Scott Feldman

Fifteen veteran free-agent starting pitchers the White Sox could sign — and maybe flip

Fifteen veteran free-agent starting pitchers the White Sox could sign — and maybe flip

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The rebuilding White Sox might or might not make a big splash at this week’s Winter Meetings. But there are some additions they need to make before the 2018 season gets going.

One of the items on the to-do list is adding some starting pitching, preferably of the veteran variety to balance out the youth in that unit. Rotation spots are locked in for James Shields, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and general manager Rick Hahn said Monday that Carson Fulmer could get a chance to start, too. Carlos Rodon is considered a mystery at this point, as there’s no firm idea of when he’ll return from his latest injury.

So there figures to be a good chance that a veteran could compete for one of those spots. The ability to eat innings would also be a plus, what with a young and still-developing starting rotation and a to-this-point-unknown bullpen that might not be able to shoulder an oversized load.

More importantly, adding a veteran free-agent starter who turns in a strong few months on the South Side could allow Hahn to trade him midseason for a piece that helps the rebuilding efforts.

Look at what the Cubs did during their rebuilding years on the North Side, when they turned veteran arms like Scott Feldman, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster into the pieces that powered 2016’s run to the World Series.

The White Sox are in a different place, of course, with multiple pieces of their projected rotation of the future already at the big league level. But Hahn has already shown a willingness to adopt a similar strategy, taking fliers on veteran pitchers Derek Holland and Mike Pelfrey a season ago. And the White Sox still employ Don Cooper as the team’s pitching coach, a guy noted for his ability to help veteran pitchers find themselves again.

If they wanted to go a similar route this offseason, here are some veteran options currently on the free-agent market who would cost little and could get something in return, should they rediscover some of their past form. Get ready for some gaudy numbers — and not gaudy in a good way — from 2017. But that means little to no risk and a potential reward.

Clay Buchholz

The 33-year-old Buchholz hasn’t pitched since April, when he was knocked out after just two starts and needed surgery to repair his flexor tendon. He was woeful in those two starts with the Philadelphia Phillies, surrendering 10 runs in just 7.1 innings. But it hasn’t been too long since 2015, when Buchholz posted a 3.26 ERA and logged 107 strikeouts in 113.1 innings. He won a World Series ring and made two All-Star appearances during his 10-year run with the Boston Red Sox.

Jhoulys Chacin

The 29-year-old Chacin spent 2017 with the San Diego Padres, posting a 3.89 ERA over 32 starts. He struck out a career-high 153 batters in 180.1 innings, and also led baseball with 14 hit batsmen. Chacin spent his first six big league seasons with the Colorado Rockies, calling Coors Field home, but his home-run numbers haven’t necessarily decreased since he departed. He allowed 19 homers last year, one off his career high. He walked 72 hitters in 2017.

Bartolo Colon

“The Ageless Wonder” always seems to be up to pitch, right? He threw for both the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins last season, finishing the campaign with a sky-high 6.48 ERA in his 28 starts between the two teams. He threw the fewest number of innings in 2017 since the last time he was on the White Sox in 2009 — yes, this would be a third stint on the South Side.

R.A. Dickey

Dickey might be 43 years old, but he’s been remarkably consistent over the past seven seasons, making at least 30 appearances in each of those years. He’s obviously failed to replicate the sterling 2012 campaign in which he had a 2.73 ERA, threw three complete-game shutouts, struck out 230 guys and won the National League Cy Young Award. But he still made 31 starts last season with the Atlanta Braves and struck out 136 hitters in 190 innings.

Scott Feldman

One of the Cubs’ sign-and-flip guys might fit the bill for the White Sox, too. The 34-year-old Feldman made 21 starts for the Cincinnati Reds last season, the most he’d made in a single season since 2014. He only walked 35 guys in his 111.1 innings of work but still finished with a 4.77 ERA. There’s no guarantee that the White Sox would be able to do what the Cubs did: trade Feldman for a future Cy Young winner. But they could try.

Yovani Gallardo

The 31-year-old Gallardo has had a rough go of things the past couple seasons after a solid year with the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. Last season, he turned in a career-high 5.72 ERA in 28 appearances (22 starts). But there’s no doubt there used to be some magic in that arm. He was an All Star way back in 2010 and made at least 30 starts a year from 2009 through 2015. He’s familiar with the American League, playing for the Seattle Mariners, Orioles and Texas Rangers in the last three seasons.

Jaime Garcia

It wasn’t too long ago that Garcia looked to be a stud of the future for the St. Louis Cardinals, but he couldn’t stay on the mound. Now 31, Garcia is coming off a season in which he played for three different teams but made 27 starts, turning in a collective 4.41 ERA. He pitched 157 innings — his second-highest total since 2011 — and struck out 129 guys.

Miguel Gonzalez

Nothing wrong with a familiar face, right? The 33-year-old Gonzalez turned into a flippable piece for the White Sox last summer thanks to some solid starts. Of course, he also experienced some disastrous outings, bulging his ERA up to 4.31 (it was a much worse 6.45 in his five starts with the Rangers).

