White Sox

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.

Believe in 'Magic': For White Sox, a matter of when, not if, Nick Madrigal starts raking in the majors

Believe in 'Magic': For White Sox, a matter of when, not if, Nick Madrigal starts raking in the majors

When will Nick Madrigal reach the majors?

That, now that Luis Robert's path to an Opening Day roster spot has been cleared by a big-money contract extension, is the most pressing of the prospect-related queries facing the 2020 White Sox, a team that, it should be noted, will be turning its focus away from the minors and toward playing big league baseball in October for the first time in more than a decade.

Not unlike Robert, Madrigal shredded minor league pitching in 2019, playing at three levels and showing just how successful his elite bat-to-ball skills can make him as an offensive producer. He stepped to the plate 532 times and struck out only 16 times.

There's a reason even Rick Renteria is already calling the 22-year-old "Magic."

The general feeling seems to be that Madrigal will start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, though with the waiting game apparently over on the South Side and the intent to win as many games as possible, perhaps a strong showing at spring training will see Madrigal starting at second base in the March 26 opener.

That's a question better answered after the White Sox have been in Glendale for a few weeks.

But Madrigal's goal is clear.

"I definitely want to be in Chicago as soon as I can," Madrigal said earlier this week at the team's hitters' camp out in the desert. "I know they have a plan for me one way or another, but I think that’s the ultimate goal: being in Chicago and winning with that team.

"I know this offseason there’s been a lot of moves, and I’m excited to be a part of that, hopefully, in the near future. The ultimate goal is winning. There’s nothing else at this point."

Madrigal might not have blown the doors off the minors like Robert, who finished with a 30-30 season, but he wasn't fazed by climbing through the system. Madrigal put up good-not-great numbers in nearly 50 games at Class A Winston-Salem but exploded for a .341 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage in 42 games at Double-A Birmingham before batting .331 and reaching base at a .398 clip in 29 games at Charlotte.

That he didn't even reach 30 games in a Knights uniform could signal that the White Sox might prefer a little more seasoning, but he didn't see any problems facing the pitching at Triple-A.

“Honestly, it wasn’t too different at all. There was nothing I hadn’t seen before," he said. "There were some older guys in the league, more consistent arms. I thought it wasn’t anything too different.”

Madrigal's earning high praise all over the place, rated among the best prospects in the game. He's earned rave reviews for his ability on both sides of the ball, picked by team executives (in an MLB Pipeline poll) as having one of the best hit tools and gloves of any player in the minor leagues.

There still might be some skepticism, or perhaps mere curiosity, as to how Madrigal's skill set will translate to the major leagues. Players like him, who focus on making contact and putting the ball in play, are becoming rarer in today's game, which sees a focus on power and launch angle and an acceptance of strikeouts. His manager, one of "Magic's" biggest fans, isn't too concerned about Madrigal finding success once he finally makes the jump to the bigs.

"Watching him swing the bat yesterday, I'm amazed at his bat-to-ball skills. It's incredible," Renteria said Wednesday from Arizona. "He's actually filling out a little bit more. All these guys, we've seen them for the last four years, they're growing up. And even though Magic just joined us last year, you can see a difference in him, physically speaking.

"I think his skill set, in terms of his bat-to-ball skills, as he continues to develop, you may see a ball leave the ballpark here and there. But the fact he can put the bat on the ball and manage the barrel as well as he does, he'll be able to find holes. Continuing to improve upon and cleaning his swing path, staying through the ball a little bit more and still being able to use all parts of the field, his skill set will play. He'll find a way to get on base at a high rate through probably contact and eye recognition, pitch recognition."

Rick Hahn has said that he expects Madrigal to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign, so even if he doesn't make the 26-man roster out of spring training, keep your eyes peeled for a Madrigal sighting not too deep into the baseball calendar.

This is a matter of when, not if. So the walk-up music folks at Guaranteed Rate Field better start getting ready. Will it be "Magic Man" by Heart? Or "Strange Magic" by Electric Light Orchestra? "Do You Believe in Magic" by The Lovin' Spoonful is, of course, also acceptable.

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Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

White Sox fans suddenly have reason to stop focusing on the minor leagues.

Rick Hahn's front office has done an incredible amount of work this winter adding impact veterans to the team's young core, and because of it, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side. The summer figures to be spent focusing on what Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are doing at the major league level rather than what the potential stars of the future are doing in the minors.

