White Sox

State of the White Sox: Starting pitching

State of the White Sox: Starting pitching

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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to starting pitching.

What happened in 2019

To this point, this series has addressed what happened with one player. Moving on to the entire rotation, it’s obviously a little less cut and dry.

On one hand, Lucas Giolito was perhaps the best South Side story of the season. After allowing more earned runs than any other pitcher in baseball and leading the American League in walks during his first full season in the majors, Giolito spent the offseason making mechanical adjustments and revamping his mental approach.

That work paid off in extraordinary fashion, as he transformed into a completely different pitcher, named to the All-Star team and becoming the ace of the staff. He’ll finish somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote after turning in a 3.41 ERA with a whopping 228 strikeouts — a total reached by just two other pitchers in team history. His season was highlighted by a pair of complete-game shutouts against the 100-win Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins, shutting down both playoff teams on their home turf.

In summary, Giolito went from a guy who we didn’t know where he fit into the White Sox long-term rotation to the guy leading it.

The rest of the starting staff didn’t experience the same good fortune.

There was certainly other good news, chiefly in the form of Dylan Cease’s arrival to the major leagues. Past his simple presence, however, Cease experienced the same kind of growing pains that Giolito and Yoan Moncada did in their first extended tastes of the big leagues. In 14 starts, Cease’s ERA was a rather large 6.29. He experienced routine trouble early in games before straightening out, and he did have his flashes of brilliance, like when he struck out 11 Cleveland Indians in early September.

Reynaldo Lopez could hardly describe 2019 as a good year, ending it with an ERA of 5.38, narrowly escaping the same distinction Giolito had in 2018, when he was the qualified pitcher with the highest ERA in the game. His first half was particularly nasty, with that ERA at 6.34 at the All-Star break, but while a strong stretch to start the second half showed tons of promise, Lopez returned to his prolonged bouts of inconsistency, dominating an opponent in one start only to get shelled the next time out. By season’s end, even optimistic manager Rick Renteria admitted he didn’t know what he was going to get from Lopez in a given start, troubling to be sure.

But despite the long-term focuses on Giolito, Cease and Lopez, the 2019 season, from the standpoint of the starting rotation, will likely remain infamous for its mostly ineffective pieces that were trotted out with alarming frequency following Carlos Rodon going down for the year with Tommy John surgery. The likes of Ervin Santana, Odrisamer Despaigne, Manny Banuelos, Dylan Covey, Ross Detwiler and Hector Santiago were routinely pummeled by opposing lineups, exposing a lack of major league ready starting-pitching depth in the White Sox organization. South Side starters — including the positive efforts of Giolito and Ivan Nova, who was increasingly reliable as the season went on — finished with a 5.30 ERA. Only six teams had a higher ERA by season’s end.

In the minor leagues, the bag was also mixed. Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all spent the season in recovery mode from Tommy John surgery, contributing to that dearth of depth near the top of the system. But Jonathan Stiever broke out as a prospect worth watching, posting a 2.15 ERA in his 12 starts following a promotion to Class A Winston-Salem, striking out 77 batters in 71 innings.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have perhaps nothing higher on their offseason to-do list than starting pitching, not surprising after the team wore that aforementioned depth bare early in the 2019 campaign.

General manager Rick Hahn laid out his front office’s plans during his end-of-season press conference last month, projecting that Giolito, Cease and Lopez will all be part of the team’s rotation next season. Kopech is expected to join them, though there’s a chance the team starts him in the minor leagues if spring training isn’t enough to get him ready for Opening Day. Rodon, Dunning and Lambert will all finish their own recoveries over the course of 2020, but they won’t be able to account for spots in the rotation when the team leaves Glendale, Arizona.

“We're very pleased, going into the offseason, projecting out Giolito, Cease and Lopez as part of that rotation, but that leaves a couple spots,” Hahn said. “Obviously, Michael Kopech's coming back from injury, Carlos Rodon at some point next year, at some point next year Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert. But it still leaves the opportunity to solidify that rotation either through free agency or trade, and that will likely be a priority in the coming months.”

The offseason is likely setting up for the White Sox to add a couple arms to the starting-pitching mix. As for exactly what kind of arms they’ll be shopping for, that remains a mystery. There are needs in various areas that Hahn would surely like to address, both pairing an impact arm with Giolito at the top of the rotation and providing the kind of depth that would prevent a repeat of this year’s misfortunes.

All eyes will instantly dart to the top of what could be a pretty loaded free-agent market from a starting-pitching standpoint. Gerrit Cole, who’s currently carving up every lineup that comes his way in the postseason, will be the No. 1 name there and could command the richest pitching contract in baseball history. But he’s not alone, with World Series winners Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel available, as well. One of the best pitchers in the National League, Hyun-Jin Ryu, will be out there, along with one of the New York Mets’ young guns in Zack Wheeler and an All-Star pitcher in Jake Odorizzi from the Minnesota Twins. And then there’s the possibility of Stephen Strasburg opting out of his deal with the Washington Nationals and becoming a free agent.

