James Shields

Here are 11 free-agent starting pitchers the White Sox could target this offseason

Here are 11 free-agent starting pitchers the White Sox could target this offseason

Baseball free agency starts this weekend, and the White Sox will be in the market for some pitching.

Almost every team usually is in the market for pitching this time of year, but the White Sox have some big holes to fill in their rotation thanks to the expected season-long absence of Michael Kopech as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and the declined option of James Shields.

General manager Rick Hahn said the team will be making some pitching additions this winter, and while the bullpen could get some new faces, too, let's take a look at some free-agent starting pitchers that could be options for the White Sox.

Dallas Keuchel

Keuchel's a big name and he's expected to command a big contract this winter. Even if the White Sox, who have very few big financial commitments, would be willing to give him the money, would they win a bidding war against win-now teams? After all, this is a veteran pitcher looking to add more rings to his fingers after winning the World Series with the Houston Astros in 2017. Keuchel, who'll be 31 on Opening Day, has been terrific the majority of the last four years, the AL Cy Young winner, and helped turn the Astros into one of baseball's best teams. He'd be an obvious upgrade to the South Side rotation, but the point the White Sox are in their rebuilding process right now suggests Keuchel or a big-time pitcher like him might not be the most likely player to arrive this offseason.

J.A. Happ

An Illinois native who attended Northwestern, Happ was very, very good after his midseason trade from the Toronto Blue Jays to the New York Yankees. After arriving in the Bronx, he posted a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts. Happ, who was an All Star last season, just turned 36, so he doesn't exactly fit as a long-term option. But he could be a short-term addition to help bridge the gap to the future while the White Sox wait for Kopech and Dylan Cease to settle into the rotation.

Charlie Morton

Morton is also on the older side, he'll be 35 come Opening Day. But he has been stellar for the Astros in each of the past two seasons, combining for a 3.36 ERA to go along with 364 strikeouts in 55 starts. He closed out the Stros' World Series win last October and has been putting up totally different results than his middling numbers as a Pittsburgh Pirate. The question is perhaps the interest. Morton mentioned earlier this year that he's thought about retirement, while also saying he'd love to return to Houston. The White Sox won't be able to pitch the win-now status of the Astros, with Morton likely serving the role as fill-in/bridge were he to come to the South Side.

Nathan Eovaldi

Perhaps no one raised their upcoming free-agent stock more than Eovaldi this postseason. He most notably threw six innings and allowed just one earned run for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series' marathon Game 3, which lasted 18 innings. But he was terrific throughout the postseason, allowing four earned runs in 22.1 innings. That followed up the 3.33 regular-season ERA he put up after coming to the Red Sox from the Tampa Bay Rays. Eovaldi has an injury history, missing all of 2017 after having his second Tommy John surgery. More elbow trouble kept him from making his 2018 debut until late May. And his track record isn't great by any means: He had a 4.21 ERA over his first six big league seasons. But he showed how good he can be with some terrific work during the postseason, not to mention he's throwing as hard as he has in his career, with an average fastball velocity of 97.5 mph in 2018.

Gio Gonzalez

He's been with the White Sox organization twice before, why not another go? Gonzalez never pitched for the big league club but was drafted by the White Sox, traded by the White Sox, traded to the White Sox and traded by the White Sox again before heading to the Oakland Athletics, where he started a now mighty productive major league career, making two All-Star appearances and pitching in the playoffs for the Milwaukee Brewers this fall. Gonzalez was really good for the Brew Crew after coming over in a late-August trade, allowing just six earned runs in five starts. He made a pair of starts in the NLCS but only totaled three innings thanks to Craig Counsell's bullpenning. Gonzalez is 33 and would fit nicely with the White Sox as a fill-in/bridge type of guy. Heck, he's just a year removed from finishing sixth in NL Cy Young voting.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Ryu was another pitcher on display during the postseason, logging 19 innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers thought so highly of the job Ryu did this season that they picked him to start their first game of the postseason — worth noting because they've got that Clayton Kershaw guy. His 2018 regular season was also limited by injuries, but he was tremendous when on the mound, with a 1.97 ERA in 15 starts. The number most important to the White Sox? His 5.93 K/BB. Ryu struck out 89 guys and walked only 15 in his 82.1 regular-season innings, something that would be a mighty fine addition to a rotation that led baseball in walks in 2018. He'll be 32 by Opening Day, but Ryu could qualify as a short- or long-term add for the rebuilding White Sox.

