White Sox

With young arms dealing, Reynaldo Lopez sets high expectations for White Sox rotation in 2020

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USA TODAY

With young arms dealing, Reynaldo Lopez sets high expectations for White Sox rotation in 2020

The White Sox starting rotation of the future won’t be complete until Michael Kopech returns from Tommy John surgery. It won’t be complete until Rick Hahn’s front office is done shopping this winter.

But what the team’s young pitchers, the ones throwing right now at the major league level, have done of late has to have everyone feeling good about the starting staff’s prospects in 2020.

Lucas Giolito called his most recent outing, a shutout of the high-powered Minnesota Twins, the “best I’ve ever felt pitching in my life.” Dylan Cease settled down nicely after some early struggles against the Texas Rangers on Friday and called his performance the best he’s had as a big leaguer. Reynaldo Lopez had to leave Sunday’s outing after just five innings, his days-old sickness a little too much to handle, but he didn’t allow a single hit before his departure.

All in all — and that includes recent strong showings from veterans Ivan Nova and Ross Detwiler, too — the rotation has a 2.09 ERA in the last seven games, five of which have ended in White Sox victories.

“We’re excited,” Lopez said through team interpreter Billy Russo after Sunday’s game. “This is a very, very exciting moment for all of us and for the organization.

“I think the expectations that you can have right now and that we have right now for the future are really, really high because we all know what we’re capable of doing. And if we’re just doing it right now, then it’s going to be just part of the process, just continuing doing what we’re doing right now.

“The learning process for all of us, for the young guys, has been outstanding. I think all of us have been learning a lot outing by outing and just putting those lessons on the field, too. It’s not just learning and, ‘OK, yes, learning this today and going to apply it in a week.’ No, you need to apply it right away and we’ve been doing that.

“I think you can see the results and for us as a group, it’s a very good moment.”

To those not so sure, there are perfectly valid reasons to be skeptical about the makeup of the 2020 rotation.

Lopez has been terrific since the All-Star break, his second-half ERA down to 2.82 after the five scoreless innings Sunday, but that doesn’t erase the woeful 6.34 number he had in the first half.

Cease has shown what everyone, including manager Rick Renteria, calls “electric stuff,” but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s got a 5.76 ERA and has allowed a homer in all nine starts he’s made since his promotion.

Giolito has been an ace but will have to show that his transformation from the guy who gave up more earned runs than any pitcher in baseball in 2018 into an All Star is permanent.

Kopech’s next start will be just his fifth as a big leaguer and will come, at the earliest, nearly 19 months after his fourth. And while the White Sox remain confident, there’s no telling, until we see him in action, what kind of pitcher he is following the surgery.

And though Hahn has pledged aggressiveness this offseason, we don’t know what kind of pitcher the White Sox will be able to add this winter.

But all that can be effectively countered by what’s happening right now before our eyes.

“They continue to mature, grow, learn,” Renteria said. “It's not necessarily the outcomes, even though you want those good outcomes to occur. It's what they're feeling in terms of what they believe they're capable of doing in certain moments. They're starting to trust themselves a little bit more and able to execute and get through games.”

No matter what the White Sox front office does this offseason, it figures to have four 2020 rotation spots spoken for: Giolito, Lopez, Cease and Kopech. That’s 80 percent of a rotation made up of homegrown arms, or if you’re a stickler on the definition of “homegrown,” guys acquired in those rebuild-jumpstarting trades in 2016 and 2017.

With Giolito and Lopez dealing of late and Cease getting positive reviews while going through his learning process in his first taste of the major leagues, Lopez’s words ring true. There should be excitement and high expectations for next season. These young arms and what they’re doing right now, not hypothetically but in reality, is part of what makes a transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020 look possible.

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White Sox free agent focus: Deja vu with Dallas Keuchel

White Sox free agent focus: Deja vu with Dallas Keuchel

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Dallas Keuchel, LH SP, Braves

Age: 31

2019 salary: $13,000,000

2019 stats: 112.2 IP, 3.75 ERA, 91 K, 39 BB, 115 hits (16 HR)

What Keuchel would bring to the White Sox

Among the marquee free-agent starting pitchers this offseason, Keuchel is the only Cy Young award winner (Rick Porcello is a Cy Young winner and a free agent, but is not marquee). That was back in 2015 and Keuchel will be 32 on New Year's Day. Can he still be that pitcher?

When Keuchel hit free agency last offseason, baseball front offices showed they didn't think so. Keuchel and agent Scott Boras didn't get the big deal they wanted. Instead, he signed a one-year, $13 million deal on June 7.

