One of the Chicago White Sox' biggest needs this winter is starting pitching. Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, and Michael Kopech are all slated to return to the rotation. However, questions remain as to who will fill out the fifth starter role. This can be addressed internally, through free agency, or trade. Rick Hahn and co. need to identify realistic targets across the board to insulate themselves from inexperience and injury.
The White Sox signed Johnny Cueto to a minor league deal before the start of the 2022 season. It was a move necessitated by an injury to Lance Lynn, who underwent knee surgery just before the season. Cueto and Katz have a relationship going back to their time in San Francisco with the Giants. Katz spoke with reporters Thursday and gave his thoughts on the situation.
Could Johnny Cueto Return?
"We've had conversations about bringing him back that's for sure," said Katz. "I know Johnny really enjoyed his time here. I have a relationship with Johnny, I like Johnny a lot. So I think free agency has to take its course and have to see where, how it plays out. I don't get into the numbers and that kind of stuff so, obviously I would love to have him back. He would love to be back from our conversations."
Cueto stayed healthy through the year and posted the most innings he's thrown since 2016. The 37-year-old posted a 3.35 ERA and 18 quality starts. Chicago will have no such luck in 2023 with Cueto, who will likely seek a multi-year deal in free agency. His 2022 production is far beyond what teams usually receive from a fifth starter.
His return is highly uncertain at this point, so the White Sox will have multiple irons in the fire to find his replacement.
The White Sox can look internally if nothing materializes via trade or free agency.
Katz was asked about the potential of Garrett Crochet as a starter in 2023. Crochet is coming off season-ending Tommy John surgery. The young lefty has made it clear that he wants to be a starter, but Katz stated "starting is not in the cards" for Crochet season.
The 2020 first-round pick may see some short spot starts, but the lion's share of his innings will come in relief.
Davis Martin showed some promise in a strong rookie campaign that ended on a sour note in his final start. Martin made five relief appearances in 2022 but was drafted and ascended Chicago's farm system as a starting pitcher. The downside to Martin is his lack of experience, as the righty has not pitched more than 88 innings since 2019.
Martin will likely be in the fold for the 2023 White Sox. However, it would be prudent for Chicago to acquire a pitcher with a track record of taking the ball every fifth day.
Free agency will be the subject of a lot of speculation and rumors for the Chicago White Sox. Rick Hahn has noted that his team's payroll will stay close to the same level it was in 2022. The payroll currently stands at roughly $160 million, meaning the White Sox can add via free agency. However, it should come as no surprise that Hahn and co. will not be shopping at the top shelf of the market.
Sean Manaea was linked to the White Sox in trade rumors at the end of Spring Training in 2022. It was believed that the asking price was too high for Chicago and Manaea ended up in San Diego. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Manaea was abysmal and turned in the worst year of his career.
When revisiting this idea, the veteran could bring a couple of things to the table for the White Sox. Left-handed pitching is something the Pale Hose have lacked for the last couple of years. As a starter, Manaea hasn't pitched fewer than 158 innings since his rookie campaign in 2016. These are a couple of areas that lacked in 2022 and he is likely in Hahn's price range, but Manaea's 4.96 ERA is concerning.
Jose Quintana is a familiar name to many Sox fans. Quintana broke into the big leagues with the White Sox in 2012 and was a quality left-hander for half a decade. He was selected to the 2016 All-Star game and infamously trade to the Chicago Cubs for Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease the following season.
The Columbian lefty has had his ups and downs since leaving Chicago but proved reliable in 2022. He was traded from Pittsburgh to St. Louis, where he made his final 12 starts and posted a 2.01 ERA. Quintana will likely seek a multi-year deal and, at 34, could land in the White Sox price range.
Taijuan Walker is a right-handed option that should be considered here. Walker has spent the last two seasons with the Mets, turning in 29 starts in each season. He was selected to the All-Star game in 2021 and posted a 3.49 ERA over 157.1 innings in 2022. Mets ownership has the deepest pockets in baseball and may look at the elite free-agent starting pitchers for improvement.
Walker, 30, is a free agent and may have priced himself out of the White Sox spending range with his stellar 2022 campaign. Hahn would improve the pitching staff significantly if he can find a way to add Walker.
Rick Hahn, since the end of the 2022 season, has noted that the trade market may be more fruitful than free agency. The White Sox GM did mention payroll will stay the same and this could indicate that any payroll added will come via a trade.
The rumor mill for the starting pitching market has been relatively quiet thus far. One of the few notable deals thus far has been Tyler Anderson signing with the Los Angeles Angels. Anderson was a free-agent starting pitcher, and thus far the only pitching trades have been for relievers. The White Sox are unlikely to add anything to their overstaffed bullpen.
However, there has been some speculation that closer Liam Hendriks could be moved this offseason to address the team's other needs.
Hendriks is scheduled to make $13 million in 2023 and has an option for 2024. He's been selected to back-to-back All-star games and is considered one of the best closers in the game. The White Sox have invested heavily in a bullpen that underperformed. And with so many other needs, an elite closer may be a luxury they can no longer afford.
Hendriks would garner a lot of interest from multiple contending teams in need of high-leverage arms. But the Sox would need to be creative in how they use the added financial flexibility they would gain if they moved Hendriks.
Nevertheless, the White Sox have been quiet thus far, doing only very light remodeling with their roster. They have been linked to Oakland catcher Sean Murphy, and we should see some players get non-tendered here shortly. There is likely more to come as we approach next month's Winter Meetings. The hot stove is only at a simmer at the moment, but that will change rapidly as teams continue to make under-the-radar moves.