Clay Buchholz

He's made just 18 starts the last two years, but boy was Buchholz good for the Arizona Diamondbacks when he was healthy in 2018. The former Red Sock and two-time All Star made 16 starts for the Snakes and finished with a pencil-thin 2.01 ERA. His season did finish a little early, though, as he was shut down in mid September after being diagnosed with a forearm strain. He's perfect for the one-year fill-in role with the White Sox, but can he be as effective as he was in limited time last season?

Wade Miley

Another member of the 2018 NL Central champs, Miley was one of the two best starting pitchers on the Brewers' staff. Of course, the Brewers didn't rely on their starters too much. That said, Miley had a very impressive 2.57 ERA in 16 starts during the regular season and allowed just two runs in 14.2 innings during the postseason. Miley's addition likely wouldn't excite — he's just a year removed from the 5.61 ERA he put up with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017 — but he could be signed as a fill-in option and flipped to a contender if things go well.

James Shields

Hey, that name sounds familiar. Yes, why not bring back Shields? His 5.31 ERA during three seasons in a White Sox uniform might be the immediate answer to that query. But he's coming off an impressive season during which he was one of 13 big league pitchers to throw 200 innings. He served a mentor role to young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and could do the same as more young players arrive on the South Side. Last year, Shields proved himself to be a reliable innings-eater, and that's what the White Sox would be looking for in a one-year bridge to their planned stars of the future.

Edwin Jackson

Another former White Sock, Jackson had himself a bit of a renaissance in Oakland last season, posting a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts for the playoff-bound A's. The 35-year-old Jackson has been on 13 teams in his 16 big league seasons and is only a year removed from a 5.21 ERA in 2017. But if the White Sox are going the fill-in route, there are worse options out there — and he could maybe draw some trade-deadline interest if those numbers stay the way they were in Oakland.

Drew Pomeranz

Red Sox fans likely don't have many good things to say about Pomeranz after his 6.08 ERA in 26 appearances (11 starts) for the eventual world champs during the 2018 regular season. Those numbers are no good, but Pomeranz is still relatively young (will be 30 on Opening Day) and isn't far removed from some very good numbers. He put up back-to-back 3.32 ERAs in 2016 and 2017. Not sure if that qualifies him as a candidate to be a Don Cooper reclamation project or not, but it seems he'd be a low-risk addition that could yield some rewards.

What Monday's pitching decisions mean for the White Sox in 2019


What Monday's pitching decisions mean for the White Sox in 2019

The World Series ended. The offseason began. And the White Sox started their winter work.

The team announced three pitching moves Monday, none of them terribly dramatic or unexpected: They declined a $16 million option on starting pitcher James Shields, picked up a $4.65 million option on reliever Nate Jones and moved top-ranked pitching prospect Michael Kopech off the 60-day disabled list.

Now, let's get that last one out of the way first: Kopech was moved off the 60-day DL to make sure he's on the 40-man roster. It's a formality, and no, he's not miraculously recovered from his Tommy John surgery. He's still expected to miss the entirety of the 2019 campaign while recovering.

As for Shields, the White Sox were never expected to fork over $16 million to keep a pitcher who in three seasons on the South Side posted a 5.31 ERA. That being said, that decision makes Shields a free agent, and it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the White Sox would want him back for their 2019 rotation. They have a few different routes they could go to fill what is now a pair of openings on that starting staff, one caused by Kopech's injury and the other by Shields' departure. They could try to land a decently sized free-agent fish to not only better a rotation that led baseball in walks in 2018 but also to serve as a safety net should Kopech and Dylan Cease experience the to-be-expected growing pains of young pitchers. Or they could simply bridge the gap between now and 2020, the likely season of Kopech's return and Cease's readiness, with a couple one-year fill-ins.

Shields would fit that second role, and he's coming off an impressive 2018 that saw him finish as one of 13 big leaguers to log 200 innings. His reliability and status as a mentor to young pitchers like Lucas Giolito make his return sound awful sensible, though who knows how realistic it is.

Meanwhile, at least one spot is filled in the 2019 bullpen with the return of Jones. The injury-plagued lefty will be 33 on Opening Day and has thrown just 41.2 innings in the past two seasons, but his salary is a low one for a team with so few big financial commitments. And the White Sox still use him as one of their better relief arms when he's healthy, with Rick Renteria often deploying him in hold and save situations last season. Jones only saved five games, but it likely would have been a much bigger number had he not been on the shelf most of the time following the team's trade of Joakim Soria. And the numbers, too, show that Jones is an effective reliever when healthy. He's got a 3.11 career ERA, including a 2.60 ERA and a 10.6 K/9 over the past four seasons. The problem? "When healthy" has described a small amount of time, as Jones has thrown an average of just 33 innings those last four years.

But with the majority of the White Sox bullpen young and unproven, having a veteran like Jones down there will be a valuable thing, especially if there are no further veteran additions of note to the relief corps this winter. Jones might not have seen as much game action as he and the White Sox would've liked in recent seasons, but he's got way more experience the young relief corps of Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare, Jace Fry, Ian Hamilton, Juan Minaya, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira. As the roster stands right now, it wouldn't be at all surprising if Jones was the White Sox closer.

Rick Hahn has already said the White Sox will be making some additions to the pitching staff this winter, so these are hardly the only decisions to be made. They're simply the first.

Bring back James Shields? Here's what he meant to Lucas Giolito in 2018


Bring back James Shields? Here's what he meant to Lucas Giolito in 2018

The White Sox have at least one spot to fill in their starting rotation this offseason, and though they're not expected to pick up James Shields' pricey option, there's a way to keep that number at one.

Even if they don't keep Shields on his current contract, they could bring him back on a new one. It's not a bad idea considering his reliability in 2018, by far his best campaign in a White Sox uniform. He threw 204.2 innings — one of just 13 big league pitchers to log at least 200 innings this year — and racked up 19 quality starts.

But Shields' biggest value for the rebuilding White Sox could be his impact in the clubhouse. The elder statesman on a young-and-getting-younger team is an important role.

Just ask Lucas Giolito, whose locker was next to Shields' all season, what Shields meant to him, personally.

"I don’t have enough good things to say about him as a teammate, as a player," Giolito said before the White Sox wrapped up the regular season. "I’ve been learning so much from him all throughout the season. Just a great veteran presence, not only for starting pitchers but for the entire team. Super laid back, relaxed, always having a good time, always a smile on his face.

"Just the conversations we had about pitching, about starting pitching. What I’ve learned from him throughout the year when it comes to managing pitch count, getting deep into the game. That’s his main thing, he throws 200 innings almost every season. I wish that I had it all on a tape recorder so I could kind of take it with me. Just so much information I’ve learned, and I’m really appreciative of, my locker’s right next to him, being able to learn from him and see what he does."

General manager Rick Hahn stated that the White Sox will be making some additions to their pitching staff this offseason, not surprising considering that Tommy John surgery knocked Michael Kopech out for the entirety of the 2019 campaign. The White Sox have options when it comes to filling his spot and the one that would be potentially vacated by Shields. They could add a couple one-year fill-ins and wait until Kopech is healthy and Dylan Cease joins the rotation for the 2020 season. Or they could add a pitcher or two on longer term deals who could provide a safety net for the eventual growing pains during a 2020 or 2021 season where the White Sox would potentially be contenders.

If they chose the former, though, how many available pitchers would safer bets than Shields? If the 2019 season is expected to be another in which the White Sox aren't making a run at a playoff spot, why not bring back someone who is known to have a positive effect on the young players, the future of the franchise, in the clubhouse? And then there's the reliability of 200 innings and almost 20 quality starts to go along with all that.

Regardless of whether it's Shields or not, though, Giolito said that having that veteran role model is important.

"I think it’s really important to have veterans that help the younger guys, help steer them in the right direction and show them what it is to be a professional, to be a big leaguer," he said. "There’s a lot of things you have to learn on your own, and then there’s a lot of things your teammates can help you with. I’d say having a guy like that is very valuable."

There are surely other veterans out there who could fill such a role for these White Sox. But they know that Shields can do it. After spending the season next to Giolito, Shields requested that Kopech's locker be put next to his when Kopech arrived from Triple-A Charlotte. Who knows how much the recovering Kopech will be in Chicago next season, but he could receive the same treatment Shields gave Giolito this season. Not to mention that Giolito himself will still be developing. And perhaps Cease could make his way to the South Side before the end of 2019.

Much like the White Sox have praised Jose Abreu for his off-the-field contributions and how important they are to helping the future of the team develop, Shields provided a similar thing this past season. Could he do it again next season? That's up to the White Sox.