Before the Tony La Russa DUI debacle surfaced and engulfed the White Sox news cycle, I was in the process of diving into the pros and cons of free agents that the White Sox might or should realistically target this winter. I started that discussion with a brief look at 10 starting pitchers potentially on the free-agent market.
That list is now down to just nine hurlers with Marcus Stroman accepting the New York Mets $18.9 million qualifying offer, keeping him in Queens for at least one more season. Who could blame him, right? The Mets now have the richest owner in baseball and he’s made it clear that he’s going to flex his wealth this winter to revive the Mets from baseball purgatory, so I wouldn’t want to leave either.
With the stain of Tony La Russa’s pending criminal case casting a murky forecast over the White Sox’s ability to lure free-agents to Chicago this winter, we’re in a weird holding pattern right now, and quite frankly it’s pretty discomforting.
Before accepting his qualifying offer with New York, Marcus Stroman took to Twitter to make it clear that he wouldn’t play for Tony La Russa for “any amount of money,” and I’m sure he’s not the only player who shares that sentiment at this point.
Regardless, we’ll forge on with the offseason plans that we have here at The Dugout. Today we’re going to dive into Kevin Gausman‘s potential fit with the White Sox. With Trevor Bauer being the clear-cut top starting pitcher on the market, and Stroman staying with the Mets, Gausman seems like the next most realistic option for the White Sox.
What’s it going to cost?
Like Stroman, Gausman has a qualifying offer attached to him in San Francisco, so if he declines that offer it will cost the White Sox a second-round draft selection in the 2021 MLB Draft and $500,000 in international bonus money.
I wrote last week that the White Sox have no business worrying about the penalties for signing a player who declined a qualifying offer, and that applies to Gausman.
According to Ken Rosenthal, Gausman already has multiple multi-year offers on the table as of Wednesday morning, with the Giants believed to be one of the teams in on Gausman’s services in 2021 and beyond.
FanGraphs’ Roster Resource Free Agent Tracker has Gausman pegged at $12MM AAV, projected to receive a three-year deal worth $36MM. If he already has multiple teams bidding for his services, you can expect that number to become inflated moving forward, but probably still not outside of the White Sox price range.
With Gausman just turning 30-years-old in January, a 3-4 year deal seems about right. As far as dollars go, somewhere in the ballpark of $42-56MM with multiple teams bidding for him sounds realistic.
What’s the fit on the Southside?
Gausman, once Baltimore’s fourth-overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, shot through their system to make his major league debut in 2013.
Heading into a rebuilding phase the Orioles shipped Gausman to the Atlanta Braves in 2018, and he pitched very well for Atlanta down the stretch posting a 2.87 ERA in 59.2 innings of work.
Unfortunately, a dip in Gausman’s fastball velocity (down to 93 MPH from his peak 95 MPH) contributed to a rocky start to his 2019 campaign with Atlanta. Through 80 innings, he posted a 6.19 ERA with 9.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.35 HR/9, and a career-low 37 percent ground-ball rate. The fastball velo dropped, balls began to get barreled up and put in the air, and Gausman was eventually designated for assignment by the Braves in early August.
Gausman finished the 2019 season throwing out of the Reds bullpen before being non-tendered by Cincinnati last December and signing a one-year deal with the Giants worth $9MM in an attempt to rebuild his value in 2020.
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. He walked hitters at a minuscule 6.5 percent clip, and rebuilt his value heading into his age-30 season in 2021 — possibly his lone shot at a lucrative long-term contract.
In San Francisco, Gausman’s strikeouts went up significantly as he struck out opposing hitters at a 32.2 percent clip compared to his career mark of 22.3 percent, and his ground ball rate (41.9 percent) rebounded towards his career norm (43.0 percent).
A career 43 percent ground ball rate and a newfound love of the strike zone will bode well for Gausman in the hitter-happy Guaranteed Rate Field. Gausman threw 650 of his 975 pitches for strikes in 2020, good for a 67 percent strike rate. Gausman would slot into the middle of the rotation behind Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel and in front of some combination of Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease, and Michael Kopech to round out the rotation.
What are the chances?
Well, that’s where things get murky. It’s clear that Gausman is a fit for the White Sox in both the dollars and sense categories, but will Gausman want to come to Chicago and play for Tony La Russa? Will he want to leave the Bay Area and the program that he’s found success with under Andrew Bailey and Ethan Katz?
Only time will tell, especially with the uncertainty that the TLR scandal has cast over the entire winter for the White Sox.
Featured Photo: Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images