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.

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.