White Sox

Four questions surrounding the White Sox in the wake of Carlos Rodon's Tommy John surgery

Four questions surrounding the White Sox in the wake of Carlos Rodon's Tommy John surgery

Carlos Rodon is going on the shelf for more than a year after he has Tommy John surgery later this week.

It’s another brutal blow to the rebuilding White Sox, who see another young starting pitcher of the future sidelined while in recovery mode from this procedure.

Rodon’s absence is a big deal — general manager Rick Hahn said Monday that Rodon’s not expected back until the second half of the 2020 season — with plenty of effects on this year’s team and on teams in years to come. Here’s a look at four questions surrounding the White Sox as Rodon’s injury layoff begins.

Will the White Sox go outside to help this season’s starting rotation?

Rodon’s injury has painted the White Sox into a starting-pitching corner.

We knew this a couple weeks ago when Hahn first announced that Rodon had something significantly wrong with his arm. Now that we know the diagnosis, the outlook for the White Sox short-term starting-pitching depth hasn’t gotten any better.

The current five-man starting staff of Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Ivan Nova, Manny Banuelos and Dylan Covey is it. There’s virtually no depth at Triple-A Charlotte the White Sox can draw on in the immediate if something were to happen from a health or underperformance standpoint. A spot start, maybe, but no longer-term solutions than that.

Yes, Dylan Cease, the organization’s top-ranked healthy pitching prospect, is pitching and pitching well at Charlotte (though he’s gone past the fifth inning just once in his seven starts this season). But Hahn said earlier this month that Cease’s eventual major league promotion, expected to come later this season, will have nothing to do with a need at the big league level.

So what does that mean? Where will any needed pitching reinforcements come from?

Good question. While fans will shout about that one big name still out there — 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel — it’s unlikely he ends up on the South Side. Any team that signs him prior to the draft will have to forfeit a draft pick and international signing money, and those things are far more valuable to a rebuilding team like the White Sox than a few more wins in 2019.

Other than that? Tumbleweeds.

The White Sox did make an addition to their starting-pitching depth last week, adding Ross Detwiler to Triple-A Charlotte. Detwiler’s a 33-year-old lefty with a 4.36 ERA in 10 big league seasons who the White Sox just plucked out of independent ball. That should tell you a lot about the available starting pitching.

“The plan really hasn’t changed thus far in terms of where we are looking,” Hahn said. “First to Covey and Banuelos to see what they do, as well as over the coming weeks and months some internal options within our minor league system.

“We have had some conversations with other clubs about potential fits, but as will come as no surprise to you, there’s not a great market, not a very fluid market for starting pitching right now.

“Initially we’ll look internally and continue to see where those conversations go.”

If the current five can hold on long enough, Cease will come up as a replacement at some point. Perhaps there are guys at Double-A who, given some time, could be big league ready later on this season. But the options aren’t numerous, placing a lot of importance on the health of the current big league rotation.

Is there an explanation for all these Tommy John surgeries?

An understandable question in the wake of the White Sox fourth major Tommy John victim in the last few years (fifth if you count outfielder Micker Adolfo) is whether this is some sort of systemic thing or just plain bad luck.

As Hahn pointed out, the White Sox are hardly the only team in the game dealing with pitchers who need this procedure, and this might just be a new reality.

"There's a portion of it that's bad luck,” Hahn said. “It's not just us, obviously. You look around the league, and unfortunately it's fairly rampant.

“I'm not going to be able to specifically cite the source, but I remember someone during our last homestand in the box raised during the game that something like 32 or 33 percent of active pitchers in the big leagues have had Tommy John at some point, which is stunning at this day and age. But it's the era we live in where guys are throwing harder, they're throwing more younger and we're still unfortunately learning about what it takes to keep an elbow healthy given the amount of force that throwing a baseball at that level and frequency does.

“There's going to come a time — I probably won't be sitting in this chair when the time comes — people are going to have a much, much better understanding of how to keep pitchers healthy and that's going to be great for the game.

“Until then we're going to do everything in our power to do what we know works. If along the way we're struck with bad luck or similarly victimized by what may be a bit of an epidemic in the game, we're going to hopefully have enough depth and wherewithal to push through it."

Of course, the White Sox do seem particularly stung at the moment, with Rodon joining Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning and Zack Burdi — as well as Adolfo — in the Tommy John club. The fact that three of those guys are three of the more important starting pitchers when it comes to the long-term future of the franchise doesn’t help.

But Hahn has always talked about how injuries are inevitable during a rebuild. These are those injuries. It seems like bad luck, but it might just be how things go.

Will Rodon’s surgery affect how the White Sox approach this summer’s draft?

The short answer to this one is easy: No.

