Baseball

Now we come to (at least statistically speaking) the #3 spot in the Sox rotation and the 4th most exciting off-season signing: Gio Gonzalez. Part of me wonders whether he will ever actually take the mound for the Sox, considering this is technically his 3rd go around with the team and he’s yet to throw a single pitch for them.

The Sox drafted Gonzalez 38th overall in the 2004 draft with a supplemental pick from the Yankees. He lasted in the system a whole year before the Sox sent him to the Phillies for Jim Thome, then got him back from the Phillies with Gavin Floyd in 2006 when they sent the corpse of Freddy Garcia out East. He made it to the AAA level before Kenny Williams in his infinite wisdom sent Gonzalez out to Oakland for the human knock knock joke known as Nick Swisher (vomit emoji). Once he finally made the bigs he carved out a nice career for himself as the 3rd starter for both Oakland and the Nats, averaging around 165 innings a year and about 180ish strikeouts. He ended up with the Brewers in 2018 and spent the better part of 2 seasons there as their 4th-ish starter.

Gonzalez has always been a very solid strike thrower in his career, but recently he’s had some trouble staying on the mound. Last season Craig Counsell and the Brew Crew were able to manage his innings pretty well (mostly because their bullpen was fucking nails), but will the Sox have the same luck? Let’s dive in.

 

2019 Stats

Games Started: 17

Record: 3-2

3.50 ERA 1.29 WHIP

78 K  37 BB  9 HR

8.04 K/9  4.04 FIP

 

Last Week On Nitro: The first thing that jumps out at you looking at Gonzalez’ stat line from last season is…there’s not much of it. 17 starts? 3 Wins? Only 78 Ks? What did the Sox pay for? Well (at least this time) the stats don’t tell the whole story. Gio didn’t start a game for the Brewers until the last week of April (which if that happened this year it would be a blessing, but I digress), and then missed pretty much all of June and July with a dead arm. He came back off the DL on the 20th of July, and surprisingly rounded back into formpretty

When he was on the mound last year he very rarely pitched more than 5 innings, with his longest outing coming on July 26th against the Cubs (a whopping 6.1 innings). Most of this is due to what was mentioned above, namely the fact that he wasn’t needed after the 5th inning thanks to the Brewers bullpen being such an unholy terror. Combine that with Craig Counsell’s (correct) thinking that the best way to get the most out of Gonzalez was to manage his innings, especially coming off something called “dead arm” and you can see why his numbers are so far off his career averages.

When he was on the mound, Gio was pretty effective. His 4 seamer could still occasionally touch 92, combined with the movement on his 2 seam fastball and curveball still got the swinging strikes. Oh, and his changeup against righties wasn’t too shabby either.

I don’t care what anyone says, those Brewers unis are hot fire.

The knock on Gonzalez has always been his occasional bouts of wildness, which last year’s 3.81 BB/9 stat showed pretty clearly. He also saw a jump in his HR/9 which was the 2nd highest in his career in 2019. All told, however, he was a pretty valuable piece to the puzzle for the Brewers last year and by then end of the 2020 season he should hopefully be slotted where he belongs in the Sox rotation at #5.

Too Sweet! (WHOOP WHOOP): Best case for Gio Gonzalez in a Sox uniform is he dials the clock back a few years to when he was averaging around 170 strikouts per year with an ERA in the mid 3’s and a FIP to match. If this version of Gonzalez shows up, the $5 million the Sox committed to him this year will look like a steal. Doubly so if Michael Kopech comes back hurling holy fire upon his enemies and Rick Renteria can manage his (Gio’s) innings appropriately.

If the season doesn’t start until mid June (which right now is looking hopeful at best), Gonzalez can come out firing his best bullets since his workload will have been managed indirectly by the Pandemic. A 3.50 ERA and 99 Ks in half a season from the Sox 5.5th starter will be nothing short of a win for Rick Hahn and have the Sox in the position they need to be rotation-wise to contend for the AL Central.

You Fucked Up! You Fucked Up!: Worst case scenario here is one of two things: Gonzalez can’t stay healthy, forcing the Sox back into a “5th starter by committee” role resulting in a loss every 5th day, or his tendency for wildness and change in parks does him in with the long ball.