John Lackey

Sure to make everyone have some sort of visceral reaction, the suggestion of the 39-year-old Lackey might not be as crazy as it sounds. Yes, he coughed up a NL-leading 36 homers in 2017, a season which he finished with a 4.59 ERA. But he still made 30 starts for the Cubs and struck out 149 guys, walking 53 in 170.2 innings of work. And a lot of Lackey’s damage was concentrated into a few grotesque starts. The good stretches were good. He had a good run in July and August. In September, he turned in a 2.73 ERA. But have his views on haircuts changed?

Francisco Liriano

The 34-year-old Liriano just won a World Series ring with the Houston Astros, but all 20 of his regular-season appearances with the champs came as a reliever. He started the season as a mostly ineffective starter with the Toronto Blue Jays, making 18 starts and seeing his ERA stand at 5.88 when he left the Great White North. Liriano’s been on the South Side before, back in 2012, and things didn’t go so well then. But he’s a guy that has shown flashes of brilliance over the years.

Ricky Nolasco

The 34-year-old Nolasco’s ERA was nearly 5.00 last season with the Los Angeles Angels, but he made 33 starts and logged 181 innings of work. He had 143 strikeouts, one off his highest total since 2013. But he surrendered 35 home runs.

Anibal Sanchez

The 33-year-old Anibal Sanchez is a familiar name to White Sox fans who saw him throw six seasons with the Detroit Tigers. He only walked 29 guys in 105.1 innings last season, but there’s not much else from an awful 2017 that inspires much confidence. Sanchez had a 6.41 ERA in 28 appearances (17 starts). And in the last three seasons, he’s given up a total of 85 home runs. Ouch.

Hector Santiago

How about a comeback for Santiago? After an All-Star appearance in 2015, the now-29-year-old has had tough times in the past two seasons splitting time between the Angels and Minnesota Twins. Since going to the Twins in the middle of 2016, his ERA is 5.61. He made just 15 appearances last season and walked 31 guys in 70.1 innings. But he’s familiar with Cooper and could rediscover what produced a 3.41 ERA in his three seasons with the White Sox, before he was traded away as part of the Adam Eaton deal.

Chris Tillman

Nine seasons with the Orioles, and the 29-year-old has a 4.43 ERA to show for it. If only that’s what he had last year. Tillman had a real rough 2017 with a 7.84 ERA in 24 appearances, 19 of which were starts. He struck out only 63 guys in 93 innings. But it’s this kind of reclamation project — he had a 3.77 ERA in 30 starts just a year earlier — that fits the bill for the White Sox.

Jason Vargas

The 34-year-old Vargas is getting up there in age, but he just turned in one of the best seasons of his career, winning a major league best 18 decisions in 2017. He gave up 27 homers and still had a 4.16 ERA for a not very good Kansas City Royals team, but he might have pitched his way out of this type of conversation at the back end of the White Sox rotation.

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

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USA TODAY

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship Series — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, a source confirming the team declined a club contract option for next year and made a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.

No, the Cubs don't want tradebacks, but Scott Feldman looked more like Jake Arrieta than Jake Arrieta on Friday

No, the Cubs don't want tradebacks, but Scott Feldman looked more like Jake Arrieta than Jake Arrieta on Friday

The Cubs altered the trajectory of their franchise with the trade that sent Scott Feldman to Baltimore in exchange for Jake Arrieta back in 2013.

Arrieta won a Cy Young Award in 2015 and threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds last season en route to earning a World Series ring with the Cubs. Feldman just barely kept his ERA under 4.00 in each of last three seasons.

But Friday night in Cincinnati, it was Feldman who turned in a dominant performance against his former team during a season where Arrieta is still struggling to perform on a consistent basis.

The Cubs' offense, which has been so hit-or-miss during this roller-coaster ride of a season, was again missing in action in the 5-0 loss, mustering just three hits on the night, all of them coming after Feldman recorded the first two outs of the sixth inning.

Yes, Feldman was on no-hitter alert against the defending champs, a far cry from his first start against his former mates earlier this season, when he gave up seven runs — five of them earned — in just 2.2 innings of work back on May 17. Friday, he lasted seven innings, striking out seven Cubs hitters and allowing just two hits and two walks while keeping a zero on the scoreboard.

Until Ian Happ singled in the sixth, Feldman was cruising toward replicating what Arrieta did last year at Great American Ballpark.

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Three games have gone by since Arrieta's last outing, an ugly performance in which he couldn't get out of the fifth inning against a first-place Washington Nationals team. While no one in their right mind would ever suggest tradebacks in that legendary (or infamous, if you're an Orioles fan) Arrieta-Feldman swap, look at these 2017 numbers: Feldman has a 3.78 ERA after Friday night's outing, while Arrieta's nearly a full point higher at 4.67.

With Kyle Hendricks on the disabled list, Arrieta and John Lackey finding success elusive on a start-by-start basis and Mike Montgomery — four runs allowed in 6.2 innings on Friday — and Eddie Butler not exactly doing a terrific job of holding down the fort, seeing a former Cub do this to the current crop of North Siders might have stung just a little bit.

Of course, the Cubs don't want to trade places with the Reds, who at 34-45 are dead last in the National League Central.