2021 White Sox decision review: Front-line starter
The White Sox’s 2020 season ended in Oakland with Rick Renteria dry-heaving in the dugout. Part of the reason was his fault, as he hadn’t shown any interest in learning how to operate alternate starter strategies during the season, only to see the season come own to Dane Dunning on a twist-tie of a leash.
Part of the reason was not his fault. He only had two trustworthy starters at the end of the season in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, and supposedly stumped for another starter at the deadline. Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo López did nothing to reward the Sox for their inactivity.
The way Rick Hahn conducted business at the end of the season split the blame. He fired Renteria in part for various shortcomings, his handling of the pitching staff among them. But he also made sure to go out and get a starter who could be penciled in for an October start as soon as the ink dried over the winter, whether via free agency or trade.
The deep end of the free-agent pool dried up before the offseason even started, with Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman accepting qualifying offers to remain with the Mets and Giants, respectively, and Masahiro Tanaka returning to Japan. That left Trevor Bauer as the only Cy Young-type candidate available on the open market, and even if the White Sox could stomach 1) spending the money and 2) dealing with Bauer’s extremely off-putting selection process, Bauer still wouldn’t have been around for postseason consideration.
That left trades as the only path to get a name-brand starter. And sure, starters with shorter and shakier track records ended up making an impact on contenders, including another one the White Sox (re-)signed, which we’ll discuss in another post. But had the White Sox stopped at Carlos Rodón or Robbie Ray or Anthony DiSclafani and said they were ready for a best-of-5, it’d be correct to question their ambitions.
The Lance Lynn trade left no quarter for such doubters, at least as an isolated move. Coming off two top-six Cy Young finishes and wrapping up the final year of a three-year, $30 million contract, Lynn gave Giolito some company and competition at the top of the White Sox rotation.
One year of Lynn came at a non-negligible cost, with Dane Dunning and Avery Weems heading to Texas. Lynn represented an upgrade over Dunning for a particular rotation spot, but it left the question whether the White Sox would feel Dunning’s absence over the course of the other four days in which Lynn couldn’t start, because the organization’s pitching depth faced a steep drop-off after Michael Kopech and Reynaldo López, neither of whom were comfortable bets for either availability or effectiveness.
Dunning held up his end of the bargain, having a nice-enough rookie season despite an ankle injury that limited his efforts over the final two months. He should give the Rangers confidence in the back of their rotation over the next five seasons, with Weems delivering massive strikeout numbers alongside less impressive peripherals at High-A.
But both paled in comparison to what Lynn accomplished. An All-Star spot. A third-place finish in Cy Young voting. The American League’s best ERA among pitchers to throw 150 innings.
Sure, it wasn’t a perfect season. Issues with his back and knee had the White Sox handling him with caution over various parts of the season, and the Houston Astros continued to have his number, which isn’t what you want when they’re the team facing the White Sox in said best-of-5. Both are concerns to monitor in the years ahead — the former more than the latter — but everybody’s happy that the White Sox have more years to manage Lynn, as he signed a two-year extension with a club option for a third during the All-Star break.
LISTEN: Lance Lynn player review on the Sox Machine Podcast
Without even looking at all the other prominent starters who shifted teams over the previous winter, you could comfortably say that Rick Hahn whacked that roster mole into the Earth’s core. Still, since we’re going to examine all the possibilities at a position where Hahn fared far worse, we may as well savor the rightness of the choice.
Issues with the home run aside, Trevor Bauer appeared to be on track for serious Cy Young consideration before explosive allegations of sexual assault led to investigations by Major League Baseball and Southern California authorities that put him on paid leave the rest of the season, and his career in jeopardy. Charlie Morton basically limited his choices to Tampa Bay and Atlanta, as far as anybody can tell.
All of the pitchers in the traded pool ended up with San Diego, and while it may seem odd to lump Joe Musgrove in with Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, Musgrove was such a popular breakout candidate among pitching analysts that he would’ve been a reasonable candidate to meet the White Sox’s goals. As it stands, he had the best season of any Padres pitcher. A hip injury hindered Darvish down the stretch, while a groin problem interrupted Snell in middle of his best stretch of the season, and ended his season during the first half of September.
The White Sox paid a lower price in prospect capital for Lynn’s services than the Padres for any of the three starters, although that’s because Lynn only had one year of team control left. There’s good news for both teams involved here. While the Rays are making good use of Francisco Mejia and Luis Patiño, none of the prospect packages are causing their former teams immediate regret.
As for the White Sox, the midseason extension they struck with Lynn changes the calculus of the deal considerably. If they acquired Lynn from the Rangers with three years and $48 million left on his contract, it probably would have cost them Dunning and a kind of prospect they didn’t have. Fortunately, the White Sox had enough faith in the fit to both pull the trigger, and also to not press the issue the way they made the Jeff Samardzija trade immediately uncomfortable. When the White Sox announced the extension in mid-July, it was the kind of surprise that made all the sense in the world. The success spoke for itself on both ends.
(Photo by Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports)
Credit where credit is due. This ranks as one of Hahn’s best moves of the entire rebuild-to-contention era.
I think it is good to remember just how controversial the Lynn-Dunning trade was in the comments here. There were some people who thought it was a disaster trade for the Sox. (To be fair, the trade looked different when first made because Lynn was only signed for a year.)
It’s also good to remember that lots of comments were made early in the 2021 season wishing the Sox had sent off Cease instead of Dunning. Given the years they had and that Dunning (turned 27 on Dec 20) is a year older than Cease (turned 26 today), I have to assume many of the Dunning over Cease commenters have changed their mind.
To be clear, I am not saying I evaluate every move wisely. I admit that I have been wrong about so many Sox moves over the years. I didn’t like resigning Abreu. I also wanted the Sox to get someone more major league ready than Jon Garland when they traded Matt Karchner at the deadline in the late 90’s. (If you are too young to remember, my take was moronic the day the trade was made and looked more moronic with each passing day afterward for the next decade.) These are just two of many examples of my intermittent ability to be more wrong than the Sox front office that I criticize often.
One of my friends, a Texas Rangers fan, was almost in mourning when Lance Lynn left. That’s when I knew the deal was good.
The Lynn move is kind of a double whammy too, you got a big time effort in a contend year from a top of the rotation starter, then you signed him to a well below market 2 year extension. I dont want to think about what Lynn would of cost if the sox didnt get him locked up in season but would 3 years 60ish mil been out of the question… sox basically got him for cents on the dollar.
Penciled in for what turned out to be a horrendous October start.