The best remaining starting pitching options for the White Sox

The best remaining starting pitching options for the White Sox

With the White Sox signing Kelvin Herrera, Rick Hahn’s efforts to improve the bullpen appear to be done this offseason. The unit surprisingly finished 10th in MLB in WAR via Fangraphs, 15th in FIP, and 23rd in ERA last season. Pairing Herrera with Alex Colome should help improve in each of those three categories for 2019, with the continuous caveat that they stay healthy.

Other than signing Manny Machado (or Bryce Harper), the next item on Hahn’s to-do list is finding another starting pitcher.

I’ve pointed out in previous posts where the White Sox lag behind postseason teams over the last 10 seasons in terms of offense and pitching between playoff teams the last ten seasons. Now it’s time to look forward. Steamer600 projects if each pitcher made 32 starts and threw 200 innings, making assumptions what their output would be if they carried a full regular season workload.

Using Steamer600, which you can look up on Fangraphs, the White Sox starting pitcher projected to have the best WAR in 2019 would be… Dane Dunning. Michael Kopech is second.

Third is Dylan Cease, who we assume will see some time in Chicago this upcoming season if he performs well in Charlotte and doesn’t get hurt. If that happens, it likely won’t be until after the All-Star break. Fourth is Carlos Rodon, and now we’re finally getting to a starter who is penciled into the rotation starting in 2019. Unfortunately, Steamer600 doesn’t see any White Sox pitcher having a season with 2 WAR or above. Rodon is the only one projected to have a WAR of above 1!

These projections are a way of saying that the White Sox need starting pitching help for this season. It’s not just because a lack of quality, although better pitching will make watching the games more pleasant. The Sox are also short on quantity.

Last year, the White Sox had nine pitchers who made more than one start. Adding Ivan Nova helps with depth taking over for James Shields, but Hahn needs to add another starter to make it through the 2019 season.

The Sox could trade for a cost-controlled starter, but if 2019 is kind to the White Sox, maybe that’s not needed as much if Dunning and Alec Hansen bounce back from injuries and other pitchers emerge showing promise. While we dream about these pitchers contributing soon, they won’t be in the picture on Opening Day 2019, which is when the White Sox need the most help.

Using Steamer600, I’ve created a list of the best possible free agent options Hahn could sign in free agency to help with the depth problem compared to internal options. Also, I’ve added one viable trade option for a known pitcher expected to be dealt.

A reminder of what the projected starting rotation looks like now:

  • Carlos Rodon
  • Ivan Nova
  • Reynaldo Lopez
  • Lucas Giolito

Internal options (Steamer600 2019 Projections)

  • Dylan Covey (1.0 WAR, 4.91 ERA, 6.78 K/9 to 3.92 BB/9)
  • Jordan Stephens (-0.1 WAR, 5.42 ERA, 7.20 K/9 to 4.03 BB/9)
  • Spencer Adams (-0.7 WAR, 5.74 ERA, 5.24 K/9 to 3.63 BB/9)

The White Sox have a spot remaining in their starting rotation, and if Opening Day were tomorrow, I assume Dylan Covey would be the fifth man. Despite a few brilliant outings, Covey often struggled to get through the opponent’s lineup multiple times unscathed.

  • Opponents vs. Covey, first PA: .216/.296/.329
  • Opponents vs. Covey, second PA: .307/.382/.454
  • Opponents vs. Covey, third PA: .300/.360/.440

Covey can provide value to the White Sox bullpen as a swingman, and in my opinion, that’s the best role for him. Sure, Covey can always step in for emergency starts, but it should be limited to just those situations.

Jordan Stephens is on the 40-man roster, and I assume that he would be a leading contender for emergency starts if needed. Spencer Adams is not on the 40-man roster because he has a tough time striking out hitters in AAA. There’s not enough swing-and-miss with his arsenal to feel comfortable about his chances against major-league hitters at the moment, but he’s on this list because if something were to happen with Covey and Stephens, I’m assuming Adams is next on the depth chart.

I don’t find the three internal options all that inspiring to fill the remaining spot in the starting rotation. This being the case, let’s take a look at what’s available in free agency and trade market.

