The Chicago White Sox are obviously in the middle of a rebuilding effort and they have slashed the payroll accordingly. The organization has spent a total of $71.8 million on player salaries this season and that puts them at 29th in Major League Baseball behind only the Tampa Bay Rays.
Before arbitration totals, the White Sox will only have $13.75 million committed to three players for next season. Welington Castillo ($7.25 million), Nate Jones ($4.65 million) and Tim Anderson ($1.4 million) are the only non-arbitration players under contract for 2019 at the moment. Rick Hahn has stated effusively and in numerous settings that when the time is right, money will be spent. This off-season might be that time. I doubt the money is spent on high priced starting pitching though.
The marketing opportunities for Brooks Boyer and company were endless with Kopech staking his claim to the front of the 2019 club’s rotation. That obviously all changed with the news that Kopech would need to undergo Tommy John Surgery to repair the torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his right elbow.
It’s devastating news for the wickedly talented right-hander and for the White Sox. The big Texan should make a full recovery and slot nicely into the 2020 rotation but questions about the club’s timeline and the 2019 season are warranted at this point.
As the 2018 season is winding down, it’s easy to look ahead to the 2019 campaign and start planning for future seasons. The White Sox will need to add two starting pitchers to their rotation next year and while the farm system is as good as its ever been, there’s no immediate help on the horizon.
Righties Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez and southpaw Carlos Rodon should form a decent triumvirate and continue to grow as members of a young pitching staff. Similar to the Kopech plan, Dylan Cease should be making his major league debut during the 2019 season.
The 22-year-old right-hander ascended this year on the farm and was even named Minor League Pitcher of the Year by MLBPipeline.com. After a midseason promotion to Double-A Birmingham, Dylan threw 52.1 innings in the Southern League. He posted a dazzling 1.72 ERA to go with a FIP of 2.39 and averaged 13.41 K/9.
He looks to be rounding into shape as a potential top of the rotation option after years of questions related to his secondary offerings and limited innings count. He likely starts the season in Charlotte however and won’t be helping the big club out of the gate in 2019.
That brings us to some of the options that are knocking on the doorstep to the big leagues. Spencer Adams, Jordan Stephens and Jordan Guerrero all pitched at Triple-A Charlotte this season and they all need to be protected on the 40-man roster this offseason or be exposed to December’s Rule 5 Draft.
Guerrero was left unprotected last year and nobody selected him. The 24-year-old southpaw threw 65 innings for the Knights this season and averaged 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9. He has a great changeup and posted a 3.46 ERA to go with a 3.56 FIP. Adams is a 22-year-old former 2nd round pick of the White Sox. He pitched to a 3.19 ERA in the International League but his 5.14 FIP isn’t very kind. In 90.1 innings, the former Georgia Prep multi-sport star only struck out four per nine innings and showed an elevated walk rate.
He was better in 68 innings at Birmingham. Stephens is 26-years-old and was a 5th rounder back in 2015. He posted a 2.81 FIP for the Barons to start 2018 but struggled a bit in Triple-A. Jordan threw 107 innings while posting a FIP of 4.19. The former Rice University ace averaged 8.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9.
All of these pitchers have been on the White Sox top 30 prospects list in the past 18 months and we should get some clarity on how the organization truly feels about them this winter. Guerrero has always been a FIP compiler that gets by with just “okay” raw stuff. Adams doesn’t miss enough bats and Stephens might profile better as a relief option. The White Sox need to add two starting pitchers to their rotation for 2019 though and these guys could battle for one of those spots. It will be curious to see which of the three are given a legitimate shot at making the opening day roster.
2019 Free Agency
There will be some premium starting pitching available this offseason but it will come at a hefty price. Clayton Kershaw is owed $65 million over the next two seasons but likely opts out of his current deal. The 30-year-old southpaw has a 3.20 FIP in 150 innings pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers this year. Clayton’s strikeout rate is way down, however.
He’ll be available for suitors this offseason but I’d be stunned if he pitches his home games anywhere other than Chavez Ravine in 2019. Kershaw going back to the NL West would leave a pair of lefties as the cream of the crop in regards to free agent pitching.
31-year-old Dallas Keuchel of the Astros and 29-year-old Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks will headline the 2019 class of free agent pitchers. Keuchel has been worth 3.4 fWAR this year after posting a 3.66 FIP. His strikeout rate is down as well but he’s been more than solid for the defending world champions.
Corbin has had a fantastic year in the desert. The 6’3 210 pounder has been worth 6.2 fWAR on the season. Patrick has posted a 2.43 FIP and is averaging over 11 K/9. All of these pitchers should be looking at contracts well over $100 million on the open market.
White Sox Plan
While I’m not privy to the specific plans of the White Sox front office, I’d be very surprised to see the decision makers in the market for one of the big name starters this offseason. After the Kopech injury, there were some rumblings from fans and media types that the club would need to go after starting pitching in the offseason.
While there may be some truth to that sentiment, it likely won’t be at the top of the market. It’s too early in the process for the White Sox to hamstring themselves with an expenditure of this magnitude at this particular position. Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel would slot nicely into a rotation screaming for consistency but I don’t think a $100 million contract and the forfeiture of a top 45 draft selection to secure either of their services is on the precipice.
The White Sox will need to spend some serious cash to return to the promised land. Some of that cash might even be spent this offseason. Spending it on a top of the market starting pitcher doesn’t make sense at this juncture though.
The organization needs another year to see the growth of their own pitching prospects. Veteran stopgaps like J.A. Happ, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Harvey or Trevor Cahill, as well as younger guys with upside like Drew Pomeranz or Nathan Eovaldi, could be possible options for next year’s club.
They also have the deep farm system to make an acquisition via trade if something appeals to them. Some of Jerry Reinsdorf’s savings will be spent on the pitching side. A large expenditure on that position is much more likely heading into the 2020 season after the organization has a much better idea of what they can accomplish internally, however.
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