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Remaining Starting Pitching Solutions for the White Sox

by Jordan Lazowski

Free Agency hasn’t moved at the lighting quick pace that most people had predicted, but at the same time, it hasn’t been moving slowly either. If you follow the White Sox at all, you’re aware that two real holes remain for this team: Starting Pitching (to replace Carlos Rodon) and Right Field. On the pitching front, Rodon, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Bassitt, Sonny Gray, and Yusei Kikuchi are among the players who have signed or been traded since the lockout ended, leaving the White Sox with what feels like few options to upgrade at the position.

The White Sox are in need of a middle-of-the-rotation starter who will be able to eat innings and provide for more stability than an innings-limited Michael Kopech and Dallas Keuchel, who will likely be limited to under 160 IP in order to prevent his $16M option for 2023 from vesting. At current, Reynaldo Lopez and Vince Velazquez serve as the depth for this team – two guys who will be excellent for spot starts, but not as great should they be relied upon for a longer stretch of time due to injury/performance.

The White Sox have been connected to a few names, but nothing has taken hold just yet. So, based on what we’ve seen, who are some starting pitchers that might still be available? Here are a few that stand out:

Sean Manaea, LHP, Oakland Athletics

Profile: This is the most popular of the names on White Sox Twitter right now because of his presumed cost. The Oakland Athletics are tearing it down, having traded Bassitt and Matt Olson while finalizing a deal to send Matt Chapman to the Blue Jays. Manaea, who will make $10M in the final year of his current deal, posted an 11-10 record in 32 starts with a 3.91 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 25.7% strikeout rate, and minuscule 5.4% walk rate. He fits the profile of a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher who won’t break the bank and features a pretty solid pitch mix: Sinker, Changeup, Curveball. His profile is one that depends on location, but unlike Dallas Keuchel, Manaea can run his Sinker into the mid-90s, which explains the solid strikeout rate.

No matter which team gets Manaea – and the White Sox and Twins are both rumored to be after him – Manaea provides a solid presence in the middle of the rotation.

Cost: White Sox fans are correct in their assessment that Manaea will likely be the lowest-cost, highest-value pitcher on this list. However, the Athletics have made it clear that they are looking for prospects with an eye towards the future. So, a deal containing exclusively guys who are major-league ready (Burger, Sheets) is not a package that is likely to be accepted. I would propose a package headlined by Jose Rodriguez or Bryan Ramos, two of the higher-performing prospects in the White Sox system last year who have also gotten some recognition from FanGraphs for their performances. I believe one of those two players, along with Sheets and another smaller prospect, would likely get the deal done.

Tyler Mahle, RHP, and Luis Castillo, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

Profiles: After trading Sonny Gray to the Twins and Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker to the Mariners, the Reds have made it clear they are going through a mini-rebuild of their own. That makes players like Mahle and even Luis Castillo a bit more attainable, even as the Reds claim they will be keeping both players in an effort to build around them.

However, you can’t always take what teams say at face value, which is why they are being considered on this list. Mahle, who has two years left in his contract, has been a revelation of sorts recently. He was 13-6 with a 3.75 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 27.7% strikeout rate, and 8.4% walk rate in 2021, solidifying himself in the middle of the Reds’ rotation. Castillo, on the other hand, is an ace that didn’t exactly pitch like one in 2021: 8-16 record with a 3.98 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 23.9% strikeout rate, and 9.3% walk rate – career worsts across the board for Castillo. He has two years left on his contract as well, and the Reds would likely prefer to use one of those to rebuild his value. Both pitchers have devastating stuff, however:

Cost: Let’s pretend the Reds are telling the truth and don’t want/plan to trade Castillo and Mahle. That means any team would have to do one of two things: (1) Blow them out of the water with their proposal, or (2) Offer to take back a portion of the Reds’ bad contracts in the trade as well – similar to what Cincinnati did in the Winker deal. Mike Moustakas makes $16M this season, and Shogo Akiyama makes another $8M. Neither of these players have any long-term value to the Reds, and they would likely want to dump these contracts.

In terms of prospects, player such as Garrett Crochet, Andrew Vaughn, or even Colson Montgomery would need to be available as headliners in order to make moves of these caliber. The Reds need an heir to Joey Votto at 1B, and Vaughn fits that role well. However, younger players who serve a role in years to come – such as Montgomery – might be more appealing to the Reds at the same time. But, no matter who it is, you should expect to see a higher level of talent go if you wanted the White Sox to explore these moves.

Chris Paddack, RHP, San Diego Padres

Profile: Here’s an interesting name few people have been talking about. Chris Paddack faced an injury-plagued 2021 season in which he was far from the player most fans know him to be. In just 22 starts, he posted a 5.07 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 21.6% strikeout rate, and 4.8% walk rate. So, why should the White Sox want him? In his healthiest season – his rookie year – Paddack went 9-7 with a 3.33 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 26.9% strikeout rate, and 5.5% walk rate. In addition, a difference of almost 1.50 between his ERA and FIP from last season shows that there is plenty of room for bounce-back based on his performance. There was plenty of bad luck involved as well: he had the lowest LOB% for pitchers with at least 100 IP last year (credit to @BrianBilek_ for this find). He has high-level stuff that any team would love to get its hands on.

Why would the Padres want to trade him? With Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger, Mackenzie Gore, Ryan Weathers, and Dinelson Lamet all lined up to see a chance at the starting rotation in 2022, Paddack is more expendable than he used to be. Perhaps the Padres dangle Paddack out there in an effort to get rid of one of their bad contracts?

Cost: The Padres have been looking to move their bad contracts (Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer) all offseason. With the White Sox in need of a RF still, Myers’ contract might be a bit more palatable. Myers is owed $20M over the next two seasons, while Paddack has three years remaining before he becomes a Free Agent. If the White Sox do not want to take on Myers’ contract, the Padres would want to still sell high – look for players like Crochet, Vaughn, Montgomery, Norge Vera or Wes Kath to be the first players asked about here. If the White Sox are willing to make Will Myers the starting RF the next two seasons, players such as Rodriguez, Ramos, Yoelquis Cespedes, or Jared Kelley might get the White Sox in the door with this one.

Matthew Boyd, LHP, Free Agent

Profile: With Matthew Boyd, we are dipping our toes into the Free Agent waters a bit. Boyd had an up-and-down career with Detroit, struggling at times with both walks and home runs. However, under new pitching coach Chris Fetter, it looked as if Boyd was taking a step forward in his career – in 2021, he posted a career-lows with 3.89 ERA, 4.10 FIP, and 6.8% walk rate, but saw his strikeout rate fall to just 19.9%. He battled injuries most of the season, and was shut down in September to undergo surgery on a torn flexor tendon. He is expected to pitch some time in the middle of 2022.

Boyd’s stuff has never matched his results. He has a devastating slider that’s one of the best in the game right now. He was one of the more frustrating pieces for the Tigers over the years, and with a young core coming, he will likely not be back with the club. Because of his injury/rehab timeline, Boyd is absolutely someone the White Sox would be able to get for cheap. Do they think Kopech, Keuchel, Vince Velazquez, and Reynaldo Lopez can hold down the fort in the first half before getting Boyd back in the second half? If they do, Boyd would provide solid, middle-of-the-rotation-type innings with some upside for Ethan Katz to work with. It’s a low-risk, high-reward situation, IF the White Sox believe they can handle the rotation as is during the first half of the season.

Cost: Likely no more than a 1-year, $3M contract to get Boyd back on his feet after the injury. He suffered it at a pretty rough time, and hopefully, he will be able to find some work in 2022.

Zack Greinke, RHP, Free Agent

Zack Greinke may be nearing the end of his career, but as he showed in 2021, he still has something left in the tank. The now crafty right-hander has turned himself into a soft-tosser of sorts, and at 37-years-old, he threw 171 IP with a 4.16 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 17.2% strikeout rate, and 5.2% walk rate. His average fastball, changeup, and sinker velocity all hover around 86-88 mph, and honestly, the other pitch that really differentiates itself in velocity is his curveball at 71 mph. So, crafty is exactly the word to describe where Greinke is at in his career right now. And, to his credit, in a 171 inning sample size, it worked decently well for him. His stuff still has good movement.

Depending on how Greinke feels, the White Sox could be in a position to give him a one-year deal as he starts to round out his career. His been dependable and healthy, throwing at least 150 IP in every season since 2008 and hitting 200+ innings as recently as 2019. He might be 38, but this is far from a charity case for any team that signs Greinke. He’s a veteran with experience, and a team like the White Sox would benefit from his stability.

Cost: Greinke is at the end of his career, and everyone knows it. He doesn’t have his best stuff anymore, and though he can provide innings, he will likely get paid as a fifth starter at this point in his career. He will likely get a 1-year deal in the $8M-$12M range, which fits in with the cost of several of the players on this list. If the White Sox have explored all other options, Greinke still appears a viable place to go for some innings.

Others Considered: Frankie Montas (OAK), German Marquez (COL), Danny Duffy (FA), Chad Kuhl (FA), Cole Irvin (OAK)

Frankie Montas is in a similar to a guy such as Luis Castillo: a high-profile talent that is likely going to cost beyond what the White Sox are able to pay for his services. Montas posted a 3.37 ERA, 26.6% strikeout rate, and 7.3% walk rate in 2021, so he is among the best options that are available. However, the Athletics will be prioritizing prospects over major-league ready talent, so this doesn’t line up too well for the White Sox.

German Marquez has been a name connected to the White Sox frequently in past offseasons, so it’s interesting that we haven’t heard much about him at all this offseason. However, with the Rockies rumored to be in on Kris Bryant, perhaps they’ve made it clear that they have no intention on entertaining trades for Marquez at this time. Marquez still has three years left on his very team-friendly deal, so I wouldn’t expect the Rockies to be looking to give him away, either.

Danny Duffy is similar to Boyd in that he’s a lefty that battled injuries in 2021. When he was on the field in 2021, he was solid with a 2.51 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 25.8% strikeout rate, and 8.7% walk rate. However, it remains to be seen if anyone can trust him to be a big part of their rotation in 2022. His best days are likely behind him, but there will likely be teams who turn to him if they strike out on their primary options.

Chad Kuhl was a name I included back when I talked about interesting non-tendered options. His career numbers are nothing eye-popping: 4.44 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 22% strikeout rate, 10% walk rate. However, take a peek under the hood, and there’s some raw talent: high fastball velocity, good spin rates on his offspeed pitches. Something might be there, despite the results. However, with the signing of Vince Velazquez, it appears the White Sox have found their low-risk, high-reward depth signing at the major league level for this offseason.

Finally, Cole Irvin is the lesser version of Sean Manaea in the Athletics’ rotation. In his first full season of his career, the lefty posted a 4.24 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 16.3% strikeout rate, and 5.5% walk rate. He’s a prototypical middle-to-back-end of the rotation arm that would likely be very affordable to the White Sox. However, given that he is 28 and just completed the first full season of his career, the risks are obvious. He would be the lowest cost Athletic to obtain on this list.

No matter where the White Sox turn, they know they have work to do. Rick Hahn mentioned pitching as a priority for the White Sox in Offseason 2.0, and so far, they’ve signed Joe Kelly and Vince Velazquez. This is a good start, but is hardly what anyone would think of when someone says they’re prioritizing pitching.

However, what fans must keep in mind is that the White Sox farm system, at current, is not great. They’re unanimously ranked 30th for a reason. If teams do not want major-league ready talent and instead want prospects, the White Sox are at an immediate disadvantage due to the state of the system. Hopefully, when the Trade Deadline comes around, a few prospects have built up their pedigree enough to be included as pieces at the deadline. This might be when Hahn decides to strike big on the starting pitching market, opting for a smaller short-term solution before Opening Day.

Either way, look for the White Sox to continue to make moves that supplement the loss of Carlos Rodon to this rotation. While the most popular name right now is Sean Manaea, there are other places for the White Sox to go as well as Offseason 2.0 starts to heat up once again.

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Featured Image: MLB Trade Rumors / Twitter

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BILL O'Brien

Greinke looks as if he might be a good acquisition. Manaea might be unobtainable because the Sox can’t really afford to give up attractive prospects. Montas, coming back to the Sox after the disastrous Smardzija trade, would be a very nice story, but can they afford him??
Grienke has been battle tested and competitive in winning pennant races. If he can take up 160-180 innings, under a 4 ERA, with 11-15 wins…might be a perfect one year rental.

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