The multi-year choice

  • Dallas Keuchel (3.2 WAR, 3.68 ERA, 7.1 K/9 to 2.66 BB/9)

Best available starting pitcher left in free agency is Dallas Keuchel. Yes, his peripheral numbers suggest a decline in performance is coming (or already here) and hence why teams are a bit hesitant to meet his asking price for a five-year contract. Still, Keuchel wpitched 204 innings over 34 starts for Houston in 2019 and appeared to be in good health considering the time he missed in 2016 and 2017. Keuchel is not a 200-strikeout-a-season pitcher anymore and gives up more hits and walks than you would like from a front-line starter, but he had a 3.69 FIP paired with his 3.74 ERA. Consistency is Keuchel’s greatest strength these days.

What that level of consistency costs in an open market, I’m not sure. Is Rick Hahn even interested in signing a pitcher like Keuchel? Again, I’m not sure, but maybe he should be. Steamer still sees Keuchel as an above-average starter in 2019, and as I have illustrated above, that is much-needed production for the White Sox. Even when you draw up plans for 2020 and beyond, there is so much uncertainty with the starting staff thanks to injuries and poor 2018 performances. Maybe you don’t want Keuchel to lead a rotation in trying to win a division, but if Keuchel is your No. 3 or No. 4 pitcher, there’s enough talent and depth in the rotation to push the bar. Call me crazy, but I think Keuchel will age well to be a 2-3 WAR pitcher from 2020 to 2022.

If I were Rick Hahn, I’d entertain a three-to-four-year deal for Keuchel. If the White Sox are only interested in plugging roster holes with one-year options, however, here are the best available starters in the clearance aisle.

The one-year options

  • Brett Anderson (2.4 WAR, 4.13 ERA, 6.19 K/9 to 2.46 BB/9)
  • Gio Gonzalez (1.8 WAR, 4.39 ERA, 7.71 K/9 to 3.76 BB/9)
  • Wade Miley (1.8 WAR, 4.36 ERA, 6.98 K/9 to 3.43 BB/9)

Brett Anderson last made 30+ starts was in 2015, and yet, Steamer600 still thinks Anderson will post the best WAR mark out of this group. I’m very skeptical of this projection, but Anderson was OK in his 17 starts with Oakland in 2018 posting a 4.48 ERA and 4.17 FIP.

I prefer Gio Gonzalez over Brett Anderson. Gonzalez has made at least 31 starts in eight of his last nine seasons, so he’s been dependable health-wise. The problem with Gonzalez is that he won’t help the White Sox’ walk issue. Last year, Gonzalez walked 4.2 batters per nine innings while posting a 4.21 ERA and 4.16 FIP.

Wade Miley pitched well for the Milwaukee Brewers last season, especially during their postseason run. The issue is whether that performance will carry over to 2019. His strikeout totals were quite low (5.6 per 9 innings), and walks have been an issue. One thing Miley did well is limit home runs allowed, as only three were smashed against him in 80 innings. Ultimately, I feel a swingman role is better suited for Miley.

That’s the best of what’s left in free agency. As for a trade idea, there is the unresolved issue with Sonny Gray and the New York Yankees.

Trading for Sonny Gray

  • Sonny Gray (0.6 WAR as RP, 3.75 ERA, 8.96 K/9 to 2.89 BB/9)

I’m not entirely sold that Gray will be traded after CC Sabathia’s health scare in December (he underwent heart surgery). If there are lingering effects from the surgery, do the Yankees hold onto Gray as an insurance policy? Their rotation looks quite good with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and JA Happ in the fold otherwise.

Let’s say that Sabathia will be fine to start 2019, or the Yankees add another starter and do decide to move on from Gray. Could the White Sox be a fit? The disparity between his ERA of 4.90 and FIP of 4.17 is eye-catching. So are his home and away splits where Gray had a 6.98 ERA at Yankee Stadium. Away from the Bronx, Gray was quite good 12 starts with a 3.17 ERA.

Then there is the TTOP issue, and much like Covey, the second time facing the lineup was not kind to Gray.

  • Opponents vs. Gray, first PA: .246/.311/.401
  • Opponents vs. Gray, second PA: .324/.392/.468

What’s funny is Gray was a this best the third time through: .198/.337/.346 in 19 games (98 plate appearances).

