The first pitch of the penultimate round of the 2018 postseason will be thrown by a guy the White Sox traded. Twice.
A more noteworthy guy the White Sox traded (only once, though) could end up throwing the first pitch of the ALCS, too — his name is Chris Sale, you've probably heard of him — but let's instead focus on the guy who will take the mound in the top of the first inning of Game 1 of the NLCS. Gio Gonzalez is the Milwaukee Brewers' starting pitcher for Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he's a somewhat memorable figure in White Sox history in that they dealt him as part of the trade for Jim Thome in 2005, then reacquired him in the Freddy Garcia-for-Gavin Floyd swap a year later, then traded him away again the following offseason, that time to the Oakland Athletics in the Nick Swisher deal.
All of that happened before Gonzalez even made his big league debut, but he's more notable than some of the other throw-ins in those trades, more notable than Daniel Haigwood or Fautino De Los Santos, because he became a two-time All Star and has twice finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting. Is he "the" one who got away? Maybe not. But he's "a" one who got away.
And now he's adding another accomplishment to his mighty productive 11-year major league career, pitching in the NLCS and trying to help his team get to the World Series.
Why does this warrant any further discussion in White Sox circles, though? Well, Gonzalez has had himself a heck of a go of things since getting traded from the Washington Nationals to the Brewers at the end of August, making the 32-year-old — who just a year ago finished sixth in the NL Cy Young vote — a somewhat attractive free agent when the baseball calendar flips from the World Series to the Hot Stove. And the White Sox just happen to be in the market for a starting pitcher or two.
How about that idea? Gonzalez, drafted by the Whiite Sox in 2004 and twice a part of their organization, finally pitching on the South Side.
The stock that was so high thanks to a sensational 2017 — a 2.96 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 201 innings — plummeted thanks to a rocky first five months of the 2018 regular season. Before the trade, Gonzalez had a 4.57 ERA, but he found some sort of rejuvenation in Wisconsin (we all do, to be honest, it's called Spotted Cow) and was excellent in his five regular-season starts with the Brew Crew, allowing just six earned runs and striking out 22 guys in 25.1 innings. Friday's start in Game 1 of the NLCS will be his first appearance this postseason. Don't be surprised if it doesn't last long, as Craig Counsell wisely leans on his uber-talented bullpen.
But thanks to what he's done with the Brewers, Gonzalez is suddenly a more attractive free-agent candidate than he was a month and a half ago. Could he be a fit for the White Sox?
Rick Hahn's front office has a decision to make in what kind of starting pitcher they want to sign this winter to plug the hole created by Michael Kopech's recovery from Tommy John surgery. And the number of holes to fill in the rotation becomes two if the White Sox don't have any interest in re-signing James Shields. Do the White Sox want to add two one-year fill-ins and just wait for Kopech's return and Dylan Cease's arrival? Or do the White Sox want to add an insurance policy of sorts, pitchers who could help a contending 2020 club if Kopech and/or Cease are experiencing the to-be-expected growing pains of players in their first full major league seasons?
Gonzalez, perhaps, could fit either category depending on how the market and how his market, specifically shakes out. He just turned 33, meaning he'll be 34 by Opening Day 2020. But he's made 32 starts in each of the last three seasons and 31 the season before that.
Certainly, if the White Sox are fishing in longer-term waters this winter, there will be more attractive names than Gonzalez. But he could still be a viable option. Not to mention, perhaps, a sentimental one.
His postseason story isn't done being written yet, which could of course impact the kind of deal he gets this winter. But if it has a good enough ending, perhaps the White Sox could look his way and finally bring him to the South Side — the place he thought he'd end up 14 years ago.