White Sox

White Sox biggest roster mystery for Opening Day: Who will round out the starting rotation?

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USA TODAY

White Sox biggest roster mystery for Opening Day: Who will round out the starting rotation?

While projecting the White Sox 2020 roster has become a favorite pastime of South Side baseball fans, finalizing the 2018 roster is a much different exercise.

Most of that group is somewhat locked into place as carryovers from 2017. Welington Castillo, the lone position player added so far this offseason, figures to have brought the everyday lineup into focus, joining Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Yolmer Sanchez on the infield. The outfield looks to shake out like this: Avisail Garcia in right field, Leury Garcia in center field and Nicky Delmonico seeming likely to get the first crack in left field.

Rick Hahn has already added four guys to the mix out in the bullpen: Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Thyago Vieira and Jose Ruiz. They’ll join the likes of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones and Juan Minaya in competing for those relief spots.

Three starting-rotation spots seem set with James Shields, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez all back from last season. And Hahn said at the Winter Meetings that pending any further additions Carson Fulmer would likely be a part of that five-man unit, as well. With Carlos Rodon’s health status up in the air, however, that last spot in the starting rotation is a bit of a mystery.

So here are five guys who might round out the starting rotation:

Carlos Rodon

As referenced, Rodon's return date is unknown at this point as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. According to Hahn both in September and last month at the Winter Meetings, Rodon might be ready by Opening Day or he might not be ready until June. It's yet to be determined when he'll be back on a big league mound.

If Rodon can recover in time for the season-opener, great. The fifth-starter mystery is solved. Not only would that best-case scenario go a long way in alleviating some of the long-term questions about Rodon's health — it’d be much better optically than a second straight year of missing the first two months of the season — but it would give the White Sox the top-of-the-rotation pitcher they think Rodon can be from Day 1 of the season.

Rodon showed flashes of brilliance when healthy last season. He recorded double-digit strikeouts in three of his 12 starts, including an 11-strikeout performance in four innings against the Cubs. And coming off of that game, he posted a 3.00 ERA over his final seven starts before getting shut down with the injury.

But that injury also has the potential to keep him out well into the season. He made his 2017 debut on June 28, and it seems that could repeat itself in 2018. If he’s healthy, he’ll 100-percent be a part of the rotation. But at this point, Rodon being healthy by the start of the season is anything but 100 percent.

Michael Kopech

While the White Sox will likely let Kopech continue to develop at Triple-A Charlotte to start 2018, what if the guy who was baseball’s top pitching prospect at one point last season blows the competition away in spring training? Can he crack the 25-man roster out of camp?

Such a performance wouldn’t necessarily be surprising after the jaw-dropping numbers he put up in the minors last season. In 22 starts with Double-A Birmingham, Kopech turned in a 2.87 ERA and struck out 155 hitters in 119.1 innings of work. He jumped up to Charlotte at season’s end and struck out 17 guys in three starts there.

Though Hahn & Co. surely have a plan in place for Kopech, it’s well within the realm of possibility that the guy who shattered that plan for 2017 could do so again in 2018, have a dynamite spring and make the team.

Heck, it doesn’t sound at all crazy to suggest that Kopech could right now be the best pitcher at any level in the White Sox organization. So why not give him a shot? The answer, of course, is that there’s no rush — both from developmental and financial standpoints. But if he’s good enough, he could force the White Sox to change their timeline, as he's done already since joining the team last winter.

Dylan Covey

The internal options get a little less exciting from here. Covey was not great last season. He posted a 7.71 ERA over his 70 big league innings, obviously not what he and the White Sox wanted in his first year in the majors.

Covey started in 12 of his 18 appearances, but his numbers weren’t drastically different as a starter and a reliever: 7.76 ERA as a starter, 8.04 ERA as a reliever.

Thing is, there's not much else to choose from on the active roster, and if the White Sox head to Glendale with what they've got — and decide to keep Kopech in the minors and Rodon's not healthy yet — Covey seems to be a logical option.