But it’s not an outrageous thing to ask.

In a relatively rapid period of time, the White Sox have watched starting pitching go from one of the strengths of this rebuild to one of the weaknesses. What once looked like a crowded battle for spots in the rotation of the future between the likes of Rodon, Kopech, Dunning, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Alec Hansen and other, younger arms suddenly looks a lot different.

Rodon will return with less than a year and a half of team control remaining on his contract. Kopech will spend the 2020 season doing what he was supposed to do during the 2019 season: experiencing the ups and downs of his first full year in the big leagues. Lopez and Giolito are still in the process of finding consistency after rocky 2018 seasons. Dunning and Hansen have yet to pitch above Double-A, and when the 2020 campaign begins, Cease won’t have more than a couple months of big league service under his belt.

It all adds up to make for a rotation that though perhaps still full of potential can’t be counted on to mow down the competition beginning on Opening Day of next year. There will still be growth required to form that championship-caliber rotation.

So would the White Sox spend their upcoming No. 3 draft pick on a pitcher who could help with all that? It doesn’t sound like it.

"You can't force it,” Hahn said. “I think Baseball America about two weeks ago quoted an anonymous scout, which I usually don't like, and the scout said this was the worst pitching draft in 38 years. I think that was the quote. I don't want to quite go that strong. I haven't looked at it that closely, for comparison's sake. But you can't force that.

“You can't say the organization needs pitching — frankly all 30 organizations would say they need pitching — and therefore draft according to that. We're going to take the best guy at No. 3.

“We're very excited about what the options are preliminarily as we head into our meetings here in the coming weeks. We're going to get another premium piece here in the next couple weeks added to the organization, and then excited to see what the scouts have in store as we get deeper into the draft."

It’s important to remember that the last two pitchers the White Sox took with top-10 draft picks were Rodon (No. 3 in 2014) and Carson Fulmer (No. 8 in 2015). Rodon is experiencing his third significant arm injury in three years. Fulmer has been converted to a bullpen arm down at Triple-A.

Will Rodon’s surgery affect what the White Sox do next offseason?

Given the uncertainties throughout the rotation listed above, even a healthy Rodon might have had the White Sox chasing starting pitching in the upcoming offseason. Now that Rodon’s not expected to pitch more than a few months of the 2020 campaign, the chances of the White Sox attempting to acquire a starting pitcher next winter would figure to increase.

The free-agent market looked like it would be full of options for the White Sox to add the superstar free agent they missed out on last winter, when they failed to land Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. But a bunch of the guys who were heading for free agency aren’t anymore thanks to extensions with their current clubs. No Nolan Arenado. No Chris Sale. No Xander Bogaerts. No Paul Goldschmidt. No Justin Verlander. No Aaron Hicks. No Miles Mikolas.

It doesn’t leave the landscape barren (that’s how good this class was to begin with), but it undoubtedly has an impact. It could steer teams looking for big splashes, like the White Sox, toward the trade market. It could make for a ton of competition for the services of the top free-agent starting pitcher, Gerrit Cole. Or with Arenado, Bogaerts and Goldschmidt off the board, perhaps that increases the likelihood of a White Sox pivot to pitching as they bank on Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert and others to be the star position players on the South Side.

Regardless of whether it’s a major free-agent acquisition or a trade utilizing some of the organization’s prospect depth, it sounds like starting pitching could be high on the shopping list this winter. Rodon’s injury only increases the need, as does his contract situation. Rodon’s set for free agency following the 2021 season. It’d be beneficial to lock a reliable starter up past that season to pitch alongside Kopech, Cease and the rest as the White Sox move into their contention window.

"In the short term we're going to give an opportunity to some younger guys to show what they can do and how they fit,” Hahn said. “Come this offseason, we obviously aren't going to project to have (Rodon) as part of our Opening Day five for the first part of the season, at least, so that could well affect our plans then, depending on how some of these young guys come along.

“Ideally, you have all the answers internally. At the same time, we know that's not extremely likely, and from the start of this we've made it clear that eventually we are going to have to go outside the organization, either via trade or free agency, to plug some of these holes wherever they arise. Certainly it's conceivable that one of those spots is going to be in our starting rotation, given the injuries, but we'll wait to see how the next few months unfold before officially deciding that."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Rebuild, meet overdrive: Eloy Jimenez provides best snapshot of White Sox progress yet

Rebuild, meet overdrive: Eloy Jimenez provides best snapshot of White Sox progress yet

A rebuild, White Sox fans know all too well, takes place over a lengthy period of time. Progression, development, these aren’t things easily pointed to as a single moment.

Allow Eloy Jimenez to provide an exception to the rule.