In 19 starts with the Braves, Keuchel was solid. His 3.75 ERA was almost the same as the 3.74 ERA from the year before and his strikeout rate ticked up from 2018. On the flipside his walks and home runs were the highest they'd been since his rookie year.

The sinkerballer isn't a frontline starter like he was in 2014, 2015 and 2017 when he was with Houston. Still, he has been an above average starting pitcher the last two seasons. Further regression is the concern, but he would be a significant upgrade in the middle of the White Sox rotation.

What it would take to get him

Keuchel is likely to be one of the weirder pitchers in free agency because of what happened to him last year. When he was a year younger, teams didn't want to commit to him on a big contract.

He could be quicker to sign this time around and is more likely to take a multi-year deal instead of another one-year deal that puts him back in free agency at 33. His $13 million contract with the Braves was prorated, meaning he was worth north of $20 million.

Don't expect Keuchel to get $20 million on a multi-year deal, but he could be in the mid-teens over three or four years.

Why it makes sense for the White Sox

Keuchel won't price himself out of the White Sox's range and he fills a big need. The White Sox don't necessarily need aces like Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, but they do need experience and depth in the starting rotation. Keuchel brings both.

The risk is that Keuchel slips a bit in performance and becomes a league-average pitcher sooner rather than later. He doesn't rack up many strikeouts and his increased home run rate is a red flag when entertaining the thought of a pitcher having home games at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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White Sox free agent focus: Targeting playoff experience with Madison Bumgarner

White Sox free agent focus: Targeting playoff experience with Madison Bumgarner

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Madison Bumgarner, LH SP, Giants

Age: 30

2019 salary: $12,000,000

2019 stats: 207.2 IP, 3.90 ERA, 203 K, 43 BB, 191 hits (30 HR)

What Bumgarner would bring to the White Sox

Perhaps the most accomplished playoff pitcher of all time. In Bumgarner's 11 years with the Giants he was a massive part of their even year success this decade. He won three rings with the Giants (2010, 2012, 2014), including a World Series MVP in 2014. He did all that before his 26th birthday.

In his career, Bumgarner has a 2.11 ERA in 102.1 playoff innings with an 8-3 record. He has three playoff shutouts in 14 playoff starts. Oh, and he has a 0.25 ERA in the World Series in 36 innings. One run in 36 innings in the World Series.

All that playoff success is where Bumgarner made his name and he did so at such a young age (his MLB debut came just over a month after he turned 20) that it's easy to forget that he's still just 30 and should have plenty of years left.

How many 30-year-olds who appear to be locks for the Hall of Fame have ever been available in free agency? For all the hype Bryce Harper and Manny Machado had in free agency last year for being young, elite talents, neither had anywhere near the career accomplishments of Bumgarner.

The counterpoint to that is that Bumgarner has a lot of mileage on his arm. He has thrown 1948.1 innings combined in the regular season and playoffs. He has thrown at least 111 innings in each of the past 10 seasons with seven 200-inning seasons. Bumgarner was one of 15 pitchers to surpass 200 innings this past season.

His performance has slipped a bit in his past three years after posting ERAs under 3.00 from 2013-2016. Still, he has been an above average pitcher. Last year's 3.90 ERA was the lowest ERA+ of his career at 107, which still rates as above average.

Bumgarner would bring an experienced, solid pitcher to the staff. He likely wouldn't be a franchise-changer like Gerrit Cole could be wherever he goes, but Bumgarner is likely to be a dependable option. Plus, no team wants to go against him in the playoffs.

What it would take to get him

The Giants signed Bumgarner to a six-year deal worth $35.56 million early in the 2012 season. That bought out some of his arbitration years and early free agency years. The Giants picked up contract options each of the last two seasons for $12 million. This is the first time he's hitting free agency.

Given his track record and proven dependability, Bumgarner could get around $20 million per year over multiple years in a quickly escalating pitching market. That means the White Sox would have to give him a record-setting deal for the club.

Why it makes sense for the White Sox

Bumgarner isn't going to require the record-setting money that Cole and Stephen Strasburg are expecting to get. That means the White Sox should be able to be in on the negotiations.

The flip side is that there will be plenty of competition. Who doesn't want arguably the best postseason pitcher ever at age 30 who has been nothing but consistent in his career?

The White Sox haven't been mentioned much in rumors around Bumgarner, but he would add experience and reliability to the rotation.

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