White Sox focusing on pitching this offseason: ‘We are going to have some additions'


While the rebuilding White Sox are always thinking about their long-term future, there’s an obvious immediate need facing them ahead of the 2019 season.

Michael Kopech’s Tommy John surgery and the recovery that has him slated to miss the entirety of next season created a gaping, unexpected hole in the starting rotation. The departure of James Shields, who figures to be heading to free agency, creates another. While the development of young starting pitchers Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez gives the team confidence in 60 percent of its starting staff heading into this offseason, something’s going to need to be done to fill the other 40 percent.

And Rick Hahn is being very upfront about the fact that the White Sox are going to need to address those holes with outside acquisitions.

“We projected Michael to play a role on the 2019 club and allotted a fair amount of innings to his continued development at the big league level in 2019 which we now have to fill. That very likely will come from outside the organization,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference Wednesday. “Doesn’t change how we view Michael long-term or the role Michael is going to play on what we foresee future championship clubs, but it does have an impact on our needs heading into 2019.”

The internal options just aren’t super attractive for a team that expects to be better than its current 95-loss record with five games to go in 2018. Dylan Covey has thrown 12 shutout innings against the division-champion Cleveland Indians in his last two starts filling in for Kopech. But his 5.06 ERA on the season (it’s 5.38 as a starter) makes it difficult to see the White Sox leaning on him so heavily next season. Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams fit the bill as prospects who could factor into long-term plans should they take advantage of an opportunity. But do the White Sox believe those guys have had enough experience at the Triple-A level?

Of course there are minor league pitchers who figure to play big roles on future White Sox teams — Dylan Cease the most noteworthy among them — but they are not far enough along in their development to be in the plans in the early going of the 2019 season.

So it’s no surprise that Hahn was pretty committal to the White Sox adding arms this offseason.

“From a pitching standpoint we are going to have some additions,” Hahn said, elaborating on the team’s rotation situation. “Talk about those three fellows at the front with Lopez and Giolito and Rodon, and while Dylan Covey has done a very fine job as an option for us going forward, we are going to need some alternatives both in the rotation and the bullpen.

“We are very optimistic about the progress many of our young starters made at the minor league level. As we’ve stated throughout this entire process, nobody is going to get rushed. Just because we foresee a guy like Dylan Cease, let’s say, being a stalwart in a championship rotation in the future, we are going to wait until he’s fully ready to start that process. In the interim, we need to come up with alternatives.”

And that’s just in the rotation. Hahn is seeing the potential for additions to a young bullpen, too. There’s a large group of arms who joined the White Sox relief corps later on in this season and could wind up as relievers on those teams of the future if they pitch well enough. But they’ve collectively had a bumpy go of things in their first tastes of the big leagues, and perhaps the addition of some veterans could help them along.

“You’ve seen some young bullpen arms up here in September,” Hahn said. “We have others in the system that we like and project to have foresee playing a role on a championship club. But from a development standpoint, it might make sense to augment a little bit and let them force the issue on us when they are truly ready.”

So if adding pitching this winter is somewhat of a foregone conclusion, the question then becomes: What kind of pitcher will the White Sox add?

The initial thought might just be that they need a stopgap, a bridge to Kopech and Cease and any other young arms that might reach the big leagues for the beginning of the 2020 season. But Kopech’s case is an interesting one and could affect not just the team’s need for another starting pitcher in 2019 but beyond, as well.

The next time Kopech pitches, he’ll be making just his fifth major league start. The year of big league development that was supposed to come in 2019 has been postponed until 2020. Meanwhile, though, the rest of the rebuild will continue to progress. What happens if the White Sox are ready to transition from rebuilding to contention while Kopech is still going through the to-be-expected growing pains of a first full season in the big leagues?

A pitcher signed this offseason might solve that problem, but it means signing a pitcher to a long-term deal not just a one-year stopgap. Who knows if that’s the way the White Sox want to go, but it would make sense — and perhaps dramatically alter the offseason pitching strategy they had just a month ago.

Hahn was asked Wednesday about making an expensive move — for a pitcher or any other player — this offseason.

“We have, as part of this process, purposely put ourselves in a position where we have a great deal of economic flexibility moving forward,” he said. “And we’ve made no secret that when the time comes for, as we’ve described, more finishing pieces that we knew those were going to have to come via free agency. While we are not yet in a position realistically to be adding so called finishing pieces, we are in a position where we need to be opportunistic with regards to the free-agent market.

“You can’t always control when certain players become available. You can say in 2020 or 2021 we expect to be this and we know we are going to need X. You can’t look at the projected free agents and say that player will be available much less that player will be a White Sox when the time comes. If we see long-term pieces that make sense, in addition to augmenting the pitching or filling certain needs for 2019, I think we have the flexibility to pursue them and we are going to be opportunistic and respond to the market accordingly.”

Free-agent starting pitchers this winter include: Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, Charlie Morton, Chris Tillman, Wade Miley, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hellickson, J.A. Happ, Garrett Richards, Nathan Eovaldi, Tyson Ross and Gio Gonzalez.

And of course there’s Shields, who earned rave reviews for his reliability on the mound and his leadership in the clubhouse. Bringing him back could be an option, too.

It sounds like this offseason will see some moves by the White Sox front office. What remains to be seen is the route they go in plugging those holes in the rotation, decisions that like everything else the team does could impact the future as it does the present.

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