, Ryu had a much healthier season, and the results were incredible. He made 29 starts while posting a 2.32 ERA with 163 strikeouts and just 24 walks through 182 ⅔ innings. That earned Ryu his first All-Star appearance, and he ended the season second in Cy Young voting. Given his history, this might not have seemed like a possibility, but Ryu showed just how great he can be when he’s feeling like his normal self.

His success as a pitcher is due in large part to the fact that Ryu generates a lot of weak contact and ground balls. His career average exit velocity is 85.9, placing him below the league average of 87.5. In 2019, his average exit velocity was 85.3, which was good enough to place him in the top 4% in all of baseball. In 2019, Ryu generated a ground ball on 50.4% of batted balls, giving him a slightly better percentage than the 48.4% total for his career.

Ryu has a wide arsenal that consists of a four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, changeup, curveball, and slider. His fastball isn’t overwhelming, registering in the low-to-mid 90s, and he pairs it with a changeup that sits in the mid-80s. However, Ryu’s ability to locate his pitches makes up for his below-average velocity and helps him generate the consistent weak contact and ground balls. He’s become a “master” of painting the edges of the strike zone, throwing 44.2% of his pitches throughout those areas and targeting places where batters struggle to barrel the ball.

All of the ballparks in the AL Central rank among the top 20 in baseball, with two in the top eight, for most average runs scored and average home runs per game. Bringing Ryu into the mix would be a welcoming change, as his pitching style would play well at those parks and he would be set up to have a successful run with the White Sox, assuming that he can continue to stay healthy. In addition, Ryu has always been a pitcher who doesn’t walk many batters. The most walks Ryu has allowed in a full season is 49 over 192 innings during his rookie year in 2013. The White Sox issued the sixth-most walks in baseball last season, and that has been a consistent trend over the last few years.

One factor that could help influence Ryu to sign with the White Sox is their recent addition in Yasmani Grandal. The two of them worked together during Grandal’s time in Los Angeles, and Grandal trails only A.J. Ellis as Ryu’s most frequent catcher. When working with Grandal for 28 games, Ryu has a 3.02 ERA with 45 walks and 139 strikeouts in 143 innings. That’s good for the second-best ERA among catchers who have worked with him for 20 or more games. The pair has had success being battery-mates, and a reunion on the South Side would be in both their best interests.

Ryu’s market seems less robust than the other pitchers at the moment, and while there hasn’t been any information linking the White Sox to the lefty, it would be wise for the team to get in contact with his agent. The only downside to this? Ryu’s agent is Scott Boras, and the White Sox haven’t had the best working relationship with him in the past. Knowing Boras and how he’s able to suck money out of teams better than anyone in the game, he might use Chicago’s recent failure with Wheeler as a way for them to pony up more money for Ryu. While there’s plenty of reasons as to why Ryu makes a lot of sense and why it would be worth it to sign him, spending a lot of money on him is a risk given his injury history.

As a Plan B after failing on Plan A, Ryu makes a lot of sense for the White Sox. He’s a ground ball pitcher who doesn’t allow much hard contact, and he’s lefthander who would bring balance to the rotation. In 2019 not only was Ryu healthy, he looked like a guy who can pitch at the top of a rotation. There is risk involved with this signing, but it’s a risk the White Sox should be willing to take.

Picks to click: free agent starters

Top dog: With three plus pitches and an ascendant career arc, Zack Wheeler would be a divine addition to the White Sox rotation. (Rawlings)


The Chicago White Sox pitching staff was 19th in Major League Baseball with an fWAR of 12.3 last year. Fortifying the roster in anticipation of the 2020 season is a desired outcome of the front office and pitching appears to be a priority. Young righties Lucas Giolito (5.1 fWAR), Reynaldo López (2.3 fWAR) and Dylan Cease (0.7 fWAR) make up the majority of that production, however, and reinforcements will be necessary.

Some good news comes in the form of 23-year-old phenom Michael Kopech re-joining the White Sox rotation, in addition to the eventual arrival of lefty Carlos Rodón. TJS rehabbing righthanders Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert, as well as southpaw Bernardo Flores, could offer late-season help from the farm system, if taking the most optimistic outlook.

But this isn’t enough depth or quality to dispel the notion that help from outside the organization will be inevitably added.

After failing to convert on intended targets last offseason, general manager Rick Hahn was emphatic that his club would continue to have a seat at the table in free agent discussions, saying, “The money will be spent. It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. It’s not just sitting around to accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in the best position to win some championships.” For the sake of everyone involved, hopefully that money doesn’t just sit and collect interest into 2020.


Southpaw shopping?

In theory, the White Sox could look to balance out their starting rotation with a left-handed option from the free market. Those options are aplenty, with names like Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Cole Hamels currently looking for work.

Bumgarner could be seen as the veteran stopper to place right in the middle of a young rotation, similar to the thinking when the Cubs signed Jon Lester was signed. The 30-year-old Bumgarner eats innings and has a strong pedigree of playoff performances. Madison also possesses a strong personality that would resonate with the city of Chicago and the South Side fan in particular. Hitting is a big part of his game, though, and he may choose to stay in the National League because of that. He a decision to make on his qualifying offer as well.

Ryu has only played for the Los Angeles Dodgers during his time in the major leagues, and he could look to stay on the west coast regardless of which uniform he wears in 2020. He’d be a solid addition for the Pale Hose, however. The 32-year-old lefty posted a 4.8 fWAR last year over 182 innings, with a 2.32 ERA and 3.10 FIP. The 6´3´´, 255-pounder will be testing the free agent market without the qualifying offer attached after accepting a QO to remain with the Dodgers last offseason.

It’s a second straight offseason of waiting for Keuchel, and his market should be more active this time around without the QO attached to his services. The 31-year-old southpaw posted a 4.06 xFIP in Atlanta this past year over 112 innings. He and superagent Scott Boras were unable to secure the escalated payroll commitment they desired in the marketplace a year ago, but Keuchel should land something in the three-year, $50-$60 million range this time around. He has a playoff pedigree as well and would slot nicely into the middle of the White Sox rotation.

Hamels was having a bit of a renaissance in the first half for the Cubs last season prior to an oblique injury that limited him to just 141 ⅔ innings. The 35-year-old was a fan of Chicago, but his thoughts on playing for the Sox are currently unknown. Cole struggled in the second half, but posted a 3.81 ERA with a 4.09 FIP overall. His rumored destinations seem to be returning to Philadelphia, where it all began for him, or a sojourn west to play for a contender. Hamels may have to ultimately wait for some of the other dominoes to fall in the market before finding his next gig.


Another spin at the Wheel

Similar to their pursuit of a hitter, it’s imperative that the White Sox don’t become slaves to handedness in their search for upgrades to the starting rotation. The southpaws on the market all would fit nicely every fifth day, but the best addition the front office can make is by adding a 29-year-old righty to anchor the current staff.

Zack Wheeler could be the remedy that the rotation needs, and the White Sox have shown interest in the former Met. Wheeler is a free agent for the first time after being selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft out of East Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga., by the San Francisco Giants.

Wheeler has had some blemishes on his record since making his big league debut in 2013, and battling numerous injuries has become a trend for the righthander. The 6´4´´, 195-pounder has accumulated 12.6 fWAR in his career but 4.7 of that came last season. Wheeler is seen as an ascending talent with some mileage left in his right arm.

Zack posted a 3.96 ERA with a 3.48 FIP in 195 ⅓ innings in 2019. He also threw 182 innings in 2018. His 3.90 K/BB ratio was the best output of his young career and it should solidify him as the third-best option on the free agent pitching market. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are clients of Boras Corporation and could break some financial barriers this winter. The presence of that pair could help or hurt Wheeler, a Jet Sports Management client.

Boras has no issue taking his constituents into the new year and holding out for the best possible deal. This could affect Wheeler in the sense that it could potentially take desperate suitors out of his marketplace. Plus, teams that miss on the big two would likely turn to Wheeler after their failed attempts. It could also help Wheeler in the sense that he could be seen as the best pitcher on the market willing to sign before Christmas.


Fitting in Pale Hose

Due to the presence of Boras and built-in proclivities of the past, it’s unlikely that the White Sox will be serious contenders in the markets of Cole and Strasburg. Wheeler should be pitching his home games at 35th and Shields next season, though. He’d slot perfectly behind Giolito to form a dynamic duo at the top of the rotation. He’s also the perfect steward to take this young rotation into the future because he’s still ascending with his best days ahead of him.

Wheeler’s fastball sits in the 95-100 mph range regularly and he posts elite spin and velocity numbers. Equipped with stellar peripherals, Zack offers immense upside as a guy available for possibly less than he’s theoretically worth. Wheeler has three plus pitches, and throws a slider and a changeup as well. His use of tunneling to enhance the look of his stuff is another added benefit to his evolving arsenal.

The White Sox have $14.8 million committed to their 2020 payroll before arbitration raises set in, and the money will apparently be spent. Wheeler will come with a qualifying offer attached, so the White Sox would have to pay the penalty in addition to the player. For this season, that would mean the forfeiture of their second round pick, plus the slotted amount that comes with the selection, in addition to $500,000 of international pool space.

The White Sox are unlikely to play at the very top of the free agent market, but there are plenty of tertiary additions available that could thrust the franchise immediately into contention in the American League Central next season.

Zack Wheeler would be a realistic start to that process.

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Deep Dive: Available free agent left-handed starters

No Bum: Madison Bumgarner will be one of the most sought-after pitchers in this year’s free agent class. (@40MadBum)


“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

This article delves into the plentiful left-handed starter options who should be available this offseason. The best high-end options appear to be Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel, while lower-tier options include Gio Gonzalez and Rich Hill.