Playing in Miller Park isn’t exactly like Pac Bell (or whatever the hell it’s called now) in San Fran, but as far as suppressing home runs it’s a darn sight better than The Down Arrow can be on a hot, windy summer day. If Gonzalez can’t find the strike zone and becomes predictable (and the ball is still made with a yellow cake uranium core) you better hold tight to your helmet nachos on the Fan Deck.

In this scenario you’re looking at a 5+ ERA, and most likely getting waived by the short season equivalent of the all star break. Or even worse, the Sox just say fuck it and roll with that sadness in the rotation, figuring Outbreak 2020 isn’t their year.

Bah Gawd That’s Gio’s Music!: What do I think will really happen with his stats this year? I think his FIP for last season (4.04) is a nice clue. Gio pitching with the Brew Crew’s defense behind him and backed up by that bullpen helped him suppress some of his worse tendencies. The Sox D isn’t going to be so kind, and the Sox bullpen probably won’t be that level of awesome (though I am excited to see what they can do, as I’m calling a big bounce back year for Kelvin Herrera).

I think a 4.15 ERA with 97 strikeouts, 33 walks and a 8-8 record would be completely acceptable for the White Sox, and would be right in line with what they’re looking for out of the 5th starter’s role. If they can get 5 innings out of him each start like the Brewers were able to, I think Rick Renteria and Don Cooper will be pretty satisfied.

All’s I know is I won’t believe he’s actually on the team until I see him throw out that first pitch, otherwise I’ll just be waiting for the notification on my phone that they traded him to Philly again.

 

 

 

Baseball

Now to the consensus #2 starter in the rotation and the Sox second biggest free agent signing of the winter, Dallas Keuchel. 2019 was not the highpoint of Keuchel’s career, nor was it the lowest. He spent the first 3rd of the season on the sidelines, waiting for a suitor for his services after not getting any good offers during the winter (mostly due to the compensatory pick associated with his free agent status.)

Once the Braves finally came calling in June after the cost of the pick expired he signed a one year deal with them worth approximately 21 million. He finally took the mound for them on the 21st of June, and went 8-8 the rest of the way with a bunch of unspectacular but solid numbers. While he’s not the same guy who won the Cy Young with the Trashstros back in 2015 he’s still a valuable pitcher who can keep the ball on the ground and out of the bullpen. Can the Sox take advantage of his specialty? Let’s take a look.

 

2019 Stats

Games Started: 19

8 Wins and 8 Losses

3.75 ERA   1.367 WHIP

91 Ks  40 BB  16 HR

7.3 K/9 Innings  4.72 FIP

0.8 WAR

 

Last Week On Nitro: 2019 was a weird year for Dallas Keuchel. For the entire off-season he sat on the sidelines watching pitchers with far worse pedigrees than him get signed to deals that most would consider beneath his level. A majority of industry folks assumed that this was due to the compensatory draft pick that a team would be required to cough up were they to sign Keuchel to a deal. So he was forced to wait until the pick associated with him dropped off at the beginning of June, and on the other side of that line the Braves were patiently waiting.

It was kind of an odd fit at first look, as the Braves boast what might be the deepest glut of young pitching possibly in the entirety of MLB. Much of that pitching is untested, and the Braves felt that having an excellent veteran like Keuchel in the locker room could help shorten the incubation time on some of those arms considerably. So Keuchel signed with the Braves for $21 mildo (pro-rated for the half season he actually pitched, the total came to just over 13 million actually paid out) and spent a few weeks in AAA before joining the big club at the end of June.

Over the season he went a solid 8-8 with a respectable 3.75 ERA, but the 4.72 FIP behind those numbers shows a lot of batted ball luck, and quite a bit of excellent defense behind him suppressing that ERA. As Fangraphs takes FIP instead of ERA when calculating WAR, his FIP is the biggest reason why he was only worth 0.8 in their eyes. He pitched in 2 postseason games and ended with a no decision in both starts, giving up 4 runs in 9 innings combined.

