White Sox

Sox have good rotation, but can they afford to lose a starter?

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Sox have good rotation, but can they afford to lose a starter?

Kenny Williams gets why there's some pessimism among the fanbase regarding the White Sox. The sting of 2011's "All In" season still lingers with Opening Day just days away.

But the White Sox GM is confident his starting rotation is going to be better than some people think. That's completely fair -- John Danks, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Chris Sale and Philip Humber comprise a pretty solid staff. While the Sox may not have the star power of Justin Verlander or the 1-2 punch of Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, those five pitchers are good enough to compete for a division title.

That's if they can stay healthy. Few teams would be better off with a replacement to an injured starter without a little luck. For the White Sox, though, the prospect of losing one of Danks, Peavy, Floyd, Sale or Humber is worrying.

Gracious WSCR-670 AM host Wayne Randazzo asked me about the outlook for the 2012 starting rotation on his program Sunday, which brought this issue to the forefront: The White Sox don't have much pitching depth beyond their five starters.

Dylan Axelrod could be good for a few spot starts here and there, and most likely he'd ride the Carlos TorresLucas Harrell express from Charlotte to Chicago if necessary. He looked hittable this spring, allowing 29 hits and walking 13 in 19 23 Cactus League innings -- and while that's a small sample size, it came in one more innings than his small-sample success in the majors last year.

That's not to totally discount Axelrod, because he has had success with every level at which he's started since joining the White Sox. Whether he could sustain that success over an extended stay in the majors -- say, more than eight or so starts -- remains to be seen.

Beyond Axelrod, there aren't a ton of options. Zach Stewart may not be one for a long-term spot in the rotation, as he likely wouldn't be stretched out working as the team's long reliever. The same goes for Hector Santiago, but to a more extreme level in terms of being stretched out.

Nestor Molina has thrown a grand total of 22 innings above the Single-A level and will begin 2012 with Double-A Birmingham. It's probably best to see if he can get Triple-A hitters out before bringing him to the majors, so he may not be an option until late in the year.

Scott Olsen could be in the mix, but he's coming off shoulder issues and hasn't appeared in spring training -- probably not a good sign for the former Marlins and Nationals starter. Terry Doyle and Charlie Leesman aren't realistic options yet, either.

If the worst happens and a starter does go down with a long-term injury, the Sox best bet may be to plug Axelrod into the rotation and then work to acquire a replacement -- unless Axelrod looks extremely impressive.

The Sox can sustain a short-term injury to a starter, but a long-term one looks tricky as we draw closer to Opening Day.

Of course, if the rotation can stay generally healthy, it'll be a strength of the team. So the news isn't all doom and gloom here.

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Age: 29

2019 salary: $12,250,000

2019 stats: .241 BA, .328 OBP, .472 SLG, .800 OPS, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R, 12/14 SB 

What Ozuna would bring to the White Sox

Ozuna appeared on the verge of becoming an elite star like Anthony Rendon after a breakout season in 2017 with the Marlins. Ozuna came up at 22 and had decent years early in his career. He improved upon his first few years with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS as a 26-year-old.

Unlike Rendon, who broke through in 2017 and has sustained that for three seasons now, Ozuna's breakout year appears to be more of a flash in the pan. Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals before the 2018 season and saw a dropoff in his production.

His power and walk rate took big dips in 2018, although he bounced back in both last season. However, he hit .241, which was the lowest batting average of his career.

Ozuna had a career-high walk rate (11.3%) and had the second-best extra-base hit and home run rates of his career (he was only better in those areas in 2017). His strikeout rate (20.8%) was in line with his career average. So what went wrong? His batting average of balls in play was a career-worst .257, which suggests that maybe he's due for some form of bounce back in 2020 as far as batting average.

To simplify all that, Ozuna was good in some areas and inexplicably poor (and maybe unlucky) in others. Does that mean he will return to his big 2017 year wherever he signs? Probably not, but it does help to alleviate some of the feeling of risk for a player who has been inconsistent in his career.

Defensively, Ozuna has a Gold Glove on his resume from 2017, but the stats say he's just an average fielder. Not to mention, he's become infamous for this fielding gaffe.


What it would take to get him

He's young with a mostly positive track record offensively and if he can recreate his 2017 season offensively, he's an all-star outfielder. He won't be cheap, but he has enough question marks to come up just short of $20 million per year.

Ozuna should be able to get four or five years in the mid-to-upper teens per year, similar to fellow outfield free agent Nicholas Castellanos.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

The White Sox need a corner outfielder. He fills a position of need, adds depth, patience and power to the lineup and won't be a liability in the field.

Ozuna isn't the splashiest signing the White Sox could make, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

Latest rumors

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

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USA TODAY

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

The White Sox added a flamethrower to their bullpen.

Tayron Guerrero is the newest member of the White Sox relief corps, the team claiming the 28-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Guerrero's most eye-catching attribute is his triple-digit fastball. He averaged 98.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2019 and threw the second most 100-mph pitches (178) of any pitcher in baseball. He posted a 10.6 K/9 in 2018.

But throwing hard and giving up runs are two different things. In 2019, Guerrero had a 6.26 ERA, a number that jumped up from the already less-than-ideal 5.43 ERA he turned in a year prior. He also had some trouble locating said fireball, walking 36 batters in 46 relief innings in 2019 for a ridiculously high 7.0 BB/9.

Still, this type of addition was signaled as perhaps the primary way the White Sox would add to their bullpen this offseason. With so many other items on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list and the back end of the bullpen being a pretty stable part of the roster, the general manager said that small signings and waiver claims would continue to be part of the strategy when it comes to making additions to the relief corps.

Hahn referenced the team's acquisitions of Evan Marshall, who was signed to a minor league contract last winter, and Jimmy Cordero, who was claimed off waivers in the middle of the 2019 season, as moves to emulate going forward.

"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or (sign) minor league free agents like Marshall.

"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."

As Hahn frequently says, you can never have too much pitching, and while this might be a low-risk move, it could end up proving fruitful, as those Cordero and Marshall moves did.

Spending on money on more proven guys has also been a part of the White Sox strategy in this department in the recent past. Hahn's front office gave Kelvin Herrera a two-year deal just last winter. But as Herrera showed during a rough first year of that contract, even guys with good track records can lead to easy second-guessing on those kinds of deals. So building up depth through less splashy means figures to be a good idea, regardless of the results.

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