The White Sox contention window might not have been yanked open with one broken-bat homer to beat the Crosstown-rival Cubs on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But Jimenez’s game-winner was the best single image yet of the direction Rick Hahn’s rebuilding project is moving.

Surely you don’t need a refresher on the highlight seen ‘round Chicagoland by now, but take a second to realize how incredible, how unscriptable it was: Jimenez, traded away by the Cubs two summers ago, up in a tie game in the ninth inning in his first game at the ballpark he always assumed would be where he’d be playing his big league games. Well, he finally played a big league game inside the Friendly Confines — and he delivered an unforgettable moment for the team on the other side of town.

Yeah, maybe it’s perhaps a little hyperbolic, maybe it’s a pure reaction to the moment, but: Rebuild, meet overdrive.

“We’re playing in the city of champions,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “The White Sox were champions at one time, the Cubbies have been champions. You have a history of basketball and football. It’s the city of champions, so a lot is expected of them. They’re starting to embrace it, understand it and revel in it.”

Talk of championships might seem a tad premature for these White Sox, still under .500 even after Jimenez blasted them to dramatic victory on the North Side. But then again, that’s been the end goal of the rebuild from Day 1. Rick Hahn has said repeatedly that the rebuild won’t be a success unless there’s a parade.

Jimenez’s homer came in June, not October. But it cranked the dial even further on the blindingly bright future these White Sox are building.

Lucas Giolito is providing examples of progress every time he steps on the mound these days. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert and Dylan Cease are doing their part, too. But no one has been as central a part of the future than Jimenez, the guy who’s supposed to be the middle-of-the-order power bat in this lineup for the next decade. The way he delivered Tuesday made for a flag-planting type moment on the White Sox journey up baseball’s mountain.

“We all knew the talent was there from the get-go as soon as the club acquired him. It was just a matter of time for him to get to the big leagues, get comfortable in the big leagues,” Giolito said after the game. “I think he's getting comfortable with the big leagues a lot faster than I would've predicted. He's a really, really good player, great teammate. Can't say enough good things about Eloy. He really delivered for us tonight, and it was a big one.”

Again, it’s June. It’s a game against a National League opponent, not exactly the kind of game that helps chew up the deficit separating the White Sox and the out-of-this-world Minnesota Twins at the top of the AL Central. But within these city limits, it’s hard to imagine a bigger stage than this.

The media swarmed Jimenez postgame, causing him to express some shock at the number of cameras and recorders suddenly thrust in his face. He’s been asked a million times what it would be like to play in Wrigley Field. When he rounded first base, the smile on his face — a permanent fixture — was enormous. He gave a huge clap when he touched home plate. Were the emotions what he’d been dreaming of?

“Yes,” was the only verbal response. The body language told a much richer story. He let out ebullient sounds that brought to mind Tim “The Toolman” Taylor. The smile nearly got too big for his face.

These were the Cubs he just beat, a team so often the comparison point for these White Sox. They’re trying to find their way through the same total rebuild the Cubs went through. And without these Cubs, the White Sox might not be as far along as they currently are. Thanks to that trade, which brought Jimenez and Dylan Cease into starring roles in this rebuild, the championship future Hahn has envisioned looks realistic. It looks closer.

The North Siders came out the other end of a rebuild champions. The White Sox have their eyes on the same result.

It might not happen tomorrow, even if the bright spots are shining through now more than ever. But it’s something the White Sox are fully chasing. This is the city of champions, after all.

“It means a lot because we’re fighting for a spot in the playoffs,” Jimenez said. “We have been playing really good and I think that was a good victory for us.”

A good victory for now. A good victory for later. A good victory, indeed.

That was a storybook ending. And it’s only the end of Act I, Scene I.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Eloy Jimenez drives to Wrigley with Chuck, then drives a dagger into the Cubs hearts

eloy-617.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Eloy Jimenez drives to Wrigley with Chuck, then drives a dagger into the Cubs hearts

For his first regular season game ever against the Cubs, Eloy Jimenez got a ride from Chuck Garfien which started at Guaranteed Rate Field, stopped at Wrigley Field and ended with Jimenez hitting the game-winning home run in the 9th. First, Vinnie Duber joins Chuck to discuss how Jimenez homered despite breaking his bat (2:00). On the ride, Jimenez' talks about playing at Wrigley (8:20), what Cubs fans say to him now that he's on the White Sox (10:00), how he persuaded Rick Renteria to let him pinch-hit against the Cubs in a spring training game in 2018, and homered (11:30), what his mother thinks of him saying "Hi Mom" (14:30), Jimenez sings hip-hop (17:40), why a home run against the Cubs would mean so much (24:50), his reaction when the Cubs traded him to the White Sox (27:20) and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: