As recently as this morning on the latest episode of the Second City Show (listen below), David Wildman and I discussed Hamels as a "Plan B" if the White Sox were to miss out on Zack Wheeler.
However, as the Major League Baseball hot stove reaches its warmest temperature to date, Cole Hamels is now off of the market, signing a one-year, $18MM deal with the Atlanta Braves.
With Hamels now off of the board, the White Sox must strike now and land Zack Wheeler if they want this 2019-20 offseason to continue to be looked at as a turning-of-the-corner in their rebuilding efforts.
Wheeler, 29, has been largely rumored to be the apple of the White Sox's eye this winter. As recently as last week, the White Sox were the front-runners for his services. But as the Wheeler sweepstakes seemingly come to a head this morning, the Philadelphia Phillies have thrown their hat in the ring and presented themselves as a new potential favorite for the former New York Mets' right-hander.
On Wednesday morning, Buster Olney of ESPN reported that the Phillies were the favorite, and that the White Sox and Reds were still very much in the hunt. The Texas Rangers have now bowed out of the bidding, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News this morning. Additionally, I believe that the Reds are, and should be, more focused on offensive additions this winter.
That leaves the White Sox and Phillies as the final two realistic landing spots if you are keeping score at home.
With Hamels off the board, the Sox can't Miss on Wheeler
This morning's news that Hamels has come off the board makes the signing of Wheeler a must for the Chicago White Sox. Signing Yasmani Grandal last month was a fantastic start to their winter, but by no means can that move be "the" move that defines their offseason.
The White Sox most glaring hole is starting pitching, and with Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg seemingly unlikely at this point, Zack Wheeler is without a doubt the obvious fit at the top of the Chicago rotation heading into 2020 if, in fact, the Sox plan on contending for the American League Central division immediately.
On Tuesday night, Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports wrote a column in which he cited an anonymous source within the Sox front office that indicated the following:
- The White Sox were willing to spend huge on landing Zack Wheeler.
- The White Sox are looking to contend in the central division in 2020.
- The White Sox have at least re-visited discussions surrounding landing Joc Pederson in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
If those first two points are to be taken seriously, there's no way that the White Sox can miss out on Wheeler and continue to pretend that they're realistic contenders in 2020 with a straight face.
With Hamels off the board, the best-remaining starting pitching options behind Wheeler become significantly less attractive and significantly more in the way of bridges between now and next winter or even beyond.
Missing on Wheeler and walking away with a heavily taxed Madison Bumgarner (or worse) puts a ton of pressure on the current White Sox starters to reach their potential or beyond this coming season.
Potential Plan "C's" (or maybe even Plan "D's")
If the White Sox do miss out on Wheeler, here's what the current free-agent starting pitching class looks like in terms of realistic options for the White Sox.
- Dallas Keuchel (32) -- 202 GS, 1,302 IP, 3.67 ERA
- Rick Porcello (31) -- 339 GS, 2,037.1 IP, 4.36 ERA
- Hyun-Jin Ryu (33) -- 125 GS, 740 IP, 2.98 ERA
- Tanner Roark (33) -- 172 GS, 1,100.1 IP, 3.71 ERA
- Alex Wood (29) -- 136 GS, 839 IP, 3.40 ERA
- Madison Bumgarner (30) -- 286 GS, 1,846 IP, 3.13 ERA
Now, there's more -- and you can view the full list here -- but the aforementioned names are whom I consider being the most realistic options for the Sox if they swing and miss on Wheeler.
Bumgarner has the best resume of them all, but he's 30 years old with nearly 2,000 innings under his belt, which is nearly double the workload of the aforementioned Wheeler. Keuchel, like Bumgarner, has a lofty workload and would be a big risk for the Sox with a very limited future ceiling.
Ryu is coming off of a phenomenal year and touts the best cumulative numbers among the bunch, but he's 33 years of age and his innings pitched count above does not include the miles he put on his arm overseas before coming to Major League Baseball.
Porcello is injury-riddled, and as recently as this morning in talks with the Mets, both sides have "mutual interest," according to SNY. I'll take a hard pass on Porcello even if he doesn't end up being the Wheeler replacement in New York.
Tanner Roark and Alex Wood are journeyman starters who have made their rounds and never really been seen as top-of-the-rotation guys, but either could fill a hole near the middle or bottom of the White Sox rotation for the time being.
In the end...
The White Sox have to acquire one -- if not two -- starting pitchers this winter. They absolutely have to do so if they want to elevate their outlook to the next level in 2020.
If they miss on Wheeler, they'll be working with limited options moving forward. Such a scenario will result in overpaying the few remaining front-end guys (Bumgarner, Ryu, or even Keuchel) or settling on strictly back-end guys (everyone else) as stopgap moves.
This winter was supposed to be the one that marked the next chapter in the rebuild. I firmly believe that finishing second on a target like Zack Wheeler over what might amount to $10-20 million over the lifespan of a five-year deal would be proof that the White Sox are not yet ready to do what needs to be done to become a real contender in the AL Central.
Feature Photo: New York Post