LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The rebuilding White Sox might or might not make a big splash at this week’s Winter Meetings. But there are some additions they need to make before the 2018 season gets going.
One of the items on the to-do list is adding some starting pitching, preferably of the veteran variety to balance out the youth in that unit. Rotation spots are locked in for James Shields, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and general manager Rick Hahn said Monday that Carson Fulmer could get a chance to start, too. Carlos Rodon is considered a mystery at this point, as there’s no firm idea of when he’ll return from his latest injury.
So there figures to be a good chance that a veteran could compete for one of those spots. The ability to eat innings would also be a plus, what with a young and still-developing starting rotation and a to-this-point-unknown bullpen that might not be able to shoulder an oversized load.
More importantly, adding a veteran free-agent starter who turns in a strong few months on the South Side could allow Hahn to trade him midseason for a piece that helps the rebuilding efforts.
Look at what the Cubs did during their rebuilding years on the North Side, when they turned veteran arms like Scott Feldman, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster into the pieces that powered 2016’s run to the World Series.
The White Sox are in a different place, of course, with multiple pieces of their projected rotation of the future already at the big league level. But Hahn has already shown a willingness to adopt a similar strategy, taking fliers on veteran pitchers Derek Holland and Mike Pelfrey a season ago. And the White Sox still employ Don Cooper as the team’s pitching coach, a guy noted for his ability to help veteran pitchers find themselves again.
If they wanted to go a similar route this offseason, here are some veteran options currently on the free-agent market who would cost little and could get something in return, should they rediscover some of their past form. Get ready for some gaudy numbers — and not gaudy in a good way — from 2017. But that means little to no risk and a potential reward.
The 33-year-old Buchholz hasn’t pitched since April, when he was knocked out after just two starts and needed surgery to repair his flexor tendon. He was woeful in those two starts with the Philadelphia Phillies, surrendering 10 runs in just 7.1 innings. But it hasn’t been too long since 2015, when Buchholz posted a 3.26 ERA and logged 107 strikeouts in 113.1 innings. He won a World Series ring and made two All-Star appearances during his 10-year run with the Boston Red Sox.
The 29-year-old Chacin spent 2017 with the San Diego Padres, posting a 3.89 ERA over 32 starts. He struck out a career-high 153 batters in 180.1 innings, and also led baseball with 14 hit batsmen. Chacin spent his first six big league seasons with the Colorado Rockies, calling Coors Field home, but his home-run numbers haven’t necessarily decreased since he departed. He allowed 19 homers last year, one off his career high. He walked 72 hitters in 2017.
“The Ageless Wonder” always seems to be up to pitch, right? He threw for both the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins last season, finishing the campaign with a sky-high 6.48 ERA in his 28 starts between the two teams. He threw the fewest number of innings in 2017 since the last time he was on the White Sox in 2009 — yes, this would be a third stint on the South Side.
Dickey might be 43 years old, but he’s been remarkably consistent over the past seven seasons, making at least 30 appearances in each of those years. He’s obviously failed to replicate the sterling 2012 campaign in which he had a 2.73 ERA, threw three complete-game shutouts, struck out 230 guys and won the National League Cy Young Award. But he still made 31 starts last season with the Atlanta Braves and struck out 136 hitters in 190 innings.
One of the Cubs’ sign-and-flip guys might fit the bill for the White Sox, too. The 34-year-old Feldman made 21 starts for the Cincinnati Reds last season, the most he’d made in a single season since 2014. He only walked 35 guys in his 111.1 innings of work but still finished with a 4.77 ERA. There’s no guarantee that the White Sox would be able to do what the Cubs did: trade Feldman for a future Cy Young winner. But they could try.
The 31-year-old Gallardo has had a rough go of things the past couple seasons after a solid year with the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. Last season, he turned in a career-high 5.72 ERA in 28 appearances (22 starts). But there’s no doubt there used to be some magic in that arm. He was an All Star way back in 2010 and made at least 30 starts a year from 2009 through 2015. He’s familiar with the American League, playing for the Seattle Mariners, Orioles and Texas Rangers in the last three seasons.
It wasn’t too long ago that Garcia looked to be a stud of the future for the St. Louis Cardinals, but he couldn’t stay on the mound. Now 31, Garcia is coming off a season in which he played for three different teams but made 27 starts, turning in a collective 4.41 ERA. He pitched 157 innings — his second-highest total since 2011 — and struck out 129 guys.
Nothing wrong with a familiar face, right? The 33-year-old Gonzalez turned into a flippable piece for the White Sox last summer thanks to some solid starts. Of course, he also experienced some disastrous outings, bulging his ERA up to 4.31 (it was a much worse 6.45 in his five starts with the Rangers).
Sure to make everyone have some sort of visceral reaction, the suggestion of the 39-year-old Lackey might not be as crazy as it sounds. Yes, he coughed up a NL-leading 36 homers in 2017, a season which he finished with a 4.59 ERA. But he still made 30 starts for the Cubs and struck out 149 guys, walking 53 in 170.2 innings of work. And a lot of Lackey’s damage was concentrated into a few grotesque starts. The good stretches were good. He had a good run in July and August. In September, he turned in a 2.73 ERA. But have his views on haircuts changed?
The 34-year-old Liriano just won a World Series ring with the Houston Astros, but all 20 of his regular-season appearances with the champs came as a reliever. He started the season as a mostly ineffective starter with the Toronto Blue Jays, making 18 starts and seeing his ERA stand at 5.88 when he left the Great White North. Liriano’s been on the South Side before, back in 2012, and things didn’t go so well then. But he’s a guy that has shown flashes of brilliance over the years.
The 34-year-old Nolasco’s ERA was nearly 5.00 last season with the Los Angeles Angels, but he made 33 starts and logged 181 innings of work. He had 143 strikeouts, one off his highest total since 2013. But he surrendered 35 home runs.
The 33-year-old Anibal Sanchez is a familiar name to White Sox fans who saw him throw six seasons with the Detroit Tigers. He only walked 29 guys in 105.1 innings last season, but there’s not much else from an awful 2017 that inspires much confidence. Sanchez had a 6.41 ERA in 28 appearances (17 starts). And in the last three seasons, he’s given up a total of 85 home runs. Ouch.
How about a comeback for Santiago? After an All-Star appearance in 2015, the now-29-year-old has had tough times in the past two seasons splitting time between the Angels and Minnesota Twins. Since going to the Twins in the middle of 2016, his ERA is 5.61. He made just 15 appearances last season and walked 31 guys in 70.1 innings. But he’s familiar with Cooper and could rediscover what produced a 3.41 ERA in his three seasons with the White Sox, before he was traded away as part of the Adam Eaton deal.
Nine seasons with the Orioles, and the 29-year-old has a 4.43 ERA to show for it. If only that’s what he had last year. Tillman had a real rough 2017 with a 7.84 ERA in 24 appearances, 19 of which were starts. He struck out only 63 guys in 93 innings. But it’s this kind of reclamation project — he had a 3.77 ERA in 30 starts just a year earlier — that fits the bill for the White Sox.
The 34-year-old Vargas is getting up there in age, but he just turned in one of the best seasons of his career, winning a major league best 18 decisions in 2017. He gave up 27 homers and still had a 4.16 ERA for a not very good Kansas City Royals team, but he might have pitched his way out of this type of conversation at the back end of the White Sox rotation.