I can’t pretend to know what kind of package would get Brian Cashman to agree on a deal for Gray, who becomes a free agent in 2020. If it’s just for prospects, maybe Hahn can make a similar deal when he traded Alex Call to Cleveland for Yonder Alonso. If so, it might be worthwhile to see if Gray’s issues in 2018 are because of Yankee Stadium, and not something else.

There’s still another month before pitchers and catchers report to Glendale for Spring Training. A wide range of quality is available for Hahn to sort through to find another starter for the 2019 season. Maybe Manny Machado has another close friend or relative in need of a job? Or hey, Hahn could always bring back James Shields.

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KenWo4LiFe
Member

If I was going to make a move for a starting pitcher, there is no doubt it would be Zack Greinke. Trade em a better prospect like Rutherford to cover some of the cost.

GrinnellSteve
Member

My thought exactly. Build a package around Rutherford. Take on most of the salary. You get a #1 or #2 for three years. You’re not locked in long term. The rotation needs depth this year, and it probably will for the next couple of years after that. Grienke would be a smaller commitment than going after Sale or Cole next year.

asinwreck
Member

I am very curious to see what Arizona will do with Greinke. It’s not terribly common for a highly effective pitcher to be dangled like this for salary reasons, and Greinke is not a terribly common athlete. However his work situation plays out (including where he’d go, how much money Arizona would send with him, and what return they’d get) is one of the more fascinating stories of this offseason.

moncada5ever
Member

I’m still banging on the Julio Teheran drum from my off-season plan. Seems like he is expendable for the Braves and may have more upside than Sonny Gray. Would the Yankees be looking to get Chance Adams some starts this year? That may lead to making Gray expendable to counter the Sabathia concerns.

MrStealYoBase
Member

I’m with you here. Probably could be had for a song and can be counted on more to deliver 30+ starts.

Soxfan2
Member

Eh. Increasing HR/FB and terrible gb%. He would be terrible at the g-spot. If he can be had for practically nothing, i’d be interested..I guess. At least he’s good for 200 innings 

Jason.Wade17
Member

While I would be more comfortable with one of the free agent options, I think that would require multiple years and with 2020 likely being a rotation centered around Kopech, Rodon, Dunning, Cease, others. I’m slightly ok with going with internal options for 2019’s fifth starter. I think it will come down to Stephens, Guerrero, and Fulmer.

You mention Stephens doesn’t have much swing and miss, but a 20+% k rate is fine. I think his lower GB rate will eventually catch up with him though if he also has that k rate.

Guerrero is a guy I think might be interesting. He doesn’t k a lot of guys, but gets GB’s and posted pretty good FIP’s over his last two years between AA and AAA. Over his last 6 starts of the season, he had 41 k’s in 32 IP with a 3.11 FIP.

And Fulmer I just can’t seem to get over just yet. Too good of stuff and although his command sucks and it sucks even worse for fans to watch him, I just feel like he’s a small tweak away from being useful as a spot starter and a solid reliever.

Although, all this hopefullness fails when Lopez, Giolito, or Rodon don’t turn it around and then we will be wishing we had another 2 or 3 professional pitchers.

Jason.Wade17
Member

Also final point, while I’m hopeful for a guy like Guerrero, its pretty telling that he’s probably not a good option if no teams select him in the rule V and the Sox don’t care too much to protect him.

Jason.Wade17
Member

Eh, screw it, all these options suck. I’m talking my self into it, the Sox need another competent pitcher.

HallofFrank
Member

I’m with you here (although you may not be with you anymore). I like internal options (or a low-level, cheap free agent). I hope they wait on significant additions to the rotation for 3 reasons: 

 (1) It’s likely true of every player, but especially so with pitchers: the first year of a FA contract is the one you bank on the most. Even with Machado, the Sox probably won’t contend in 2019, and projecting SP 2-3 years out gets really murky. 

(2) SP is probably the place on the roster most poised to take the biggest internal jump from ’19 to ’20. Cease, Kopech, Dunning are all good bets to be ready in 2020, and we have enough interesting arms that I expect one more to step forward. Waiting a year allows us to have a better idea of what we have and, thus, what we need.

(3) The 2020 FA class is pretty loaded at SP. Even assuming there will be some extensions, opt-ins, and injuries, there are a lot of big names and interesting arms that I wouldn’t mind spending money on (including Sale & Cole).

