It’s November and thus officially the start of the MLB hot stove season, so get those chargers and spare F5 keys ready.
After taking a look at a six-pack of potential options for the White Sox in right field via free-agency on Saturday, we’re moving on to their 1A or 1B (however you feel it should be prioritized) need: starting pitching.
After bowing out of the postseason due to not having any reliable options behind their one-two punch of Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, adding a proven starting pitcher to their rotation is a must for the 2021 White Sox.
The pitching market is fairly top-heavy this winter, and FanGraphs estimates that one fWAR is worth about $9.1 million this offseason, so it’ll be pricey for Chicago to fill that void in the rotation on the open market.
Here are 10 starting pitchers to keep an eye on this winter.
Trevor Bauer has always been one to bet on himself, and according to White Sox analyst Steve Stone he is, “possibly the greatest influence on pitching of the last two generations.”
Stoney went on to say that “his work ethic and his creativity is off the charts. Trevor has refined a training regimen that will be a model for years to come. He is complex and innovative. His legacy is assured.”
High praise coming from one of the best minds in the game. That being said, Bauer is likely going to be well out of the price range that the White Sox will be operating with after a Cy Young Award caliber season in 2020. Bauer struck out opposing hitters at an insane 36 percent clip while posting a 1.73 ERA for the Reds in 11 starts on his way to a 2.5 fWAR season.
Bauer is the dream free-agent acquisition for a team on the cusp of being legitimate World Series contenders, so, congratulations San Diego. Being a White Sox fan hurts sometimes.
Trevor Bauer is going to garner interest from a plethora of suitors and hold without a doubt the highest AAV on the market. Enter Marcus Stroman, who is entering his age-30 season on plenty of rest after opting out of the 2020 season in early August, but not before he secured enough time to ensure he became a free agent this winter. Well played by the exciting right-hander who will be due for a multi-year contract.
Stroman has posted a 3.76 ERA (3.64 FIP), 695 strikeouts in 849.1 innings of work (7.36 K/9), and 15.8 fWAR during his six seasons in Major League Baseball. While Stroman isn’t a huge swing-and-miss pitcher, he keeps the ball on the ground at a rate that would make him ideal for Guaranteed Rate Field and has an impressive 2.59 BB/9 throughout his career.
Stroman, like Bauer, would be a surprising splurge for the frugal White Sox. And since the Mets extended a Qualifying Offer to the electric righty, matters are complicated further. Considering it would probably take a five-year, $80 million deal ($16MM AAV), in addition to a draft pick, don’t get your hopes up.
Kevin Gausman has long been a confusing study. He was Baltimore’s fourth-overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft and shot through their system to make his major league debut in 2013 for the O’s, but he’s been hampered by injuries and underperformance since.
Gausman pitched pretty well for the San Francisco Giants in 2020, posting a 3.62 ERA (3.09 FIP) in 59.2 innings of work while striking out opposing hitters at a 32.2 percent clip while walking hitters at a minuscule 6.5 percent clip.
Gausman made $9MM with San Francisco in 2020 and after posting a 1.5 fWAR season he’ll likely be in line for a raise. By FanGraphs estimation, $13.5MM is a reasonable AAV expectancy for Gausman. That would put him below the Bauer/Stroman price point, and a 3-4 year deal worth $40-50MM might be able to get it done.
Charlie Morton isn’t a sexy name, but neither are most of the names on this list. There’s also the fact that Morton thought about retiring after the 2020 season according to a February report by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
If Morton does decide to return for his age-37 season in 2021, it’ll likely be on a one-year deal with a team contending for a World Series. The White Sox might fall into that description, but so do the Tampa Bay Rays, the team that Morton has called home for the last two seasons. After posting his best statistical season with Tampa in 2019, and then pitching in the World Series for them in 2020, I’d say that Morton either retires or stays in Tampa for one more run at the World Series.
Chris Archer would be the first candidate on this list who would be looking for a short-term deal to rebuild his value after two down years in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh declined Archer’s $11 million option, officially granting free agency to the struggling right-hander. He won’t command that kind of money on the open market after he posted a 0.7 fWAR in 2019 before missing all of 2020 due to thoracic outlet surgery.
The 32-year-old right-hander can probably be had for a fairly cheap price on a one-year deal. This is a perfect option for a team like the White Sox if they feel that the ultimate plan is their internal options, developing into reliable starters every fifth day.
FanGraphs Craig Edwards has Tanaka listed as one of his top-50 free agents in 2021, but the soon-to-be 32-year-old might end up staying in New York on a new deal when all is said and done.
Tanaka has posted a career 3.74 ERA (3.91 FIP) in seven seasons with the Yankees, making him one of the more appealing options on the market if you’re not in the Bauer/Stroman sweepstakes. However the Yankees have learned better than anyone in the last few years how important depth is, and with the free-agent market being incredibly top-heavy, I can’t see New York letting Tanka take his services elsewhere.
If they do, however, Tanaka could slot into the middle of the White Sox rotation at roughly $60-70MM for three seasons. Tanaka’s 47 percent ground ball rate coupled with his ability to limit walks would fit nicely into the White Sox rotation.
Another guy that was thought of as an option for the White Sox last winter is Jake Odorizzi, who hits the market once again after a disappointing 2020 season in Minnesota.
Odorizzi made only four starts for the Twins while posting a 6.59 ERA in 13.2 innings of work. Despite the down 2020 season, Odorizzi pitched to the tune of a 3.51 ERA with the Twins in 2019 and has a lifetime ERA of 3.92 in 192 starts with the Royals, Rays, and Twins.
Odorizzi is entering his age-31 season looking to rebound from a forgettable 2020 season. Maybe he’s a candidate for a one or two-year deal with the White Sox as a middle-back of the rotation piece.
Back to the one-year stop-gap candidates with J.A. Happ, who despite posting a solid 3.47 ERA in nine starts with the Yankees this season had his $17 million club option declined on Wednesday.
Happ is entering his age-38 season and isn’t a long-term solution, but he keeps the ball on the ground (40.2%) and limits walks (8.4%) enough to be considered a one-year option as the fifth starter in Chicago. It’s unlikely he goes back to New York after leaving on not-so-great terms, so if the White Sox want to pony up the cash, he’s probably there for the taking.
Jose Quintana will forever be loved by White Sox fans for his steady production through the dark years on the Southside, and then his role in the trade that netted the Pale Hose Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease back in the summer of 2017.
Now a free agent, the reliable southpaw might be an option for the back-end of their rotation after a less than memorable run on the other side of town with the Cubs.
Quintana will be entering his age-32 season and hasn’t posted a full-season ERA under 4.00 since leaving the White Sox in 2017, so he will be on the cheaper side this winter. Maybe 1-2 years for $12-15MM? I’d be happy with it as either a last option or a complimentary piece to a bigger pitching addition.
Mike Leake had his 2021 club option declined by the Diamondbacks on Wednesday and could be a cheap solution at the back-end of the White Sox rotation. Leake has a career ERA of 4.05 and a Guaranteed Rate Field friendly 50 percent ground ball rate throughout his career.
Leake is entering his age-33 season and after opting out of 2020, is likely the most affordable one-year depth addition for the White Sox on this list. His proficiency in keeping the ball on the ground could be a nice fit for the Sox.
Featured Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu