The pitchers who will make up the White Sox rotation of the future will spend much of 2018 developing in the minor leagues. But the pitchers who will make up the White Sox rotation of the present came into much clearer focus Thursday.
The White Sox welcomed Miguel Gonzalez back to the South Side with a one-year deal. The pitcher who was dealt away to the Texas Rangers in a trade last August wasn't out of town for long.
Gonzalez figures to all but finalize the five-man group that will leave Glendale, Arizona, and start the season as the White Sox starting staff. Rotation spots are locked in for James Shields, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, with general manager Rick Hahn indicating last month that Carson Fulmer will be in the mix, too. Gonzalez makes five.
Sure, there are things that could throw that group into question. The health of Carlos Rodon remains a mystery, and Hahn has said on multiple occasions that Rodon could be recovered from September shoulder surgery by Opening Day or perhaps not until June. Rodon missed most of the first three months of the 2017 season while recovering from injury, and there's a possibility that 2018 could see a repeat.
If Rodon is healthy, of course he'll be a part of the White Sox starting rotation. And the possibility exists that the White Sox could sign another veteran along with Gonzalez. But more likely is that they want to see what they have in Fulmer, 2015's eighth-overall pick who has just five big league starts under his belt.
Signing Gonzalez also decreases the likelihood that a highly rated pitching prospect like Michael Kopech or Alex Hansen could do enough to make the team out of spring training, though something like that happening might not have been very likely to begin with, considering the rebuilding White Sox are in no rush to bring their wealth of prospects to the majors ahead of schedule.
Gonzalez is a solid addition to the rotation, as White Sox fans know. He had a nice 2016 season, posting a 3.73 ERA in his first campaign on the South Side. Prior to being traded last summer, Gonzalez had a 4.31 ERA in 22 starts. He was terrific in his final five starts with the White Sox, posting a 1.85 ERA over 34 innings. He struggled in Texas, tagged for 16 runs in his five starts with the Rangers.
But Gonzalez's value is increased by his presence in the clubhouse, as well, a veteran leader for a team and specifically a pitching staff that is young and is expected to only get younger as the rebuild keeps moving along. Gonzalez could also once more be a midseason trade candidate should he perform well. He could once again fetch Hahn a piece to help deepen the farm system during this rebuilding effort.
So with Gonzalez's addition, the White Sox biggest roster mystery is seemingly solved. Barring any unexpected happenings, the rotation and starting lineup appear set. And with Hahn's acquisitions of four potential bullpen pieces — Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Thyagio Vieira and Jose Ruiz — there figures to be plenty of depth with which to form a relief corps.