Jason.Wade17
Member

I’m still with you for these reasons as well. When I say the Sox should add another competent pitcher, I meant, adding another guy they could get for 1 year, eat innings, and not be a disaster.

While I still would like to see some of these internal options get starts in 2019. Even with one more pitcher in place, I think there will still be plenty of opportunities for them.

Trooper Galactus
Member

I just like Keuchel because his ground ball profile is desirable in our park and I anticipate we’ll have pretty good infield defense moving forward to maximize his value. Also, guys like that tend to age a bit more gracefully.

GrinnellSteve
Member

My plan had the Sox trading Abreu, Castillo, and a lefty reliever for Jon Gray and Jake McGee. Get a bad contract off the Rockies’ book, and shore up C and 1B. They’ve addressed 1B now, unless you could convince them to move Murphy to 2B. Still, I wouldn’t mind the Sox getting creative and snatching Gray.

Hit4cycle
Member

As tempting as Greinke sounds, he would cost a king’s ransom. As intriguing as Gray sounds, he’d cost a king’s ransom in prospects. Neither option would mesh seamlessly with a continuation of the overall rebuild.

Machado on the other hand would mesh nicely considering the length of his deal. Plus he’d play most every game, not just every fifth. After all, we’ll need someone for Alonso and Jay to talk to.

andyfaust
Member

I don’t think either Greinke or Gray’s contracts hold a ton of value that would demand “a king’s ransom”. Gray was not good in 2018, and only has one year left in arb. until he is FA. Greinke was pretty damn good, but he is making $35M/year so I could understand if AZ wanted out from under that contract. I think you might be surprised at how little either of them may cost in terms of prospects.

lil jimmy
Member

I believe you are correct sir.

Jason.Wade17
Member

Gray is under team control through 2021.

GrinnellSteve
Member

Jon Gray has 3 arb years left, but the Rockies thought so little of him, they left him off their postseason roster. Their window is now, when they have Arenado.

andyfaust
Member

Sorry, i misread it and thought we were talking about Sonny Gray. No idea how willing Colorado is to deal him.

metasox
Member

Regarding internals, is Banuelos also a possibility to get some starts?

asinwreck
Member

Yes, and I wouldn’t discount the possibility of a start or two or six from Randall Delgado.

jorgefabregas
Member

Using Steamer600 covers up injury concerns. That’s why Brett Anderson is ranked so highly. Regular Steamer projects him for 85 innings, not the 200 innings that Steamer600 uses for every starting pitcher.

Neat_on_the_rocks
Member

Gio Gonzalez has been my guy since the offseason started. Hes not gonna be expensive and has established consistent success in the MLB. I wouldn’t expect anything other than #4 start production at best, but even so, hes a guy we could absolutely use.

If the Whitesox do land Machado (PLEASE!) I dont think they can justify the internal option. If they dont land the big fish then I would be all for trotting out Banuelos/Stephens/Guerrero into the #5 role.

I do NOT want to see Covey tried out there again. We need to let him fully commit to being our bullpen long arm. He could potentially be a long term piece in that role and I dont think its worth wasting his time as a stopgap #5 SP option

Smclean09
Member

I think the Machado situation has to play out before they choose a route. If he doesnt sign then I think the Sox just sign a 1 year contract similar to what they’ve done so far. Possibly Gio.

Now if he does sign, I think they are a big position player upgrade and a Grienke/ Keuchel away from getting in that 80ish win territory. That’s within striking distance if things bounce right and you get some development but wont hand tie them for making 2020 moves next offseason.

Eagle Bones
Member

Was going to say essentially the same thing. Harper and Machado will directly influence how much sense Kuechel (or someone of that ilk) makes.

roke1960
Member

I would like to see Banuelos get a shot this year. I think he has the most upside of any of the Sox internal options. As far as external options, it depends on if they sign Machado. If they do, I would like to see them add Greinke. It’s more of a financial commitment than a prospect commitment. Though adding a guy like Rutherford should allow them to shave off some of the financial commitment. Adding Greinke, Machado and a right field bat would make them interesting this year and allow Greinke to lead the young staff in ’20-’21.

GrinnellSteve
Member

…a right field bat named Harper.

