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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.