The White Sox may not have picked the best year to gut their pitching staff. Well, obviously they picked a great year to gut their pitching staff, since the free agency market is barren and all of their trade assets are worth their weight in gold, and worth more than their weight in prospects.
This week’s Derek Holland signing has shifted, ever so slightly, the focus to how they will eat innings on the 2017 major league roster. The major league team is probably a lower priority for the organization than it has been in decades, but it will still provide a fantastic proving ground for the upper-level talent in their organization, an opportunity to take fliers on reclamation projects, alongside crucial developmental seasons for foundational pieces Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon. And someone besides Rodon will need to pitch.
Again, it’s a low priority. Jose Quintana is currently slated to be the No. 1 starter for the 2017 White Sox, but could obviously be traded before you, the reader, make it to third paragraph of this piece. In return, the Sox likely will not–nor should they specifically target–receive anyone who will replace his innings. Which would leave the rotation looking like:
1. Carlos Rodon
3. Derek Holland
Gonzalez is a weird case, since the fact that he was effective at all last years means he would be a top-10 starting pitcher on the free agent market, were he a free agent, but also is a useful guard against the Sox newly acquired upper-level pitching prospect not breaking into the majors too early. Obviously, Gonzalez having trade value and wanting to hold pitching prospects until midseason are desires that can reach a mutually beneficial compromise provided he continues to perform.
But there’s a balance that needs to be struck here. Holland has been so beset by injury that he’s accumulated just over 200 innings in the last three season, Shields is certainly durable, but needs a dramatic turnaround to even continue his career. Triple-question marks are completely unproven in their ability to fill a rotation spot.
The Sox don’t want 1,000 innings from five built-in major leaguers. Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez all saw major league time in 2016, and Lopez even flashed dominance at times. Not to mention that Spencer Adams and Jordan Stephens will likely be readying themselves at Double-A, and Michael Kopech will be coming to that level at some point. Reinforcements are obviously near and will only become more plentiful. But they need something, and again, they don’t want to dedicate trade assets that are meant to serve the rebuild.
The free agent market is less than promising. Holland getting $6 million with his health record may have been surprising, but Tommy Milone getting a guaranteed $1.25 million deal might be even more representative of the floor. Anyone familiar with recent Sox history has memories of Milone’s changeup cutting their lineup like a buzzsaw and he would have been an interesting reclamation candidate, but he also was dropped from the rotation of the 103-loss Twins for poor performance last year. If he was not on minor league deal level, who is?
Well, no one. Rubby De La Rosa is still 28 and misses bats (though not left-handed ones). Henderson Alvarez and Jarrod Parker are also in their 20s and would be popular if there was any hope they could be healthy again. Even someone who missed nearly all of 2016 like Brett Anderson should have significant demand, so anyone who was relatively healthy but simply mediocre like Doug Fister should have the option of playing for a contender. A good thing to remember is that anyone who seems like an intriguing buy-low, or an undervalued arm with statistics trending upward, is being picked at by far hungrier teams with more immediate goals
It’s in this environment that I can manage to work up some Edwin Jackson enthusiasm. He was pretty awful last year in San Diego, but he was healthy in and still sat in the low-to-mid 90s. 2010 in Chicago with Don Cooper standing him up straight remains the best ball he’s pitched in his career–far better than 2011 in Chicago with Don Cooper, though–and the sliver of possibility there’s some upside to be squeezed out clears the subterranean bar of a fifth starter trial on a possible last place team in a poor pitching market. It has almost no chance to work, but the Sox will get through the games somehow anyway, which is all that really matters in the end.
Lead Image Credit: Rick Osentoski // USA Today Sports Images