CARLSBAD, Calif. — The links between the White Sox and big-name free agents keep on coming.
A day after MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported that the South Siders were interested in this offseason's top two free agents, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, he added two more big names to the list of potential targets: starting pitchers Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ.
Sources: #WhiteSox active in starting pitching market, with interest in Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, among others. The reason: Reynaldo Lopez is the only current White Sox pitcher who threw 50+ IP this year with a sub-4.00 ERA. @MLB @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 7, 2018
Much like his reasoning for the White Sox being candidates to land Harper and/or Machado — that they have one of baseball's smallest payrolls and "need a new face of the franchise" — Morosi's reasoning for why the White Sox would be interested in the services of Corbin and/or Happ doesn't make a ton of sense on its own. The innings total of Carlos Rodon and the ERA of Lucas Giolito are not reasons why the White Sox are shopping for starting pitching. Michael Kopech's recovery from Tommy John surgery and James Shields' departure are the reasons the White Sox are in the market for additions to their rotation.
But additions the caliber of Corbin and Happ could have something to do with how the White Sox view their crop of starting pitchers in the long term. In the short term, they need two arms to go every fifth day in 2019. In the long term, though, signing proven starters to multi-year contracts could provide a safety net for Kopech when he returns from recovery and Dylan Cease or Dane Dunning when they eventually hit the major and get their first tastes of big league ball. Having Corbin, for example, at the front end of a rotation could decrease the load that would need to be shouldered by an inexperienced pitcher on a potential contender.
The 29-year-old Corbin is perhaps the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market after Clayton Kershaw opted to skip free agency and reup with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Corbin was an All Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018, finishing the season with a 3.15 ERA and a career-high 246 strikeouts. He's expected to get a big contract (possibly from the New York Yankees) and would line up with a team looking to make a big addition not just for 2019 but for a long time beyond that, for example, when the White Sox plan to field a perennial contender.
Happ, meanwhile, is an Illinois native who attended Northwestern. He just turned 36, meaning he might be more of a short-term option. But he was very good after a midseason trade to the Yankees last season, when he had a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts.
But that's not all. While it's no surprise the rebuilding White Sox are shopping for pitching this winter, it's significantly more unexpected to see them linked to a 38-year-old designated hitter.
Teams on Nelson Cruz: astros, white sox, rays, more— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 6, 2018
Nelson Cruz seems like the opposite of the kind of player the White Sox would be looking to acquire, as he has little versatility (he hasn't played more than five games in the outfield in each of the past two seasons) and would figure to be no part of a long-term plan given his age. Cruz spent the last four seasons with the Seattle Mariners and was incredibly productive for the majority of that time, but his numbers dipped last season, most glaringly with a .256 batting average that was his lowest in more than a decade.
That being said, the White Sox could potentially buy low and hope Cruz returns to form in the first few months of the 2019 season, in which case they might be able to flip him in a rebuild-advancing trade.
But with Rick Hahn talking so much about moves that would improve the White Sox in the long term Tuesday at the GM Meetings, the link to Cruz comes off as a bit of a head-scratcher.