As Cirensica
Member

Form all pitchers available, of course Hahn has to sign whoever is family, best friend and whatnot with Machado

Trooper Galactus
Member

Maybe he and Dallas Keuchel used adjacent stalls in the bathroom at the All-Star Game once.

yinkadoubledare
Member

I think CC was cleared to work out/resume baseball activities yesterday, so barring something weird, he should be fine for the season. If there were complications, they probably would have arisen by now, and when you get a blockage/partial blockage stented, if there aren’t other issues you generally feel way better immediately and are just waiting for some healing in wherever they went in through to do the stent (when my dad had it done recently, it was done through the thigh, so he wasn’t allowed to lift anything for a few weeks while it healed up, but good to go once that was done, and he felt vastly better basically that same evening after they had put the stent in)

gibby32
Member

If the Sox get Machado, the Yankees could be interested in Yolmer in a deal for Gray. Torres is solid at one position or another, but Tulo is a risk and Andujar is a defensive liability. A double play combination of Torres and Yolmer would look pretty good. If Tulo stay healthy and produces, Yolmer has proved that he could be a utility guy.

karkovice squad
Member

Who else are the Sox getting in return?

Yolmer both has more team control remaining and might be the better player at this point.

35Shields
Member

Agreed, I actually think Yolmer would be a great fit at Milwaukee. They’re fairly weak up the middle and Yolmer’s switch hitting and positional flexibility allows him to remain pretty valuable even if he’s not going to be a starter.

gibby32
Member

I agree that he would be a good fit in Milwaukee, but the Sox need a starter and so does Milwaukee. Which is not to say that we could not find something interesting from the Brewers, but it doesn’t jump out at me.

35Shields
Member

Yeah, I wasn’t really suggesting that MIL would send back a SP. More just that he’d be a pretty good fit and is more valuable than as a trade piece for Sonny Gray.

Trooper Galactus
Member

And we know how much the Brewers love our utility infielders!

gibby32
Member

Interesting reaction. I had anticipated that the reaction would be that Yolmer would not be enough to get him. Starting pitchers are more valuable than mid-tier second basemen. Were the Sox to sign Machado, it would be a deal involving two guys not needed by their current teams. I think it would be a fair swap.

karkovice squad
Member

I see Yolmer as someome who can credibly play 3 positions at league average or better. Even if Machado would bump him down the depth chart, he’s a valuable backup to 3 starters and bench player. And he has 3 years of arb left leaving both a lot of surplus value in place and making him at least a partial fit for the window.

Plus dugout/clubhouse/postgame value.

He’s only redundant to the point that Rondon can fill that role. I don’t think that’s a given. And they’d otherwise have to pay for a replacement (which, remind me how Keppinger and Bonifacio worked out, again) or wait for Madrigal.

Gray’s not the starter he was even 2 years ago and is up for arb 3 which eats into the surplus value. (The food is terrible. And such small portions.)

This isn’t to say that Yolmer fetches a premium prospect. Just that he’s more valuable than what’s left of Gray alone.

Eagle Bones
Member

Given all of the options on the second base market (and the shape of Yolmer’s production), I’m just not sure I see much of a market for him. I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but I just can’t see it.

Soxfan2
Member

Isn’t it possible to assume that Machado signs here to play SS? Then we’d need Yolmer to play 3rd still with Timmy moving to CF. 

karkovice squad
Member

It’s possible to assume lots of things.

But they’d be better off signing Harper than acquiring Machado and his posse then forcing Anderson out of position, whether at CF or 3B.

lil jimmy
Member

If Machado signs , he plays 3rd. Yolmer moves to 2nd, Yoan to the outfield. Rondon is UIF. That is the best way to deploy your talent.

yinkadoubledare
Member

Irrelevant to the hot stove or Machado or anything, but Stance’s MLB jersey socks are out and are pretty nifty. Sox offerings:

https://www.stance.com/white-sox-home/M545A18WHI.html?cgid=men-casual-mlb-teams
https://www.stance.com/white-sox-alt-jersey/M545C18WSA.html?cgid=men-casual-mlb-teams

christmastime
Member

Ervin Santana 2 years 16 million. Book it Dano 

christmastime
Member

Drew Pomeranz would also make me happy

StockroomSnail
Member

I need a solution that doesn’t involve Covey or Shields. I want somebody new to disappoint me.

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