In other words, the future is here.

But it's worth noting that the White Sox still have some of the best prospects in the game. It's true that a few of the biggest names among that group won't be prospects for much longer. Luis Robert just got a high-priced contract extension that clears the way for him to be in the lineup on Opening Day. While Michael Kopech will be limited in some fashion as the White Sox manage his workload in his return from Tommy John surgery, it's hardly out of the question that he could be a part of the 26-man group that leaves Glendale at the end of March. And Nick Madrigal, Hahn has said, figures to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign after he reached the doorstep of the majors last year.

The point is, however, that the White Sox core is not done growing. Moncada, Giolito, Anderson and Jimenez all broke out in big ways in 2019, and the veterans added to that group could push the team into contention mode as soon as this season. But Robert, Kopech, Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn are set to join that core, too, expanding it to one the White Sox hope will power championship contenders for years to come.

The Athletic's Jim Bowden ranked Robert as his No. 1 prospect in baseball, picking the 22-year-old center fielder to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. And that's no stretch after the way Robert lit the minor leagues on fire in 2019. Playing at three different levels, he slashed .328/.376/.624 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 31 doubles, 108 runs scored and 36 stolen bases. He's a true five-tool threat who receives rave reviews that peg him as potentially the best of all the White Sox young talent. MLB Pipeline is in the middle of rolling out their rankings ahead of the 2020 season, and we'll learn where Robert ranks on the site's updated list next weekend during SoxFest. But most recently, Robert was the site's No. 3 prospect in the game.

Kopech still has prospect status despite the fact that he made his big league debut in August 2018. That Tommy John surgery limited his major league experience to this point to just four games, wiping out his 2019 season. Whether he'll be the same elite pitcher that was promised prior to his surgery is one of several important questions facing the 2020 White Sox, but it doesn't seem to be deterring the rankers. Bowden has Kopech as the No. 11 prospect in baseball, and MLB Pipeline ranked him as the No. 4 right-handed pitching prospect in the game. Kopech is said to still be capable of unleashing the blazing fastball that made him such a tantalizing prospect in the first place. The big question now is how often he'll be able to use it, with the White Sox planning to limit him in some capacity. We'll have to wait until spring to find out exactly what those limitations look like.

Madrigal might not spend a long time at Triple-A Charlotte, expected to be manning second base for the big league White Sox for the majority of the 2020 season. But like they did with Moncada, Jimenez and Robert before him, the White Sox have no plans to rush Madrigal to the majors. Bowden has him ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the game, and we'll find out soon where MLB Pipeline has him among second basemen. We already know they think the world of his glove — which was touted as Gold Glove caliber by the White Sox the night they drafted him in 2018 — naming him the second baseman on their all-defense team (he won a minor league Gold Glove for his work last season, too). MLB Pipeline also polled general managers, scouting directors and executives across all 30 teams, and Madrigal's name popped up often, voted to possess the third best hit tool, the third best glove and the highest baseball IQ among all of the game's prospects. The guy struck out just 16 times in 532 trips to the plate last season, so he's obviously doing something right.

Vaughn is receiving similarly rave reviews this winter. Bowden ranked him as the game's No. 35 prospect, and MLB Pipeline might end up putting the White Sox most recent first-round pick even higher, naming him the top first-base prospect in baseball. A slugger whose bat earned high praise when he came out of Cal last summer, Vaughn might not reach the South Side in 2020 like the rest of the guys discussed here. But he does figure to have a similar impact when he finally does. He played just 52 games between Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem after joining the organization, hitting a combined five homers at those stops. He's still swinging the bat that launched 50 homers and drove in 163 runs over three seasons in college. That aforementioned MLB Pipeline executive poll? In it, Vaughn was picked as having the second best hit tool in the game. The White Sox just gave Abreu a three-year contract extension that will keep him on the South Side through at least the 2022 campaign, but the 37-year-old Encarnacion could be here as briefly as one year (his contract has an option for 2021), potentially opening up a spot for Vaughn should everything go right in the minors.

And this is without even mentioning guys like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever, who could all wind up playing important roles on the pitching staff.

So while there is plenty of reason for your minor league interest to wane — because meaningful baseball is expected to be happening at the major league level in 2020 — know that the White Sox farm system (at least the tippy top of it) is still worth salivating over. These guys should be on the South Side soon, only adding fuel to the fire Hahn has built this winter.

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