The White Sox rotation has been the most inconsistent unit on the team so far this season. And now it will be without Carlos Rodon for the foreseeable future.
This was a unit already testing the limits of its depth, the front office moving Manny Banuelos to the starting staff after designating Ervin Santana for assignment. That left, really, only Dylan Covey as a viable option in the event of an injury, what with Dylan Cease still requiring more time to cook at Triple-A Charlotte (no matter your opinion on that subject, that’s what the White Sox think, and they’re the ones making the decisions) and the rest of that Knights rotation full of high ERAs.
Covey will indeed be the guy that takes Rodon’s spot in the rotation, though what to expect is hard to say. The White Sox were confident enough to put him in their Opening Day bullpen, then send him down to work as a starter just in case something like this happened. Now that it has, they’re once again talking about their confidence in the guy, though White Sox fans have seen Covey before, and the results weren’t good then. In 33 starts with the White Sox, Covey has a 6.26 ERA.
“He’s continued to develop. He’s had some success with us here,” manager Rick Renteria said of Covey on Thursday. “He’s resilient, strong. He has commanded a lot better. We have to work ourselves back to get him stretched out where he can give us some innings. That’s where we’re at right now. We’re adjusting and adapting.”
The hope is that there won’t have to be too much more adjusting and adapting past this point. General manager Rick Hahn said the ideal situation from here is that Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Ivan Nova, Banuelos and Covey iron out the rotation’s inconsistencies and give the White Sox a few good months worth of starts. Health, too, would be nice, considering there are few, if any options behind these five in the organization.
If Covey can relatively hold down the fort until the White Sox believe Cease is ready to make the jump to the big leagues, that would be the best-case scenario at this point. But Covey isn’t the only starting pitcher the White Sox have to worry about, not when you consider the way the group has pitched this year. And then there are the potential injuries that could befall the starting staff. Giolito’s already been on the injured list this season.
So what happens if the White Sox need another starting pitcher before Cease comes up?
In a pinch (and perhaps only in a pinch) they could draw from that Charlotte rotation, throwing Jordan Stephens, who’s on the 40-man roster, into the fire for a day just to try and eat up one start’s worth of innings. But Hahn discussed the potential necessity of going outside the organization for help. The free-agent freeze of the offseason has lingered long enough to leave several pitchers still out there waiting for a job. Could that be a path the White Sox go down?
“We're relying on the five that are here right now, and we've had some conversations about other guys in the organization that might need to step in on occasion,” Hahn said. “Look, we may need to go outside a little bit and patch this thing on the fly. You've seen that happen before.
“It certainly isn't our preference. We'd like to see the five we have here now go on a nice, sustainable run for the foreseeable future and then some of the young guys force their way here. That's the ideal plan. But we've talked about needing to come up with some contingencies.”
It’s unlikely that one of those contingencies is Dallas Keuchel. Fans on social media might be stomping their virtual feet begging that the White Sox go after the biggest name on the starting-pitching market. The suggestion is understandable from the standpoint of the White Sox rotation struggling the way it has and the 2015 AL Cy Young winner out there just waiting for the phone to ring.
But there are multiple factors at play there that make it unrealistic for the White Sox to end up with Keuchel. Chief among them, perhaps, is that any team that wants to sign Keuchel before the draft in June would have to surrender a draft pick and international signing money, the penalty for adding a free agent who declined a qualifying offer way back in November. For the rebuilding White Sox, those assets are vital, certainly more vital than trying to squeeze a few more wins out of a season that isn’t expected to end in a playoff chase.
Once the draft passes, those penalties go away, and we’ll likely see Keuchel sign somewhere shortly thereafter. But with injuries across the league by then, wouldn’t there be contending teams a little more desperate — and a little more attractive — for a veteran like Keuchel?
The bottom line on Keuchel and the White Sox seems to be this: If they wanted him badly enough, they could’ve had him by now. They don’t have him, no one does, and that says something.
And so if the White Sox do have to go outside the organization, it would figure to be someone of the Ervin Santana stripe: a low-cost, low-risk veteran who can step into a rotation and have no bearing on the team’s long-term plans, someone who can come in and eat up innings and help out the bullpen. Santana, it ended up, couldn’t fulfill all those duties, and that’s why he’s no longer on the South Side. But if the White Sox find themselves with nowhere else to turn, another acquisition of that ilk would be logical.
This is not to paint a rosy picture of a world of possibilities, and certainly that’s not what has happened. The White Sox had almost no starting-pitching depth at the highest levels of the organization. Now that a significant injury has befallen one of their major league starters, they have less.
Cease will arrive eventually and cure some of these ills. But, being described as on a track similar to the one Michael Kopech was on a year ago, expect a July or August debut rather than a May or June one.
Until then, it’s up to Lopez, Giolito, Nova, Banuelos and Covey to carry the load. And to not get hurt.