When it comes to adding pitching this offseason, it will be interesting to see where the Chicago White Sox go from here.
They've already made a significant addition to their bullpen, signing Kendall Graveman to a three-year deal following his sensational work with the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros in 2021. But the relief corps figures to require more reinforcements after an exodus that saw Ryan Tepera depart for free agency and Michael Kopech jump to the rotation and could still see Craig Kimbrel dealt.
Then there's the starting staff, which currently boasts a full five-man group. But plenty of fans are hoping for changes there, too, after four consecutive clunkers in the playoffs, many of them hoping there's a way for the White Sox to move on from Dallas Keuchel in the wake of the worst season of his otherwise illustrious career.
But whichever way Rick Hahn & Co. go once the lockout ends and their wintertime work is allowed to resume, they'll have an asset on hand they'll be able to sell to prospective newcomers: pitching coach Ethan Katz.
Katz just wrapped his first year as a big league pitching coach and already boasts some stellar credentials. Prior to even getting the gig with the White Sox last offseason, he helped Lucas Giolito — who he famously coached at Harvard Westlake High School in California, alongside two other current major league aces in Max Fried and Jack Flaherty — turn his career around with their offseason work ahead of the 2019 season. Then, he did the same thing with Carlos Rodón and Dylan Cease in 2021.
All Rodón did was run away with the fifth starter's job in spring training, throw a no-hitter in his second start of the season, represent the White Sox at the All-Star Game and finish fifth in the AL Cy Young vote. Cease, meanwhile, turned a reputation for elite stuff into a reliable mound presence, finally gaining his footing as a big league starter and striking out 226 batters to lead the South Siders and rank seventh in the majors.
Along the way in his first season in the job, Katz earned rave reviews from everyone, from longtime friend Giolito to his new pitching pupils in both the rotation and the bullpen to his Hall-of-Fame manager, Tony La Russa.
"Ethan and the coaching staff were able to implement a lot of things this year that guys were able to take off and run with, and we're looking forward to another year and another opportunity to make sure we improve even more going into next year," White Sox starting pitcher Lance Lynn said last month. "He's not afraid to use the things that make you comfortable, make you do things you're not (comfortable doing). He doesn't have an ego that says you have to do it his way or anything like that. He's willing to help you, no matter what, whatever you need, give you ideas, give you things to be able to bounce things off of.
"So when you have that open line of communication, when there's no ego involved, there's no 'my way or the highway,' it makes it fun to come to work every day and bounce ideas off of each other and see what you can do to be as good as you can. And that's what it's all about."
It's that sort of endorsement from an established hurler like Lynn that should ring throughout the game. Katz was a known quantity before he took the job on the South Side, whether because of his work with major league pitchers or on a major league staff; he was the San Francisco Giants' assistant pitching coach in 2020. But taking control of the White Sox' staff in 2021, he oversaw what was statistically the best rotation in the AL during the regular season.
So no matter what kind of pitcher the White Sox will be looking for once the lockout is over, they can use Katz's presence and the opportunity to work with someone who's had such resounding recent success as a selling point.
"I do think Ethan is a selling point, his reputation throughout the game," Hahn said last month during the GM meetings in Southern California. "Even before he worked for us, he was being contacted by various players around the league and their representatives, asking for his input. He's not alone in that. Other pitching coaches are at that level, I believe, of being solicited for their objective opinions on guys that aren't with their club. But his reputation only grew this year and deservedly so."
Of course, the popular query will be: What type of pitcher will the White Sox chase once they can get back to their offseason shopping?
There are plenty of ways they can go. If trading Kimbrel is on the docket, then adding more heft to the back-end trio of Liam Hendriks, Aaron Bummer and Graveman wouldn't hurt. They would be wise to fortify the rotation in some fashion, with depth pieces behind the seemingly set quintet of Giolito, Lynn, Cease, Keuchel and Kopech. After all, Kopech's minimal workload could raise a need for more than just five starting pitchers over the course of the season. And if they want the kind of upgrade some fans are clamoring for, they could attempt to move Keuchel to clear room for an impact addition to the rotation.
But whether the improvement that the White Sox are seeking for their pitching staff comes from a splashy outside addition, important depth-building moves or strides forward from already employed arms like Ryan Burr, Jimmy Lambert and José Ruiz, it will be Katz's job to deliver.
One year is about as small a sample size as one can get in this job, but Katz delivered, big time, in his first year. Time to see what Year 2 holds — and if he can keep working his magic with whatever the front office gives him.