Too Sweet! (WHOOP WHOOP): Best case scenario for Dallas Keuchel would be for him to find the groove with his sinker again and the Sox infield behind him continue to improve on their minimal gains from last season. For someone like Keuchel who is neither a fireballer (his 4-seamer tops out at about 92 MPH) nor a strikeout pitcher, his pitch to contact style generates a TON of ground balls. Out of the last 5 seasons, he’s second in all starters for ground ball percentage with 59.2%. Only Marcus Stroman has a higher GB% and it was a whopping .3% higher than Keuchel’s.

So for Keuchel to have the kind of success he enjoyed with the Astros, the defense behind him has to be ready to field. Having Nick Madrigal come up at some point (though with the plague we’re all currently dealing with, who knows if/when that will happen) would definitely help as he and Moncada would both be plus defenders behind him. Tim Anderson‘s continued improvement would go MILES to helping Keuchel’s ERA stay below 4. Anderson has been quoted as saying he’s been working hard on his defense this winter. Hopefully that’s true, as with Keuchel on the mound he’s going to see a lot of action.

I would consider the following stat line for Keuchel to be a complete success:

12 wins 9 losses/3.45 ERA/1.18 WHIP/155 K/44BB/3.99 FIP

 

You Fucked Up! You Fucked Up!: Conversely, the worst case scenario for Keuchel is twofold: the Sox defense behind him gets worse, resulting in a ton of unearned runs, and his sinker stops sinking and he becomes an infinitely more expensive version of Dylan Covey. Because when you have a sinkerballer who throws that pitch more than 70% of the time and it doesn’t sink that’s exactly what you get. A whole shitload of balls leave the yard at a very high rate of speed and frequency.

At that point the Sox have to hope that Gio Gonzalez is able to pick up more of the slack, adding a bunch of unnecessary innings to his plate. This causes his pitching arm to go dead in July, forcing Kopech into the rotation much sooner than everyone hoped. This causes more damage to his elbow and he turns into the Sox version of Brent Honeywell: all promise and zero ligaments. Or we all get COVID-19 and the season is canceled, which would fucking suck too.

 

Bah Gawd That’s Keuchel’s Music!: In reality I think we can probably expect a slightly better version of Dallas Keuchel than the Braves got last season. A 3.65 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP and 10-7 record with a 4.10 FIP seems about right. He’s going to have a little trouble with the long ball, especially since it looks like the league won’t fire up until late May at least. That removes the cold weather factor, which usually suppresses home runs during the first month of the season. Plus pitching at the down arrow naturally inflates HR totals due to it’s tiny confines and the heat from the Dan Ryan, which causes air (and baseballs) to rise to the heavens.

All in all the Sox have themselves a solid #3 or 4 starter locked in for the forseeable future, which with the glut of young arms (Cease, Kopech, Dunning, Lopez etc) and one returning high draft pick in Rodon, is exactly what this team needs. Someone to keep the ball on the ground, eat innings, and give the bullpen a rest for the days when the young guys lose command of their fastball and they have to leap to the rescue. All for the low, low price of 18 million per year. Good work if you can find it.

 

Stay healthy out there everybody.

Baseball

Gathered the three baseball wisemen here to go over the offseason again. The Sox appear to be done…and so do the Cubs, but in wildly different fashion. How are we all feeling?

So we’re just over a month away from pitchers and catchers, and it feels like the Sox are pretty much done. Everyone feeling their oats?

Air Traffic AJ: It’s pretty hard to look at this off-season and not feel positive about it, especially considering the absolute duds the previous two had been. The Twins signing Donaldson last night in a clear response to Hahn’s moves makes me think the Central may not be as up for grabs as I originally thought. The ceiling of their starting pitching is lower than the Sox staff, however, so it’s gonna be interesting. Most importantly it’s gonna be fun and watchable.

Wes French: Echoing AJ, the Donaldson singing takes some air out of the sails. The White Sox did a lot of work towards becoming a viable AL Central threat, but looking at that Twins lineup leaves you feeling like it’s all a 2nd/3rd place effort even with a lot of the remaining uncertainties becoming positives – How Robert starts, what Kopech gives, how the rotation looks after Giolito/Keuchel/Gio.

