Since the end of the 2020 White Sox season, I have frequently repeated that this team needs to limit its uncertainty as we collectively look ahead to 2021. All 26 roster spots are precious and they should be treated as such. This team is no longer in a position to “see what they have” from a developmental standpoint. The measuring stick is a division title, full stop. The roster composition should represent this reality, and it is incumbent upon the organizational leadership to provide as much certainty to new manager, Tony La Russa, as possible.
The December 2nd non-tender deadline is the next milestone in the slow burn that is the MLB offseason. There are several names currently on the White Sox 40-man roster that represent non-tender candidates, but there are two individuals I think should be focused on, in particular.
Simply put, Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez should no longer have spots within this organization. The White Sox have given them more than enough time to prove they deserve to be on the next competitive White Sox team, and both have shown they cannot be relied upon at this juncture.
Rodon and Lopez both came to the White Sox as hyped prospects but they took differing paths. Rodon was the third overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft out of North Carolina State. He was expected to be the third left-handed anchor in a future rotation by complementing Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, who were already enjoying success at 35th/Shields.
Rodon was rushed to the Majors in April of 2015, not even a full year after being selected by the team. Working initially out of the bullpen, he was quickly shifted into the rotation as a means to complete his development, but it never materialized. Inconsistent control and command of his fastball have been a hallmark of Rodon’s tenure. This simple fact has limited his ability to fully utilize his wipeout slider, aside from a change in approach during his abbreviated 2019 season prior to needing Tommy John surgery.
Rodon’s issues were complicated by an inability to develop a consistent third pitch to add to his repertoire. These issues, which are not insignificant for a starting pitcher, were the catalyst for a remarkably underwhelming and mediocre career to this point. In 536.2 IP covering 92 starts with the South Siders, Rodon has pitched to a 4.14 ERA and 4.26 FIP, good for 7.0 fWAR. This is not the type of output you are looking for from a top-three pick, to say the least.
Reynaldo Lopez’s path to the South Side was a drastically different one. He came to the team as the second piece in the December 2016 deal that sent RF Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals. Lopez had already reached the Majors briefly by the time the trade was completed, pitching 44 innings in the nation’s capital. Some prospect analysts at the time of the deal even felt that Lopez was the real headliner of the deal, believing he would surpass the potential of Lucas Giolito.
Despite a few glimpses of dominance and a first half of the 2018 season that was largely smoke and mirrors, Lopez has failed to deliver on his top-100 prospect pedigree. To this point in his career, he has appeared in 92 games total (87 starts) between the Nationals and the White Sox, compiling 490.2 IP, a 4.77 ERA, and 4.89 FIP.
The inconsistency that has plagued Lopez has been maddening on many fronts. Throughout his tenure, he has struggled to make it through four innings only to have his focus called into question on multiple occasions by former manager, Rick Renteria. Each time we were told that he would clamp down and correct the issue, only to see it rear its ugly head again a few starts later.
The most vexing thing about Lopez to observers has been his complete inability to miss bats with consistency despite ranking near the top of the league in terms of average fastball velocity for starting pitchers. Much has been written about his poor spin rates that are believed to be a contributing factor to this issue. Moreover, Lopez’s inability to develop consistent secondary offerings, not too dissimilar from Rodon, has been a huge culprit in his career stalling.
The two mid-20s hurlers were given ample opportunities to this point to show that they belonged in a competitive White Sox rotation. Again, neither was able to grab the bull by the horns and hold down a spot.
Going into 2021, this team will not be afforded the luxury of seeing if Rodon’s elbow is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2019, or if Lopez can find the magical adjustment that will unlock his hidden potential. The time for coddling young players in this organization has passed. If you’re not going to be making a significant contribution to pushing this team towards 90 wins, you simply can’t hold a roster spot.
It’s entirely possible that Carlos Rodon or Reynaldo Lopez could go to another organization and find a way to reach that untapped potential that was believed to always be there. The 2021 White Sox can’t afford to give them any more chances, however. There is too much at stake for this team to have two players who have been mediocre at best occupying valuable roster spots.
It will probably be a very hard pill to swallow for this organization to give up on a #3 overall pick and a key piece of a significant trade, but good organizations know when it’s time to move on from a player that hasn’t realized his potential. The Atlanta Braves of the 1990s were masters at this, and it was one of the reasons why they won 14 consecutive division titles. Did they miss on some players? Of course, but they were right more often than not. That’s really the key to successful organizations, they know when it’s time to move on from a failed prospect.
If the White Sox are to follow through on their stated goal of sustained success in the 2020s, they have to be willing to make difficult decisions. Personally, I don’t think moving on from either Carlos Rodon or Reynaldo Lopez should be difficult. There are better, proven commodities that are available on the free-agent and trade fronts. The White Sox need to beef up their rotation in 2021 and look to provide greater certainty to Tony La Russa. That should be accomplished without Rodon and Lopez.