That being said, he might have shown all he can show at this point. In his last four starts of 2017, he was repeatedly tagged for runs by opposing lineups, combining to give up 16 runs in 21 innings for a 6.86 ERA. Even if the White Sox are planning on the bulk of their future rotation to still be developing in the minors this season, performances like that — seen far too often from the likes of Derek Holland and Mike Pelfrey last year — will have damaging effects on the rest of the pitching staff, impacting the bullpen safety net for guys like Giolito and Lopez, who still have some developing to do at the major league level.

Someone else

This seems to be the likeliest option.

The free-agent market has been ridiculously, unbelievably slow this winter, meaning there's been little indication of which guys will be available for the White Sox come the later stages of the offseason. But signing a veteran starting pitcher with the option to trade him later in the season makes too much sense for a rebuilding team like the White Sox. They tried it last year with Holland and Pelfrey, and their performances made midseason trades impossible. Remember, though, that the White Sox did flip Miguel Gonzalez, a move they could make with a veteran starter sometime this summer if everything pans out.

Obviously, with so few free agents signed across baseball, there are tons of options. During the Winter Meetings, I made up a list of 15 guys who fit the bill. Well, only two of those guys, Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo, have signed since. That leaves Clay Buchholz, Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, Scott Feldman, Jaime Garcia, the aforementioned Gonzalez, John Lackey, Francisco Liriano, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Hector Santiago, Chris Tillman and Jason Vargas all available, not to mention plenty of others not on that list.

Like they did with Holland and Pelfrey in 2017, the White Sox could sign a couple veterans, bring them to spring training and insert them into the rotation. The best-case scenario is a strong few months that makes the veteran an attractive trade candidate and could fetch Hahn another piece or two the further the rebuild. The middle-case scenario is the veteran eats up innings, keeping the bullpen healthy enough to support still-developing pitchers like Giolito and Lopez. The worst-case scenario is the veteran pitches like Holland and Pelfrey did last season but does so during a campaign in which the White Sox aren't expected to compete for a championship, keeping the seat warm for one of the many young arms developing in the minor leagues.

Again, going that route seems to make too much sense for the White Sox not to do it. But the winter freeze on the hot stove needs to thaw before we find out who that veteran starter is.

White Sox reportedly 'remain strong factor' in the race for Manny Machado

White Sox reportedly 'remain strong factor' in the race for Manny Machado

The Padres emergence into the Manny Machado sweepstakes has altered the landscape from the White Sox perspective (at least from the outside).

It may have even caused some White Sox fans to lose a bit of hope. Here's Ken Rosenthal to the rescue, reassuring that the White Sox "remain a strong factor" in the chase for Machado's signature.

Is this new? Is this news? The White Sox have been in on Machado since his three-city tour that included the Yankees, Phillies and White Sox back in December so them being a strong factor isn't much of an update.

The fact that the White Sox front office and ownership appear to be aligned in Machado being the first choice ahead of Bryce Harper is relevant. It is also relevant that the Padres and Phillies may "not see it as convincingly." We're still playing in vagaries at this point, but this is more encouraging news than hearing the Padres offering a big amount of money for Machado, adding another very serious suitor to the list.

This update comes after Rick Renteria said "don't be surprised" if Yoan Moncada is the White Sox starting third baseman come Opening Day.

The mixed signals and vague reported updates will continue until Harper and/or Machado pick their destinations. Until then, White Sox fans can take this as a mild bit of positive news.

 

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Rick Renteria says 'don't be surprised' if Yoan Moncada is White Sox third baseman come Opening Day: So what's that mean for Manny Machado?

Rick Renteria says 'don't be surprised' if Yoan Moncada is White Sox third baseman come Opening Day: So what's that mean for Manny Machado?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — That potential position switch for Yoan Moncada isn't so potential at the moment. It's happening.

The guy who started 148 games at second base during his first full season in the big leagues is practicing at third base as the full squad has come together here at Camelback Ranch. That was been mentioned as a possibility throughout the offseason by Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria.

But the skipper took things to another level Monday, saying that it shouldn't be a surprise if Moncada is the White Sox starting third baseman come Opening Day.