The White Sox have just one dependable starter (Lucas Giolito) and several question marks to begin the 2020 season.

Will Reynaldo López finally show consistency? (To paraphrase the immortal Forrest Gump: “López starts are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”) Dylan Cease suffered through rookie inconsistencies, while Michael Kopech (expected return: April) and southpaw Carlos Rodón (could be back by the All-Star break) are coming back from Tommy John surgeries. None of the Charlotte starters who finished this season seem viable options, and the White Sox shouldn’t find themselves starting the likes of Dylan Covey, Ross Detwiler, Odrisamer Despaigne and/or Hector Santiago ever, ever again.

Thus, it’s likely that the White Sox will sign a No. 1-3 starter option, as well as a back-of-the rotation guy/swingman on the off-chance that Kopech isn’t ready on Opening Day. Here’s a ranking of the right-handed starter options that could be available, in order of bWAR; I will do a subsequent article regarding southpaw starting options in the near future. The stats, including bWAR, are through September 21.

(ages are as of April 1, 2020)


Hyun-Jin Ryu
Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 bWAR 4.6
Stats 12-5, 2.35 ERA, 168.2 IP, 1.03 WHIP, 1.3 BB/9, 7.9 K/9
Age 33

Madison Bumgarner
San Francisco Giants
2019 bWAR 2.7
Stats
9-9, 3.86 ERA, 200.2 IP, 1.13 WHIP, 1.8 BB/9, 8.7 K/9
Age 30

Cole Hamels
Chicago Cubs
2019 bWAR 2.5
Stats 7-7, 3.92 ERA, 137.2 IP, 1.42 WHIP, 3.7 BB/9, 8.8 K/9
Age 36

Brett Anderson
Oakland Athletics
2019 bWAR 2.3
Stats 12-9, 4.00 ERA, 171 IP, 1.32 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 4.6 K/9
Age 32

Wade Miley
Houston Astros
2019 bWAR 2.1
Stats 14-6, 3.91 ERA, 163.1 IP, 1.34 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, 7.6 K/9
Age 33

Dallas Keuchel
Atlanta Braves
2019 bWAR 2.0
Stats 8-6, 3.63 ERA, 101.2 IP, 1.33 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 7.3 K/9
Age 32

Keuchel signed after the season had already started, and pitched a truncated season (missing two months).

Jason Vargas
Philadelphia Phillies
2019 bWAR 1.2
Stats 7-8, 4.40 ERA, 145.1 IP, 1.33 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 7.1 K/9
Age 37

Jose Quintana
Chicago Cubs
2019 bWAR 1.1
Stats 13-8, 4.55 ERA, 166 IP, 1.36 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 8.0 K/9
Age 31

The Cubs have an $11 million club option on Q, which can be bought out for $1 million (buy him out Cubs buy him out Cubs buy him out Cubs c’mon).

Gio Gonzalez
Milwaukee Brewers
2019 bWAR 1.1
Stats 2-2, 3.86 ERA, 79.1 IP, 1.34 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, 7.9 K/9
Age 34

Gonzalez opted out of his minor league deal with the Yankees at the end of April before signing with Milwaukee, so he missed the start of the major league season.

Rich Hill
Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 bWAR: 0.9
Stats 4-1, 2.68 ERA, 53.2 IP, 1.14 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 10.6 K/9
Age 40

Matt Moore
Detroit Tigers
2019 bWAR 0.7
Stats 0-0, 0.00, 10 IP, 0.40 WHIP, 0.9 BB/9, 8.1 K/9
Age 30

Wade LeBlanc
Seattle Mariners
2019 bWAR 0.5
Stats 6-7, 5.71 ERA, 121.1 IP, 1.45 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 6.8 K/9
Age 35

Martin Perez
Minnesota Twins
2019 bWAR 0.3
Stats 10-7, 4.92 ERA, 157.1 IP, 1.49 WHIP, 3.7 BB/9, 7.4 K/9
Age 28

Drew Pomeranz
Milwaukee Brewers
2019 bWAR 0.1
Stats 2-10, 4.95 ERA, 100 IP, 1.48 WHIP, 4.00 BB/9, 11.7 K/9
Age 31

Clayton Richard
Toronto Blue Jays
2019 bWAR -0.1
Stats 1-5, 5.96 ERA, 45.1 IP, 1.57 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9, 4.4 K/9
Age 36

Alex Wood
Cincinnati Reds
2019 bWAR -0.2
Stats 1-3, 5.80 ERA, 35.2 IP, 1.40 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 7.6 K/9
Age 29

Drew Smyly
Philadelphia Phillies
2019 bWAR -0.6
Stats 4-7, 6.44 ERA, 107.2 IP, 1.64 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 9.3 K/9
Age 30

Derek Holland
Chicago Cubs
2019 bWAR -0.6
Stats 2-4, 5.51 ERA, 81.2 IP, 1.45 WHIP, 4.5 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
Age 33