AJ: Sam, you’ve been pretty vocal thus far about the off-season the Cubs have had. If the ultimate goal for them is to be under the luxury tax cap this season and it costs them Quintana is there enough pitching to keep them up with the Cards and the newly resurgent Reds?

Sam: Fuck and no. 

I’m not wholly in on the Reds yet because I don’t think the lineup is that good as Joey Votto is continuing to decompose. They’ll still beat the Cubs 13 of 19 infuriating times though. The only hope if Q were to be moved is that Lester discovers something that can make him more effective at 36 than 35, but everything is trending the wrong way and he’s not exactly the most flexible guy when it comes to changing what he does. Not only does Chatwood in the rotation make it more volatile, but it robs them of an at least an interesting bullpen weapon. He and Alzolay together would have given the Cubs two possible multi-inning pieces out of there which could have covered for some of the shortness of the rotation. You could easily see Lester continuing to decline, Chatwood being the Pollock painting he’s always been as a starter, and some combination of Alec Mills and other goofuses getting continually rocked without Q. 

 That said, a Q trade is more palatable than a Bryant one. 

 Speaking of starters and bullpen switching, is Reynaldo’s future as something of a Hader-type? Come in and fire smoke for two-three innings 50 times a year or so?

 AJ: I think Reynaldo has a three month audition window to show he belongs in the rotation. I want to see what his numbers look like with a premier pitch framer like Grandal scoring him a few extra strikes per game. One of Lopez’ biggest issues is nibbling once he gets ahead in counts, and if Grandal can turn some of those nibbles into Ks he could be a viable 4th-5th starter easy. If that’s not in the cards for him, I very easily could see him coming in the 7th and just unleashing devastation for an inning and a third. He’s gotta have that chance to be a starter, however. Rodon coming back healthy is no guarantee, and it’s never a bad thing to have too many young viable starters.

 Wes: I think I would already have Lopez ticketed for such a role if i were making those sort of decisions. Alas, I have not been given any kind of say in the matter and I think that they’ll bring him along and keep working with him like he’s a viable starter at least until June this year. If everyone can stay healthy and show signs of success outside of Lopez, Cease/Kopech/Dunning/Lambert/Steiver (at various levels of the org), and Lopez doesn’t show any kind of consistency or improvement I think it needs to be strongly considered. The bullpen is going to need a power arm from somewhere, and the other internal options like Zack Burdi, Ian Hamilton, and Jayce Fry aren’t exactly encouraging at this point. It’d be ideal to not have to spend a truckload on the bullpen as this thing starts trending in the right direction and Lopez is the easiest to transition to that type of role, especially being the farthest removed from his debut and having plenty of shots at sticking in the rotation. 

 AJ: What’s the expectation for David Ross this season? Is he an advanced stats guy, or is he the more media friendly reincarnation of Robin Ventura? I personally think the Cubs could benefit from the use of an opener, especially if Quintana is traded for a pack of Topps cards and a copy of MLB the Show 2014. Also what kind of leash does he get from ownership?

 Sam: We were just talking about this on the podcast. First off with Ross, no one has any idea and if they say they do they’re lying. He’s obviously exactly in tune with how the front office sees the team, but who knows what that means given the restraints. I think they feel like players walked on Maddon a bit or tired of his shtick or both, and Ross definitely commands respect from the vets so you’d think the younger players will follow. I hope/suspect he’ll be a little more advanced in-game than Ventura, but again, no one can be sure. 

 I’m with you on the opener. The Cubs do have two intriguing, multi-inning possibilities out of the pen in Chatwood and Alzolay. The latter certainly can’t take on a starter’s share of innings this year, if he ever can. They both have electric stuff, though with varying problems with that stuff. You don’t know what you’ll get out of Lester, but if Q were to stick around you’d have three dependable (at least innings-wise) starters and Lester. You could easily have each of Chatwood and Alzolay throw 2-3 innings twice a week to cover for what you don’t get from Lester and a hole at the #5 spot. 

 But the reality is that they’ll trade.Q merely to save money, slide Chatwood into the rotation where he’s yet to prove he can be, and now both the rotation and pen are short. 

 Maybe I’ll just get on the Mariners train now and enjoy the fruits in three years. 