"I think we are going to work him over there as much as we can during the spring. And don’t be surprised if you see him there Opening Day," Renteria said. "The reality is the more flexibility we have with him, the more he knows what he can do. He sees himself and has been an excellent third baseman, before we (acquired) him, in the amateur ranks.

"It’s one of those things where we want to be able to see and keep ourselves open to all the possibilities and see if he can handle it. There’s no better time than spring training. He’s been working over the winter on it a little bit. As we see him continue to work, we will be able to make a determination as to where he’s at and how good he might be able to be. We’ll keep working at it."

Now, of course the immediate reaction is what this has to do with the guy who's not here, Manny Machado.

The White Sox are still in pursuit of the 26-year-old free-agent superstar, who still hasn't made up his mind on where he's going to sign despite major league camps being in full swing in both Arizona and Florida. Machado plays on the left side of the infield — a two-time Gold Glover at third who moves to shortstop, his original position, last season — and plenty of fans are jumping to the conclusion on social media that because the White Sox are sliding Moncada to third and prepping for him to be the starter at the hot corner that one of two things is happening: 1. The pursuit of Machado is dead, or 2. Machado insists on playing shortstop after all and it's Tim Anderson who'll be moved.

Here's why neither of those things is the case.

Moncada's move to third base has little, if anything, to do with Machado and a lot more to do with Nick Madrigal, last year's first-round pick who is what the White Sox call a Gold Glove caliber defender up the middle, specifically at second base, where he's played since he joined the organization. Madrigal, who the White Sox described as the best all-around player in college baseball when they drafted him, could move through the system quickly, and when he arrives at the major league level, they want to have a spot for him.

But they want to have a spot for Moncada, too, as they still think highly of his ceiling and what he'll be able to do as a hitter one day, despite the 217 strikeouts and other less-than-ideal numbers posted during his first full season in the bigs in 2018. And so with no obvious long-term answer at third base within the organization, getting Moncada there sooner rather than later could make him more comfortable once Madrigal arrives and once the transition from rebuilding mode to contention mode comes. And that could all happen within the next season or two.

Renteria went as far as saying that a move to third could help Moncada improve both on defense and offense. He made 21 errors at second base last season, one of the highest totals in baseball. For what it's worth, in 31 games at third base as a member of the Boston Red Sox organization (including the Arizona Fall League), Moncada made eight errors.

But the manager thinks a move to third could help him focus in the field and at the plate.

"I think that playing third might allow him to free himself up, simply because he’s going to have to be more focused," he said. "At second base, you can get a little bit more lackadaisical. I think that it’s possible, and there’s no guarantee, that playing third base rounds out his focus a little bit more on both sides of the ball. At least that’s an expectation or a hope we might have.

"I think that his range factor is huge, his arm is good. Understanding the nuances of the game at third, getting reacquainted with it again will be a factor in how well he’ll do. But I think that just allowing him, and then allowing us to use (Yolmer Sanchez) at second base a little bit more gives us a little bit more well-rounded infield."

Most importantly, though, Machado simply isn't here. He might be eventually, but he isn't now. And yet Renteria and the White Sox still have to get ready for the upcoming season. If Machado doesn't come, Moncada would likely be the team's starting third baseman, and this is in preparation of that. If Machado does come, it's not a hard fix: Moncada slides back to second base and Sanchez likely takes a bench role.

Renteria said before SoxFest that Machado told the White Sox he'll play anywhere they ask if this is where he ends up signing. That was important info considering Machado's supposed preference for shortstop. And so Tim Anderson likely stays the everyday shortstop whether Machado signs or not. Moncada is the movable piece, and his return to second base would be easy in the event Machado comes to the South Side.

But Renteria is constructing his everyday lineup with the players he has right now. It's a contingency plan in case Machado goes elsewhere, not a sudden change of strategy because the White Sox have given up hope.

"I think I’ve been saying I can’t worry about who’s not here. I’ve been focused on the guys that are here," Renteria said. "I have to move forward that way. And like any team, anything can happen. You make adjustments as those changes occur, if they occur. Right now, the guys that are in that locker room are the ones that I’m most focused on. And we’re trying to make sense of how our roster will look and how our lineups will look with the guys that we do have."

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