So if Hahn & Co. are aiming to add a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, there will be opportunities to do so. Likewise, there will be opportunities to add pieces elsewhere in the rotation. Examples include Rich Hill, Cole Hamels, Michael Wacha, Kyle Gibson, Alex Wood, Wade Miley, and perhaps the likes of Jose Quintana and Chris Archer.

One thing for sure: Hahn will be busy looking for starting pitching this offseason.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

Obviously we don’t know exactly what the rotation will look like, but there will be plenty of questions that need answering.

Will Giolito’s transformation be permanent? Will Cease be able to pull off a Giolito-esque winter and take a huge step toward reaching his high ceiling? What will Kopech look like on the other side of Tommy John surgery, and will he have to endure the same growing pains his teammates did as they found their big league footing?

But there might be no bigger mystery than what Lopez will do — and exactly how much opportunity he’ll have to do it. Hahn signaled that the White Sox still plan to have Lopez as part of the 2020 rotation. But how does he fit in this puzzle? Giolito and Cease have spots locked down, and Kopech will pitch out of the rotation for much of the year, one would figure. If the White Sox make two additions to the starting staff this winter, what kind of room does that leave for Lopez?

And even if Lopez gets his shot at sticking in the starting five, how long can the White Sox afford to put up with any continued inconsistencies in a season they hope can feature the transition from rebuilding to contending?

“He's still a young kid, and there's still going to be development at the big league level,” Hahn said. “We've talked about this for years, that unfortunately it's not always linear. Sometimes these guys don't climb progressively with each and every start or each and every month. There's setbacks and there needs to be adjustments, not just from the mechanical side, which is probably what plagued Lopey more than anything in the first half, but sometimes from the approach and preparation side.

“He's learning. And this experience, I think, is going to be good for him. ... Lopey's going to be better for it, and you're going to see not only the improvement in terms of the mechanical adjustments that we made and you've seen over the course of the second half, but also from the approach. I think it's been a positive year for him, even if the results haven't been what anyone, including him, were looking for.

“At this time, as we sit here right now, we continue to remain very bullish on Reynaldo Lopez in the rotation. He's got the stuff, he's got the ability. We just need to see more consistency.”

Then there’s how Rodon, Dunning and Lambert could factor into things. Rodon is entering his final two years of team control with the White Sox and will only pitch, at maximum, in a year and a half of those. But will there even be room in the rotation for him upon his return from Tommy John? Hahn said Dunning might’ve been a part of the 2019 Opening Day rotation if not for his injury.

And all of that is before even knowing who the additions from outside the organization will be and how long those pitchers end up factoring into the White Sox plans.

It’s going to be a very interesting season from a starting-pitching standpoint, one in which some of the team’s long-term questions at the position should be answered.

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From baseball to stem cells, White Sox voice Ed Farmer had a story for everyone

NBC Sports Chicago

From baseball to stem cells, White Sox voice Ed Farmer had a story for everyone

Ed Farmer caught me completely off guard on a June afternoon at the ballpark.

“Last week I was studying stem cells at Harvard,” he said.

Excuse me?

I think that was my actual response.

Sometimes you didn’t know if Farmer was messing with you, but this time, he had a serious look on his face. He really was at Harvard looking at stem cells during a three-game series in Boston.

The White Sox broadcaster was the most interesting man I’ve ever met. He had an amazing ability to tell you a fascinating story on Monday and easily top it on Tuesday. He loved to talk. He loved his job. And he held onto the radio booth until he absolutely couldn’t. Sadly, Farmer passed away Wednesday night. He was 70.

I had the pleasure of working with Farmer in two different radio gigs over the last 11 years. The first was as a producer at 670 The Score, when I primarily worked in the studio during White Sox broadcasts, not at the ballpark. But Farmer genuinely cared who was helping with the broadcast and made a point of mentioning each producer and engineer by name multiple times during every game.

And when you made it out to the ballpark, he made you feel at home in the radio booth. I once brought my father up to the booth on his birthday. I was young and didn’t even know if it was allowed. Farmer talked to my dad like they had known each other for 40 years.

Years later, when I was hosting White Sox pre- and post-game shows on WGN Radio, I brought my son to a game. Farmer immediately directed him to the open chair next to him and my son sat between he and radio analyst Darrin Jackson for the entire half inning.

