White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.
James Shields has not fared well since joining the White Sox. But is there a way he can help this rebuilding franchise in 2018?
Shields is perhaps the last vestige of the pre-rebuild days on the South Side, acquired in a win-now move in 2016 that still makes White Sox fans cringe because it saw Fernando Tatis Jr., now the No. 8 prospect in baseball, sent to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Shields' services.
And the negative feelings over the loss of Tatis — who would have made the White Sox rebuild even more more exciting — have been compounded by Shields' struggles. In a season and a half, he's been lit up for a 5.99 ERA and 58 home runs in 43 starts. Last season alone he was touched up for a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs. Only 11 American League pitchers made at least 20 starts and finished with a higher ERA. Only 14 AL pitchers gave up more homers.
But even with all that, Shields, named the Opening Day starter, can provide plenty for the 2018 White Sox and the White Sox teams of the future.
Most importantly, he's already been serving and will continue to serve as a veteran mentor to the increasingly young starting staff around him. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez hit the big leagues last year. Carson Fulmer could still find his way into the rotation this season. And the likes of Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning are making their way through the minor leagues toward arriving on the South Side. Shields is a solid clubhouse presence and has been an All-Star pitcher and thrown in a pair of World Series. He has a lot to offer these young guys, and that will be of the utmost importance as they go through the highs and lows of their first tastes of Major League Baseball.
But there's another way Shields can help this rebuild: by pitching well. It sounds like a no-brainer, but if Shields can rediscover some of his old magic in the opening months of the 2018 campaign, Rick Hahn and his front office might be able to move him to a contending team in exchange for a prospect or two that could further increase the amount of talent in the White Sox stacked minor league system. That's what Hahn did last year, mostly with relief pitchers. The amount of players traded away from the South Side last summer is kind of staggering when written out in list form: Miguel Gonzalez, David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak, Dan Jennings, Tommy Kahnle, Melky Cabrera and Tyler Clippard.
If Shields gets off to a good start — not an impossibility considering his 1.62 ERA in his first few starts last season — perhaps he could entice a trade offer that could help the rebuild.
Fans not feeling great about Shields' prospects for 2018 can't be blamed too much, considering his results since coming over in that trade with the Padres. But whether or not there's still some magic left in that arm, he can still be of great value to the White Sox this season.