LAS VEGAS – With Johnny Cueto likely gone in free agency, Lucas Giolito’s level of effectiveness a question mark after his 2022 dud and Michael Kopech still on the path toward establishing himself as a top of the rotation starter, the White Sox essentially have two anchors in the starting five in 2022 Cy Young finalist Dylan Cease and 35-year-old 2021 Cy Young finalist Lance Lynn.
That’s a fine pillar for a crucial segment of the roster, even with Lynn, who posted a 3.99 ERA in 21 starts after missing the first two and a half months following knee surgery, needing to re-establish his footing as he earns $18.5 million in 2023. Cease was the best starter in the AL besides Justin Verlander.
In any event, general manager Rick Hahn has four at this early stage of the offseason and will need to fetch at least one more if contending for the postseason is the goal. Hahn needs a second baseman and outfield help, the most talked about areas of need, but one or two holes in the most vital of areas of the roster demands his full attention, too.
Reynaldo Lopez (2.76 ERA in 2022) and Jimmy Lambert (3.26), who both have starting experience, will stay in the bullpen, Hahn said Tuesday at the GM meetings. Davis Martin, who spot-started nine times to the tune of a 5.48 ERA (4.83 in 14 games), is pegged for a similar role.
As Hahn said, Cueto’s expected departure leaves a void.
“Finding a way to fill that would be good,” Hahn said. “Now, Martin’s an option so it’s not an emergency by any stretch, but no one is ever going to feel comfortable that they have enough pitching.”
Indeed. The Sox would be looking for a back-end type, presumably a better addition than Vince Velasquez turned out to be for $3 million last season even if Cueto were under contract.
Left-hander Garrett Crochet will have a plan mapped out for him to become a starter but he is coming off Tommy John surgery and will pitch out of the bullpen when ready this season.
Kopech, 5-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 25 starts, pitched through knee problems and should report to spring training at 100 percent with substantial upside in his pocket.
Giolito, 11-9 with a 4.90 ERA in 30 starts, will be paid around $10.8 million per FanGraphs calculations in his last season before free agency, so there’s motivation, not that the former All-Star and Opening Day starter needs it. Hahn is “optimistic” Giolito, with help from pitching coach Ethan Katz, will revert to his past form.
“Expect him coming to camp ready to go,” Hahn said.
“If there’s one guy you know is going to work on it, and work diligently and methodically with a plan, it’s Lucas.”
Hahn reiterated this week that trades are the more likely avenue of improving the roster, but he also said he expected payroll to be similar to the $196 million of 2022, which allows for more than $30 million to be added.
The top of the free agent class is likely too pricey for the Sox, who don’t shop for starting pitching in the Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodon, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Jameson Taillon aisles. Perhaps Taijuan Walker, Jose Quintana, Ross Stripling, Tyler Anderson are deemed affordable.
Perhaps Hahn will pull off a trade or two that would capture bigger headlines than a free-agent signing. He has plenty of trade capital at his disposal with no one viewed as untouchable should the right deal present himself.
NOTES: Scot Boras, asked at the meeting if he was set on bringing new client Dylan Cease to free agency in 2025, reminded that his client Stephen Strasburg signed an extension with the Nationals in 2016 before becoming a free agent. ”Our job is to just listen, take information, and then we transfer that to Dylan and see what he wants,” Boras said.
*ESPN will televise 2023 MLB Opening Night on March 30 featuring the White Sox against the World Series champion Astros in Houston at 6 p.m. CT.
*James Boscardin, a team physician from 1981-2003, has died, the Sox said.