 Wes: Julio Rodriquez is gonna be a monster, we’d all be smart to buy shares now and revel in our intelligence in 2022-23. 

 I have a feeling the Cubs are gonna struggle to pitch the ball all season long and we’re in for some “fun” 14-10 type games. I think the NL Central is full of flaws, so 84 wins might just do it, but from the way you’ve spoken all winter, Sam, it seems you believe the Cubs could have trouble breaking even that number. 

 Of course, Yu, Hendricks and Q could all throw 175+ masterful innings and then you just need to survive the Lester clunkers and get to .500 in 5th start spots. Craig Kimbrel being his pre-2019 self would go a long way, too. 

 AJ: Question for all of us: If Lopez advances in his skills and both Rodon and Kopech come back healthy, what do the Sox do with their rotation?

 Wes: Assuming the rest of the staff is healthy/effective, I’d think that Gio G switches to a swing man/relief role that he was very effective in with Milwaukee last season. But you’re still looking at six guys with Giolito, Keuchel, Kopech, Cease, Lopez and Rodon.

 They’re going to want to bring Rodon along quite slowly, I’d think, being that he’ll come back in the 2nd half of the season, so he’d probably spot start during some long stretches where a 6th could be introduced to help rest everyone else/be used in longer relief situations to better control his workload and keep his innings as effective as possible. Cease is also going to top out around 160-175 innings, so I’m sure having too many SP options come August wouldn’t be too much of an issue. 

 This would be a very awesome problem to have. 

 AJ: I think at the end of the season if Rodon comes back healthy, Lopez advances like we all hope he does, and Kopech comes back in good shape you would have a six-man rotation from August on. You would be able to manage Cease, Kopech and Rodon’s innings as need be as well as give Gio Gonzalez some time as well. If September comes around and the playoffs aren’t an option Dane Dunning could conceivably be thrown into that mix as well. Like Wes said, it’s an excellent problem to have. 

 Sam, what’s your take on the Sox this year as a Cubs fan (for the time being, at least)?

 Sam: I think they’re exciting and am looking forward to watching them but I don’t think they’re a sure thing. Neither do I think the Twins are either, to be fair.

 I’m not as high on the Keuchel signing as some. He was regressing last year and his margin for error is so small. The batted ball numbers aren’t encouraging. Which still makes for something of an iffy staff. Giolito is great, but we have no idea what Cease is and it’s all questions from there on out, be it health or development. Wes, you may get your share of 14-10 games on the Southside, too. 

 That said the Grandal signing seems perfect for them, and even though I think Mazara sucks when Robert and Madrigal are up it’s hard to find a true hole in the lineup. It’s also hard to see anyone regressing, though I guess I could see where Abreu’s age kicks in a bit along with playing the field every day. Maybe TIMMY! can’t keep his BABIP around .400 again, which will really hurt his output because he never walks and still hits too many grounders (though that’s trending the rifht way). But again, this feels more around the edges than the heart of it. 

 They definitely need Kopech to come back healthy and contribute. You’ll never get me to believe in Rodon and I think his future is a lot like Reynaldo’s in that he’d be a great reliever. He just walks too many guys right now. 

 All that said, I feel like this will be the most fun season on the Southside in a very long time. And now with no Hawk around, I can watch comfortably!

 

 

 

Baseball

Well that was a fun few months, wasn’t it?

Honestly if you had asked me back at the end of October what my hopes were for a good White Sox off season I would have told you I would’ve been satisfied with the team adding somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-8 WAR by plugging up the Black Hole of Sadness that was RF, DH and the 5th starter positions.

After the past few winters and the lack of anything that could be described as “remotely exciting,” my expectations were not enormous, despite this off season looming as the type that could be critical to make the last step from “rebuilding” to “competing” a reality. Which is understandable, as you can only watch guys like AJ Reed and Dylan Covey so long before your soul becomes jaded and calloused.

So when the Sox blew the market open just before Thanksgiving by signing the best (switch hitting) catcher on the market in Yasmani Grandal to a 4-year, $73 million dollar deal I nearly drove off the road and through the razor wire-covered fence separating me from the Air National Guard base in Atlantic City. Thankfully that didn’t happen, because then I would’ve missed out on the Sox hot pursuit of Zack Wheeler. While not ultimately successful, the rumors of the contract offered to Wheeler showed that Rick Hahn truly was not going to be fucking around this winter.

