After lockout, condensed schedule will test White Sox’s pitching depth

(Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)

I’m spending the morning of the first day after Major League Baseball’s lockout on balky hotel wi-fi before driving several hours home, so it’s hard for me to crank out a comprehensive summary of the White Sox’s unfinished business. Fortunately, James Fegan already did that sort lifting at The Athletic, so read that, then come back.

There’s a lot to be made out of the White Sox’s holes in right field and second base, because the Sox don’t have a viable everyday starter for either, and even possible platoon combinations have holes in their games. But the Sox at least have multiple ways to fill both spots with some degree of credibility for short periods of time. Were the White Sox to sign Michael Conforto, they could focus the remaining position-player energy on a playable backup catcher, and keep an open mind with a few intriguing options for a second baseman who’d be batting ninth no matter what.

But the discussion there is the same as it was before the lockout, because none of the coming changes affect the calculus. With my limited literal and figurative bandwidth, I think it’s worth revisiting another position that changes considerably due to the revised schedule.

If the White Sox are playing 162 games over seven fewer days following a shorter runway of a spring training, the team’s starting depth is going to be tested in a way that wasn’t factored into the pre-lockout calculations. Some off days will be sacrificed, others dates will turn into doubleheaders, and those will be nine-inning games now.

Back when doubleheaders were seven innings apiece, four strong innings from Michael Kopech felt like five (past the halfway point) or six (three innings remaining). Even rolling with Jimmy Lambert in hopes of a decent three had its uses — especially so on the road, where a less fortunate outing would remove yet another inning from the equation.

Kopech’s penciled into the rotation now. Since he hasn’t yet survived a six-month grind, the Sox will be motivated to find rest for him whenever possible. The same can be said for Lance Lynn, who dealt with various aches and pains over the 2021 season, and Dallas Keuchel, who struggled in the second half. There are no inherent reasons to spell Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease, but given the nature of pitching, some could arise. And because of the lost week, there will be fewer natural opportunities to skip starts or rearrange the rotation.

That means that the White Sox’s sixth, seventh and eighth starters are more vital to the smoothness of the season than they were on Dec. 1, and the Sox lack a candidate for regular work. Reynaldo López is a fine option for emergency starts and not so much for regular turns … yet that’s also more than can be said about Lambert or Jonathan Stiever. The former hasn’t shown the ability to make it beyond one time through. The latter had an infinite ERA at the MLB level to open his 2021, and lat surgery to end his minor-league season.

The combination of five good options and little behind them creates a conundrum for finishing the picture. There are only a couple of starters on the open market worth relegating Kopech to bullpen work, and neither Carlos Rodón nor Clayton Kershaw seem likely (update: Rodón signed later this day with the Giants). Lesser free agents might be hard to sell on the Sox, because any stumbles could put them on a swingman’s path.

That leaves the path the White Sox chose in 2006. Brandon McCarthy was supposed to inherit Orlando Hernandez’s rotation spot to complement four veterans, and that would’ve been perfectly defensible. Kenny Willliams sought a more stable option to offset the toll that 2005 took on the rotation, and he traded for Javier Vazquez instead, which shoved McCarthy to the bullpen for another year.

The plan worked in a way, and didn’t in another. The White Sox’s top five starters made 30 or more starts, and José Contreras brought up the rear with an innings total that would’ve led the American League in 2021 with 196, but they all provided more quantity than quality. Still, it was probably better than standing pat with McCarthy, who struggled to survive a full season’s worth of innings in subsequent years with subsequent organizations.

It’s hard to see the White Sox having the resources to trade for a Chris Bassitt, but given that Williams and Rick Hahn are still in the building, it wouldn’t surprise me if they chose that route again, especially since one wrong turn through the rotation could be a lot more costly with a far less forgiving schedule. I don’t think one more starter ranks higher on the board than a right fielder or a second baseman, but I think it creeps ahead of a right fielder and a second baseman.

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GrinnellSteve

For me, starting pitcher and a good catch-and-throw backup catcher are the top 2 needs. 2 pitchers even. There is almost no way the starting 5 gets through the season intact and effective. And as you detailed, the options behind them don’t excite at all.

I think they can fake it at 2B or RF because A) the rest of the lineup should be really good, and B) they have options you can at least imagine being credible or better. Leury, Gonzalez, Rodriguez. Any one of them could prove adequate. But Lopez, Stiever, and Lambert are much harder to imagine making starts you want to watch. One or more of Engel, Sheets, Vaughn, even Adolfo or Cespedes ought to be able to hold down right.

If they want, they can afford to deal with all these spots, but you know they won’t. That’s why I want them to prioritize SP and backup C.

Willardmarshall

Agreed! Recency bias alert: My worst fear is a pitching staff staggering into September….

dwjm3

Why would you try to fake it in right? There is no reason to fake it there is quality out there and this team has money.

GrinnellSteve

If the team limits how much it will spend on payroll, I want SP and backup C prioritized. Failing to do so has a much bigger chance of biting us in the butt.

As I said above, they can afford to do it all. I don’t expect that. I doubt if you do, either.

Augusto Barojas

They can’t fake their way to a World Series. Either they spend to address their needs, or they do a faceplant in October every year, it’s pretty simple.

DuhSox

I agree. They need to trade Kimbrel and can throw in one or two of the players GrrinnellSteve mentioned to solve one of the problems big-time, sign a quality FA to solve another. Then work to solve the 2 areas that still need addressing by whatever avenue is necessary. Getting Conforto and Bassitt should be doable.

Trooper Galactus

Why do so many people insist Bassitt is “doable”? He’s a plus starting pitcher in a market starved for such players and the White Sox have the worst farm system to generate trade capital from. Their only option for getting a guy like Bassitt is to dangle pieces from their current 26-man roster, which still might not get the job done and just creates a whole new set of problems. Unless the A’s think Colson Montgomery is a can’t-miss superstar or something, I just don’t think Hahn has the assets to get him.

mrridgman

I advocated for 6 starting pitchers in my offseason plan; now they might need 7? I don’t know who they might add after the SP market has been picked pretty clean, but they need to add somebody. They have no depth at the upper minors.
One could argue that it might not matter, they can stagger through the regular season, win the Central and still make the playoffs. My concern would be a repeat of 2021, when the starting staff ran out of steam vs. Houston.

jhomeslice

I hope they plan to use Kopech without overdoing it with restraint. Before the end of the season, he will be 4 years removed from TJ surgery. Guys often recover quite well from that, some just a year to 18 months after. Wainwright had it in Feb of 2011, and threw 198 innings in 2012. They should not be thinking he has to be limited to 5 or 6 innings all season. He may have issues getting enough people out to last deeper into games than that, but that’s another story. If he is good, he should be allowed to pitch as much as anybody once he builds up his endurance. I’m hoping for 170+ innings from him, hopefully with some dominance.

knoxfire30

Sounds like April roster expansion… 2 or 3 players added. Gotta figure most teams will carry especially the whitesox will carry extra arms.

Trooper Galactus

Bryan Reynolds is reportedly being shopped actively by the Pirates, and he’s a guy I definitely would want the White Sox to go hard after, including parting with Vaughn if they have to.