Sox Insider

Sox’ faith in Keuchel rebound vs. potential addition

Sox Insider

There are plenty of reasons to be confident in a Dallas Keuchel bounce back in 2022. And indeed, the Chicago White Sox are confident in such an outcome from the accomplished veteran lefty.

“A year ago this time he was coming in fifth in the Cy Young. Easy to lose sight of that,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said last month during the GM meetings in Southern California. “He struggled in the second half, again, like everyone else dealing with the leap in workload, which may have factored in how he performed down the stretch.

“Don’t wont to lose sight of what he accomplished earlier in his career, as recently as 2020, and as a veteran he knows what he has to work on and there is reason to be optimistic that he can come back and be closer to the guy who was fifth in the Cy Young than the guy we saw (in 2021).”

But Hahn’s front office will have to weigh whether it’s confident enough to hold back on making the sort of starting-pitching acquisition many fans are asking for before the offseason comes to a close.

MORE: Keuchel's motivation at 'all-time high' following sour 2021

Hahn’s confidence isn’t at all misplaced. It’s true that Keuchel just pitched his worst season as a big leaguer, posting a 5.28 ERA and giving up a career-high 25 home runs. He spent one frustrated media session after another explaining that he didn’t feel right, at one point saying he felt like he was on Mars when it came to facing off against left-handed hitters, something he did with great success in his career prior.

And fully aware that he needed a strong finish to make the playoff roster, when things didn’t come together in the regular season’s final month, the White Sox’ highest paid pitcher wasn’t one of the 26 men who dropped three of four games against the Houston Astros — Keuchel’s old mates — in the American League Division Series.

In the “what have you done for me lately” world of Major League Baseball, all that was enough for fans to sour on Keuchel, a guy who just a year earlier had a sub-2.00 ERA and finished in the top five of the AL Cy Young vote.

Keuchel has a history of swinging between excellent seasons and ones that are far less than excellent. A year after winning the Cy Young Award in 2015, his ERA shot up to north of 4.50. A year after helping lead the Astros to a World Series championship in 2017, he gave up more hits than any other pitcher in baseball. And now after turning in a career-best ERA in his first season with the White Sox, he had the worst year of his career.

That fluctuation doesn’t guarantee success in 2022, of course, but it does show that it’s very much possible. Someone who’s accomplished as much as Keuchel has — even in this year to forget, he won a Golf Glove Award — certainly has the knowhow to get back to being the kind of pitcher he’s used to being.

“It’s something that is at all-time high, the motivation is right now,” Keuchel said last month. “I’m being serious with that. I’ve already relayed that to a couple of guys, Rick Hahn and (assistant general manager) Jeremy Haber. That second half was not who I am, and I want to get back to who I am.

“So, I mean, I can talk about it. But I would really like it to be February or March and be able to come out and show everybody.”

While fan impatience with Keuchel’s continued presence on the roster might be textbook overreaction, if the White Sox want to upgrade their rotation, Keuchel could be the odd man out.

Hahn has already made it clear that his front office won’t be making big changes based on the team’s sorry performance in the ALDS, one that featured a quartet of clunkers from what was the best starting rotation in the AL during the regular season. Keuchel, of course, was not part of that effort, which saw no White Sox starter last five innings.

It’s the right tack for Hahn to take, considering the six months’ worth of evidence that led up to those four bad days in October. But a team with its sights on winning the World Series usually takes the opportunity to improve in big ways in the winter, an annual arms race between the game’s contenders that sees big splashes and big additions to the game’s best rosters.

If the opportunity comes along to make a move that makes sense, it will require work to clear a spot on the starting staff. With Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease not going anywhere after strong seasons and Michael Kopech elevated from the bullpen as a part of the long-term planning on the South Side, Keuchel would figure to be the one to be moved in such a hypothetical scenario.

The White Sox have bigger fish to fry than improving an already full rotation — they still lack a second baseman — but the desire to improve, as Hahn often reminds, is omnipresent, meaning you can never rule out any type of move.

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And so, with Hahn’s offseason work on hold during the ongoing lockout, the White Sox have plenty of time to mull an important choice. Does their faith in a Keuchel rebound lock their rotation into place? Or does that desire to improve send them chasing after a starter once the lockout ends?

“We view the rotation as a potential strength going forward,” Hahn said in California. “If there’s a way for us to continue to improve it, we’re going to explore every option to do that.

“Stay tuned.”

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