The Sox also traded for Nomar Mazara to play in a potential platoon in RF this season, which hopefully assures positive production out of the right field position for the first time in what feels like decades. The trade itself initially didn’t move the needle very much for me, but after reading between the lines of what Rick Hahn has said about Mazara’s potential and how little the Sox committed to the position financially makes me think there might be bigger things down the road for that spot in the OF (man George Springer would look good out there).

Lest anyone think Hahn was done, he then went and solved the 5th starter spot by welcoming back Gio Gonzalez to the South Side for a 3rd time on a 1 year deal. It doesn’t really need to be said, but Gio compared to the dreck that had been oozing out there every 5th day is a drastic upgrade to the staff. A few days later, Hahn put an end to the narrative that the Sox would never deal with a Scott Boras client by inking Dallas Keuchel to what is essentially a 4-year deal with club options. Keuchel isn’t Zack Wheeler, but he’s not exactly Jamie Navarro either.

At this point most of us figured that Hahn was about finished with signing people, and the majority of fans out there would have considered this winter to be a success. Yet Hahnta Claus had a few more gifts to deliver, the first showing up on Christmas day with the signing of Edwin Encarnacion to a 1 year deal worth $13 million with a club option for 2021.

Encarnacion is not the same player he was when he was batting .280 for the Blue Jays with 80 HR and 200 RBI. That being said he’s far from a league average player. While missing some games last season split in-between the Indians and Yankees due to a wrist fracture, Encarnacion was still able to mash 34 taters and knock in 89 RBI, all while maintaining a .344 OBP and ending the year with a 129 wRC+ rating. While his K rate has risen by about 4% in the last 2 seasons, his walk rate has stayed the same, which is what you’d expect from a player entering his age 37 season. If he can keep both at about 20 and 10% respectively there’s no reason to expect anything less than a 2.5 WAR season from him.

This is a sneaky-solid signing for the Sox, as Encarnacion has essentially been the same player for the last 8 years. Never less than 30 home runs in a season, and always right around an .875 OPS. His splits work pretty much the same against pitchers of either handedness, which solves some issues the Sox had against right handed pitching last season.

This also creates a hydra option at DH for Ricky Renteria, as you now have Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and James McCann available for the position. Managing Abreu and Encarnacion’s workload this season should be fairly simple work and keep both of them fresh throughout the year. It’s also an enormous upgrade at DH, and Encarnacion has the distinct chance to become the best hitter the Sox have played there since Jim Thome got run off because Ozzie and Kenny Williams fucking hated each other.

So at this point Hahn had solved the issues in RF, DH, 4SP and 5SP. Fuck it, may as well avoid the service time questions about Luis Robert by signing him to what amounts to an 8 year deal and buying him out of all his arbitration years. This deal at it’s core is very similar to the ones Hahn signed Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Timmy Anderson and Eloy Jiminez to. By betting heavily on what is essentially your future, the Sox get cost certainty for their payroll and potentially room to expand it the next two seasons.

This also all but guarantees that Robert will be the starting CF for the Sox on opening day, which makes the potential starting outfield look like Eloy/Robert/Mazara which is infinitely more palatable than what last year’s Eloy/Engel/A Department Store Mannequin.

With the starting outfield now pretty much set, Hahn added a solid bullpen arm in Steve Cishek on a one year deal for $5.25 million with a team option $6.75 million. Cishek had two good years with the Cubs, taking on a pretty hefty workload with the dumpster fire state of their bullpen. He racked up 134 innings in two seasons with a 2.55 ERA. He held righties to a minuscule .183/.260/.293, and his numbers against lefties weren’t to the point where he’s a specialist (.217/.367/.361).

While his peripherals sound a few alarm bells with a 4.54 FIP, some of that can be attributed to the sheer amount of work he was forced into with the Cubs. His strand rate was in line with his career averages, as were his BB and K rates, so the hope is with more workload management he can stave off any regression in the Sox bullpen.

