Pitching reinforcements necessary for upstart White Sox
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The Chicago White Sox have the look of a playoff team in the American League, and their 7-5 record has them in second place in the division in the early going. The early success is due largely to one of the best offenses in the entire sport. According to FanGraphs, the White Sox rank No. 1 in baseball in offense with an fWAR of 3.3.
Through Tuesday, Frank Menechino's crew led the league in batting average with a mark of .284 as a squad. The group was second in OBP with a slash of .344 and third in slugging percentage with a tally of .454. The offense also ranked second in wRC+ (130) and second in wOBA (.348).
The offense as a whole has been a revelation, in spite of multiple missed games from Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez, Nomar Mazara and Edwin Encarnación.
The offensive explosion has been much-needed because the club hasn't seen the same early success in the pitching department. Due to a very solid bullpen, the White Sox pitching staff ranks 13th overall in the sport — but the starters alone are ranked 25th in baseball with a 5.84 ERA, while averaging 7.46 K/9 in their first 44 ⅔ innings. The collective FIP of the bullpen is 3.01, though, and the unit ranks fourth in Major League Baseball. Because of the mostly stellar bullpen effort, the entire staff has compiled a 4.73 ERA with a 3.79 xFIP.
Once the league announced the re-start of the 2020 baseball season amidst a global pandemic, it was presumed that the White Sox were in a good position relative to starting pitching depth. Lefties Dallas Keuchel and Gio González were added in the offseason to provide length to the rotation and act as veteran stewards for a young staff. Lucas Giolito returned to front the staff, along with righties Dylan Cease and Reynaldo López.
Fireballer Michael Kopech and 27-year-old lefty Carlos Rodón were both seemingly on the mend after rehabbing from elbow reconstruction surgeries. Young depth pieces Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert were in Summer Camp as well after making it back from surgeries of their own. The White Sox appeared to be seven or eight deep in the starting rotation.
Fast forward to early August, and things have changed drastically. Kopech opted out of the 2020 season. López and Rodón are both hurt already, on the injured list and beginning rehab work in Schaumburg. Lambert made his big-league debut out of the bullpen but has since been shelved with forearm soreness and placed on the 45-day injured list.
Even with López and Rodón expected back in 2020, there is still a hole for a team attempting to make a run.
The state of the starting rotation is murky, the tone is ominous, as the sport trudges along. González was on the outside of the rotation looking in as the season started, but now occupies a spot every turn. Giolito, Keuchel and Cease will be deployed alongside him. There is currently an opening for a spot in the rotation and Saturday (and a couple of turns in the future) is likely to be a bullpen day.
Does the organization have the depth in their 60-man player pool to withstand these setbacks, or will GM Rick Hahn need to feverishly make some calls to find some help?
Who's on deck?
The White Sox have plenty of bullpen depth and could maneuver the roster in a way to go with four starting pitchers for a bit, if necessary. Former New York Yankees farmhand Brady Lail was promoted to the big leagues on Tuesday, and his addition sparked some debate over the starting rotation moving forward.
Ross Detwiler, a relative old hand at 34, has been tremendous in a bullpen role for the White Sox in 2020. In 8 ⅓ innings, the veteran southpaw has compiled a 0.00 ERA with a 70% ground ball rate. Rick Renteria confirmed to the local media on Tuesday that Detwiler would continue in his present role and that the addition of the 26-year-old Lail was intended to strengthen the bullpen. With an extended absence for Rodón or López, however, there are some other candidates to fill in from the 60-man player pool.
Dane Dunning was a first round selection in the 2016 draft out of Florida, and was the third piece in the Adam Eaton trade with Washington. The 25-year-old righty is the eighth-ranked prospect in the White Sox's system according to the most recent update over at MLB Pipeline. Dunning hasn't pitched in games that count since posting a 2.76 ERA with the Birmingham Barons in Double-A over 62 innings in 2018.
Dunning pitched in Summer Camp with the White Sox before being sent to the training facility, and he could be the proverbial next man up in the starting rotation. Bernardo Flores Jr. is a 24-year-old southpaw who presently occupies a 40-man roster spot with the Sox as well. The former seventh-rounder posted a 3.33 ERA and a 2.93 xFIP in Double-A in 2019. In the case of either youngster, however, Hahn remains adamant that prospects be promoted based on merit, not injury-driven need.
Thus, possible veteran arms to fill a spot-start role would be Adalberto Mejia, along with the recently-signed Clayton Richard.
Jonathan Stiever, Garrett Crochet, Matthew Thompson, Jared Kelley and Andrew Dalquist are all Top 10 prospects in the White Sox system, but none of them are equipped to help the major league roster this season. Their presence on the alternate site roster is merely to continue the development without a minor league season.
Help from the outside
The Major League Baseball trade deadline will occur on August 31 but there are still some questions throughout the league. The commissioner's office has indicated that the sport will plow ahead in spite of positive test results, and each day it becomes increasingly more likely that a World Series champion will be crowned in 2020. It's unclear how big-league clubs will approach the trade deadline in such a strange season, but with a trophy being awarded to the winner, jockeying for position seems likely.
Regardless of what the record book says in the early going, some of the expected cellar dwellers will be looking to part with pitching as the season continues. Teams in rebuilding mode will look to dump salary, acquire future value and land the highest draft pick possible. There's a pandemic, but it's still a baseball season as well, and astute decision-makers won't operate very atypically. The White Sox should be buyers for the first time in years.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants will likely look to shed salary and acquire something in return for deteriorating assets. The Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers and New York Mets have some rentals to cash in if they fall out of the race as well.
Joe Musgrove of the Pirates has been a favorite of the White Sox's front office in the past. The 27-year-old right hander has averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine this year but likely will require some mechanical tweaks. The front office discussed Musgrove with Ben Cherington this offseason, and he was a target of theirs in past trade discussions with the Houston Astros as well. But Musgrove's addition would be fairly costly with years of control left, and that may not be the direction the White Sox choose to go.
Mike Minor of the Rangers, Rick Porcello of the Mets, Kevin Gausman of the Giants, Robbie Ray of the Diamondbacks and Matt Shoemaker of the Blue Jays could all be available, as their contracts expire at the end of this season. There are likely more potential targets around the league as well.
Alex Cobb has another year left on his contract in Baltimore. Danny Duffy of the Royals would like to remain in Kansas City, but is under contract control through 2021. Detroit will entertain offers for Michael Fulmer and Matthew Boyd, as they've been doing in past years. Johnny Cueto is pitching in San Francisco and likely available — but he's not what he once was.
Impending free agent Marcus Stroman could be an interesting name to watch. The White Sox had interest in the righty when he entered the draft out of Duke in 2012, and he's currently on the injured list in New York. He'll likely command a qualifying offer after the season, and the Mets will need to decide the best course of action if he's ready to return in 2020.
Nathan Eovaldi of the Boston Red Sox is owed $34 million over the next two years, and Chaim Bloom would look to abandon that obligation if possible. He could be another option as the calendar moves toward September. Multiple relievers could be on the market as well, including Ken Giles, Ian Kennedy, Brandon Workman and Miguel Castro.
Uncertainty is a key element of baseball today, but the trade deadline is approaching and teams will attempt to remedy their situations as always. Whether the White Sox look to acquire pitching with years of control, or focus on the 2020 season for now, is something to monitor over the next few weeks.
The faithful should be excited about the current prognosis, though, and the potential additions could be plenty.