NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Say this for the White Sox. They stayed alert and made news by actually signing a free agent at the sleepy Winter Meetings that concluded Wednesday.
The Sox also picked a player in the Rule 5 Draft, and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf created a stir by visiting Nashville mayor Freddie O’Connell. And Sox pitcher Dylan Cease was one of the most talked-about trade chips.
That’s more commotion than most teams caused this week, by far.
Not that Erick Fedde is a made-for-headline-news name. He was somewhat forgotten while he was pitching in Korea last season, but he performed well enough — he was the MVP of the KBO — to earn a $15 million, two-year contract from the Sox.
And as the free agent and trade markets slumbered and waited for megastar free agent Shohei Ohtani to select a team, the Sox, desperate for starting pitching, outbid numerous teams for Fedde, 30.
“I know a lot of people are disappointed more business would have been conducted here around the league,” general manager Chris Getz said before leaving the Music City. “But we’re still moving the needle.”
And Fedde’s awakening after his struggles with the Washington Nationals is worthy of optimism. He altered his arm slot, converted his slider to a sweeper, tweaked his changeup grip and improved his command considerably, helping him post a 20-6 record and 2.00 ERA with an extraordinary 70% ground ball rate in Korea.
“Most importantly, it was his pitch arsenal,” Getz said. “There’s some real material differences with his stuff. He added the sweeper, he got a better feel for his sinker, he changed his attack plan. And he more or less dominated over in the KBO.”
The Sox liked how Fedde handled the challenges of making necessary changes and performing in a new country, playing in front of exuberant fans.
“It’s never easy,” Getz said. “So he’s got a lot of confidence. We see a difference in his stuff. And for him to come back here, with that level of confidence and the ability, which is a difference from where it was before, we’re willing to take that bet.”
Fedde’s acquisition doesn’t mean Getz is done shopping for pitching. He’s dangling right-hander Dylan Cease (and asking for a lot) as he looks to shape the future after the team’s last two dreadful, disappointing seasons. And if Cease is gone, that leaves Michael Kopech and Fedde looking like the best starters going into the Christmas season.
Starting pitching “remains a high priority,” Getz said.
“We’ve got some innings to cover, and we’re going to try to go out there to get the best pitchers we can within the means that we have.”
Getz’ asking price for Cease is hefty — he’s looking for multiple top prospects. Which shouldn’t have come to the surprise of other GMs.
“I don’t know if the message needed to be put out there, quite honestly, just because everyone knows how impactful Dylan Cease is in this league,” Getz said. “But you have a certain threshold as an organization on a return on someone like Dylan Cease. And if there’s an opportunity to strengthen our club and plug some holes, which we need to do and continue to look for opportunities to do that, we have to consider it.”
Getz hasn’t talked to Cease of late but pitching coach Ethan Katz, senior advisor to pitching Brian Bannister and conditioning staff have.
“I know he’s been reading his name in there, and that at times can be a little bit different feeling,” Getz said. “He’s been traded before, but he’s at a different stage in his career. Dylan has really grown up, and he knows how I feel about him, he knows how the organization feels about him. He’s one of the stars in our game, and we’ve really enjoyed having him. There’s certainly a chance he’s back with us, and we’d feel pretty good about that, too.”