If it seems like you’ve read an awful lot about how the White Sox have no major league ready starting-pitching depth at the moment, it’s because you have. Certainly I’ve written about it plenty. But after Manny Banuelos departed Tuesday’s start against the Cleveland Indians with an injury, here we go again.
The White Sox pushed their depth to the limit when Carlos Rodon went down with the significant elbow injury that necessitated Tommy John surgery, which he’ll have Wednesday. Banuelos had already stepped into a full-time starting role when the team jettisoned Ervin Santana after just three starts, and Dylan Covey got the nod to replace Rodon, who isn’t expected to return to the White Sox rotation until the second half of the 2020 season.
It left no room for injuries, no room for under-performance. And yet that’s what happened to Banuelos. After giving up his third home run of Tuesday’s game — his ninth home run in his last four starts — Banuelos left the mound with the trainer. The word from the White Sox was that Banuelos has a shoulder strain and will be reevaluated Wednesday, a day off before a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays.
So right now, we don’t know if Banuelos will miss any time. Maybe he’s back for his next turn in the rotation next Monday in Houston. But if he isn’t? Well, there’s seemingly nowhere for the White Sox to turn to fill his spot on the starting staff.
Twitter-using White Sox fans seem to have a couple answers. They like what Dylan Cease is doing at Triple-A Charlotte, and certainly the White Sox do, too. But much like we heard Rick Hahn say about Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech throughout the 2018 season, the general manager said recently that when Cease makes his major league debut will have nothing to do with a need at the big league level. Don’t expect anything else.
Well, what about Dallas Keuchel? The 2015 AL Cy Young winner is still sitting there on the free-agent market. But any team that signs Keuchel prior to the draft would have to forfeit a draft pick and international signing money, and those two things are way more valuable to a rebuilding team like the White Sox than a few more wins during a 2019 season in which they’re not expected to contend for a playoff spot.
Those wishes are just going to go unanswered. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
The Charlotte rotation, outside of Cease, has produced nothing but ugly numbers so far this season, presenting no appealing options for a front office that might be in need of another starting pitcher. Remove Cease and Covey from the list and everyone who’s started a game for the Knights this season has an ERA north of 5.00. Remove Cease, Covey and Justin Nicolino from the list and everyone who’s started more than one game for the Knights this season has an ERA north of 8.00.
Spencer Adams has an 8.00 ERA, Jordan Guerrero has an 8.31 ERA, Jordan Stephens has a 9.48 ERA, and Donn Roach has a 10.25 ERA. Those are not viable options for much more than a spot start.
There’s Ross Detwiler, a 33-year-old pitcher the White Sox just plucked out of independent ball and added to the Triple-A staff. But the 10-year major league veteran has yet to pitch for the Knights and hasn’t started a big league game since 2016.
Carson Fulmer is pitching at Triple-A, too, but the White Sox have spent a year turning him into a reliever. To throw him back into the starting-pitching fire now would seem counterproductive, to say the least, to his development as a potential bullpen piece of the future.
Hahn has hinted that Double-A might produce a pitcher or two who will get a big league chance in 2019, though he likely wasn’t envisioning those chances coming in May. Kyle Kubat has been pitching real well for Birmingham, as have Jimmy Lambert and Bernardo Flores. Those latter two have been viewed as prospects with potential to help the White Sox in the long term, though, and it’d be odd to see a big league need force their arrival from Double-A if such a situation wouldn’t force Cease up from Triple-A. So perhaps the 26-year-old Kubat is a more realistic option, though who knows how realistic.
All this is a very long-winded way of saying that there are no good internal options to fill a hole in the White Sox rotation.
As for outside additions, Hahn didn't have the rosiest outlook Monday.
“We have had some conversations with other clubs about potential fits,” Hahn said, “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.”
Those conversations might need to start happening at a more feverish pace if the White Sox are going to find someone capable of logging some innings and getting some outs at the big league level. Because a look at the internal options doesn’t reveal a pretty picture.