Earlier this week, the White Sox signed free agent starting pitcher Mike Clevinger to a one-year deal, reportedly worth $12 million. The news came with mixed emotions. Some people were excited by the deal and feel the White Sox now have one of the best rotations in baseball…
… others, not so much.
Regardless of how you personally feel about the signing, your gut reaction is the correct one.
If you’re optimistic about the signing, you have every reason to feel that way. Our own Editor-In-Chief Jordan Lazowski wrote glowingly about the deal for us. Clevinger was a Top 10 pitcher from 2017-2019 while playing for the then-Cleveland Indians. He also gets to work with Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz that seemed to turn Carlos Rodon into a perennial Cy Young candidate, and Clevinger is another year removed from having Tommy John surgery. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Clevinger can turn into some version of what we saw in Cleveland. If Clevinger can perform that well for the White Sox while earning a market value salary of $12M, then this signing is basically a no-brainer – especially for a team that needed an additional rotation arm.
However, there are significant risks that come with Clevinger, both on and off the field. For starters, Mike Clevinger was not a successful pitcher the last time we’ve seen him play. Last year, for the San Diego Padres, the righty had a 4.33 ERA to go along with a 4.98 FIP in only 22 starts. Clevinger had the highest HR/9 of his career last season which also saw a season-career low in K/9. This is after a season where he had his second Tommy John surgery. The variance that Clevinger could be awesome for the White Sox in 2023 also works the other way. It’s certainly a possibility that Mike Clevinger turns out to be another version of Dallas Keuchel.
Additionally, signing Clevinger doesn’t come in a vacuum. While there’s still plenty of time to see what other, if any, moves Rick Hahn and the front office make this off-season, signing a player for $12M coming on the heels of multiple, legitimate reports that the White Sox will not be active spenders in the upcoming months may not be the best allocation of resources.
As of the writing of this article, the White Sox still need to find two outfielders and a second baseman while having a pretty spotty track record of spending wisely. Last offseason, the White Sox gave Leury Garcia $5.5M for the next three seasons, spent over $35M on a bullpen that included Joe Kelly (6.08 ERA in 2022) and wasn’t even Top 5 in the majors per fWAR, and signed Josh Harrison to play second base only to decline his 2023 option a year later to almost no fan outrage. The White Sox front office has done little to show that they deserve the benefit of the doubt that they can spend on good players. If you believe this to be the case, you have every reason to believe that Clevinger will not be the exception to the rule.
Further, the Clevinger signing only highlights previous questionable decision-making from Rick Hahn and Company:
This will more likely speak to how the front office handled Rodon leaving than it will signing Clevinger, but still, the new signing can be used as another piece of ammunition about your current feelings about how the White Sox organization is run, especially if your feeling is “poorly.”
I recently put out my thoughts on the Clevinger deal, and surprisingly, it’s one of my more popular tweets:
I was mainly being facetious, but for as simple and silly as this statement is, there’s a lot of truth behind it.
Ultimately, we don’t know how well Clevinger is going to perform or mesh in the clubhouse while on the South Side. As Brad Pitt’s character of Billy Beane says in Moneyball, “You don’t have a Crystal Ball. You can’t look at a kid and predict his future, any more than I can.” So while we can postulate and project and hypothesize, we don’t know how well Clevinger will ultimately do while wearing a White Sox uniform. If Clevinger performs as he did in Cleveland, I think a lot of fans will retroactively enjoy the signing. If he performs next season similarly to how he did in San Diego, a lot of haters will beat their chests and say, “I told you so.”
That being said, how you feel about the signing right now is the correct position to take, though it speaks more about your current feelings toward the White Sox organization as a whole than it does about this one deal.
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