This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.
The White Sox need starting pitching. So why not take a cue from the fine folks at Jewel and think local?
J.A. Happ is an Illinois native and attended Northwestern, and he’s a free-agent starting pitcher coming off a mighty fine season in 2018. Following a midseason trade to the New York Yankees, he posted a 2.59 ERA in 11 starts. While his numbers vastly improved after he left the Toronto Blue Jays, he finished the 2018 campaign with a career-high 193 strikeouts. In addition to last year’s success in the Bronx, he had an ERA under 4.00 in each of the three seasons prior, playing in Toronto in 2016 and 2017 and splitting time between the Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015.
What Happ doesn’t seem to be, however, is a long-term option. He just turned 36 years old, meaning he likely doesn’t align with the White Sox rebuilding timeline and the planned opening of the team’s contention window.
What Happ could do, however, is serve as a bridge (however long) to that future, a future where Michael Kopech is recovered from his Tommy John surgery and Dylan Cease has reached the major leagues. You could certainly do much worse than Happ when it comes to finding a one- or two-year fill-in, and the White Sox were reportedly "working to sign" Happ during last week's GM Meetings in Southern California.
Happ would also serve as a veteran presence and potential mentor for the team’s young pitchers, the kind of role James Shields filled last season. Rick Hahn discussed the importance of that role last week.
“Having someone in there who provides a level of stability for the rotation and dependability every fifth day has some appeal that you would allow young players to go through some of the growing pains that are inevitable in their development,” Hahn said. “Having someone who can play that veteran, mentor role who can help teach guys whether it's from a game prep standpoint ... or any level of alteration with certain pitches, which is where James had the biggest impact in the minors.
“Having a guy who can play that role has appeal. It's not just what a guy can do between the white lines, it's what a guy can do for you in the clubhouse, is part of this equation.”
Happ might not stoke fans’ imaginations in the same way fellow free agents like Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel might. But he’s a more realistic option that would allow the White Sox to continue to develop a homegrown rotation of the future.