So as it stands right now, the Sox opening day roster looks something like this:

C: Grandal/McCann

1B: Abreu/Encarnacion/Grandal

2B: Garcia

SS: Anderson

3B: Moncada

LF: Jimenez

CF: Robert

RF: Mazara

DH: Encarnacion/Abreu/Grandal

SP1: Giolito

SP2: Keuchel

SP3: Cease

SP4: Gonzalez

SP5: Lopez/Kopech/Rodon?

CP: Colome

RP: Marshall

RP: Herrera

RP: Cishek

RP: Bummer

 

Now that’s a lineup that will not only put some butts in seats (glares at Kenny Williams), but will give the Twins and Indians notice that the Central division is no longer a two horse race. For the first time in what feels like forever, hope blooms on the corner of 35th and Shields. How long that will last will depend on whether the Sox horrible injury luck persists into the 2020 season, and whether or not Hahn has the flexibility to trade or sign for the last few pieces needed for that final leap. It’s time to have fun watching Sox baseball again, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time considering the state of the other sports teams in Chicago. Game on!

 

 

Baseball

The White Sox fulfilled half of what GM Rick Hahn said he sought to do to the 2020 rotation (and an organizational prophecy to re-acquire him a third time!) by signing journeyman LHP Gio Gonzalez on Thursday afternoon. The terms are not yet known, but I’d assume it’s a year and under $6M. Again, totally fair.

Gonzalez won’t get the tingles going for anyone the way the Zack Wheeler sweepstakes did, but he’s perfectly fine as your back end hurler that helps bide time until the Michael Kopechs, Carlos Rodons and Dane Dunnings are ready to take those innings back. He’s a career 3.68 ERA/8.6 K/9/3.8 BB/9 guy that basically won’t kill you, the type of arm that probably would’ve been good for 3-5 wins last year over the sub-replacement options the White Sox threw out there almost 40% of the season. His ground ball rate (45ish%) and HR/9 rate (0.9 or so/9) will also be welcome on a team that could use a little more and less of each, respectively. Fangraphs projects him at similar numbers and 1.5 WAR for 2020, so yea they’ll most definitely take that from a #5 considering the last few years worth of results.

Originally drafted by Chicago in 2004 (though never playing an MLB game for them in two (!!) stints), Gio the elder does come with some warts. He missed a good two-plus months in 2019 to start the season, not signing until late March only to be cut by the Yankees. He battled “dead arm” and surfaced with the Brewers to put up a respectable 1.4 WAR/1.9 bWAR with a 3.50 ERA/8K/9 over 87.1 IP (19G/17GS). He’s been incredibly durable over his career, so the injuries/slow start in 2019 and his not going late into games can probably be chalked up to sitting around most of the off-season and missing spring training completely. His velocity and spin rate are slowly diminishing, but so are every other 34+ y/o not named Verlander or Greinke.

Gonzalez actually improved in a lot of areas over his sort-of-rough 2018, and it doesn’t take much for one to connect some dots and see that, hey, I wonder if new White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal had anything to do with the improvement? Well we’re all about to find as the pair will team up again in 2020 on the Southside. Sometimes these things write themselves.

While this isn’t a bad signing, it could start to look that way if the White Sox don’t look to add one of the remaining better starting pitching options remaining on the free agent or trade markets. Gonzalez is perfectly palatable as an aging and hopefully mostly effective rotation filler, but depending on your opinion he’s anywhere from the fourth to second best major league starting pitcher on the roster.

This depends on how you feel about Reynaldo Lopez being consistent and how Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech can start their second seasons with the big club (with one coming off a year on the shelf). I’m going to guess not many of you are hip to any of those three slotting in at #2 caliber material just yet, so signing Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel or trading for Jon Gray(yes, please) or David Price (gross) is still ideal to the White Sox really start pushing the Twins for the division crown in 2020 and creating a winning culture.

Funny, since the Sox will likely be battling those Twins for the services of all the aforementioned (besides Price). There’s a clear path here to making some noise and getting the fan base excited about more than just the waves of prospects set to potentially be sort of good. Signing Gonzalez can be a part of that, or it can be the signal that management really is punting this thing until 2021 (for the most part) if they keep signing off the proverbial scrap heap.