I came to realize over the years that Farmer’s hospitality was constant. It was common to walk into the booth in the fifth inning and weave your way through 10 people just to get to Ed and D.J. There was always food on the back table, usually some pastries or cake that Farmer had some connection to. And there was grape soda in the refrigerator that was pretty much the only thing off limits. I learned the hard way.

Farmer always had a story. He’d tell you about how Jerry Krause signed him or about some random fight he got into as a player. When I limped into the booth last April with a giant knee brace because of a pickup basketball game, I heard all about Farmer’s illustrious high school basketball career. I can’t verify it, but it sure sounded like he was a better basketball player than baseball player. We had a Catholic League connection/rivalry. He went to St. Rita. I went to St. Ignatius. Somehow, it always connected to Notre Dame.

Farmer had an amazing ability to start a story off the air in between innings and continue it up until the absolute last second he had to put his headset back on. He’d call three outs over however many minutes it took, and when that half inning was over, he’d put the headset down and continue the story like he had never been interrupted.

But Farmer also deeply cared about the broadcast. He’d spend hours before games telling stories, but he always had one eye on his scorebook, completely ready to take the microphone 10 minutes before first pitch. I got on his bad side once last season when my pre-game show ran long on a particularly newsy day at Guaranteed Rate Field. It didn’t matter. Clock discipline. Farmer held me accountable for being late.

Like any broadcaster with an ego, I was a little annoyed, but a few weeks later I learned Farmer hadn’t been feeling well. I was surprised because he was battling through it so well. He was still welcoming people to the booth – albeit maybe fewer than usual – and gutting his way through long days at the ballpark.

Farmer’s health issues have been well documented. He was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 1990 at the age of 40. He was in renal failure and would have died had his brother, Tom, not donated one of his kidneys. Farmer was never afraid to talk about it. In fact, it was so important to him that he would often go back to Harvard, where his transplant was performed, and talk to patients.

Which brings us back to the stem cells. Farmer wasn’t a doctor, but he did want to go into medicine before choosing baseball. After his transplant, he was determined to learn everything he could about kidney disease. If you talked to him about it, he could easily make you think he was a doctor. And that’s why every short trip to Boston to play the Red Sox meant time spent at Harvard.

After 11 years in Major League Baseball as a player and three as a scout, Farmer called White Sox games on the radio for 28 years. And he would have done it for many more.

The radio booth at Guaranteed Rate Field was his home. And whenever baseball starts up again, that booth will be missing its dear friend Ed Farmer.

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White Sox pitcher and radio broadcaster Ed Farmer passes away

White Sox

White Sox pitcher and radio broadcaster Ed Farmer passes away

The Chicago White Sox are feeling the loss of one of their dearest family members.

Ed Farmer passed away Wednesday night.  The former White Sox pitcher and longtime radio broadcaster was 70.

Born in Evergreen Park on October 18, 1949, the second oldest of nine children, Farmer went to his first White Sox game at old Comiskey Park when he was five.  It was at that game when he told his mother, “Someday I’m going to play here.”

Two decades later, the South Sider not only fulfilled his childhood dream by playing for the White Sox, he’d also make the 1980 All-Star team, pitching two-thirds of an inning at Dodgers Stadium. Those two outs came on one pitch.  Farmer got Pete Rose to hit into a double play.

Farmer set career-highs in saves (30) and wins (7) that season.  He’d pitch 11 years in the majors, three with the White Sox (1979-81).

Although he’d go onto call White Sox games after his playing days were over, Farmer actually had trouble speaking as a child.  He struggled to pronounce words.

“Baseball was a way for me to break through that barrier and have people notice me,” Farmer said in an interview with SoxTV in 2019

When Farmer was a star pitcher at St. Rita High School, he caught the eye of a scout for the Cleveland Indians.  His name was Jerry Krause, the same Krause who’d later win six NBA championships as the general manager of the Bulls in the 1990s.   The Indians drafted Farmer out of high school. Krause eventually became a scout for the White Sox and played a big role in the club acquiring Farmer from the Texas Rangers in 1979, bringing him back to his hometown.

The ties that bind not only shaped Farmer’s life, they would also extend it.

In 1990, Farmer learned that he would die without a kidney transplant. He called his brother Tom to share the bad news.  Almost immediately, Tom offered his brother his kidney. It turned out to be a perfect match.

“It saved my life,” Farmer said.

In 1991, Farmer was back with the White Sox.  This time in the radio booth, calling games with play-by-play man John Rooney.  Darrin Jackson became Farmer’s radio partner in 2009.

While Hawk Harrelson famously cheered in the booth for the White Sox, Farmer was equally as homerish, and wasn’t afraid to admit it.

“We want to win.  You can hear it in my voice,” Farmer once said.

“I’m here to do one job. Do the broadcast, call a White Sox winner, hopefully get to the playoffs and World Series again because I’m a huge White Sox fan as well.”

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