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.