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The White Sox’s reported signing of Gio Gonzalez is not yet official, but like the Yasmani Grandal signing, there was a spot on the White Sox roster for him as soon as the offseason started, so it could’ve been made official well earlier as far as anybody’s concerned.
(UPDATE: James Fegan says it’s coming:)
The White Sox have two starting pitching vacancies, but only one of them needs a proven, durable, projectable entity. It wouldn’t hurt to sign two of them, but the other could be less certain to hold up over the course of a whole season, because Michael Kopech is going to kick somebody out of a rotation spot in short order when he proves fully back from Tommy John surgery.
Gonzalez fits that second vacancy mold as good as anybody, as he posted a 3.50 ERA with Milwaukee over a half-season’s worth of starts, and less than a half-season’s worth of innings.
Assuming the signing goes through, Gonzalez will have the benefit of knowing when and for whom he will pitch far earlier than he did last year. A victim of baseball’s dormant winter, he didn’t sign until March, when he agreed to a split contract with the Yankees that was worth anywhere from $3 million to $12 million if he made the majors with them. That didn’t quite materialize, but after opting out of his deal at its deadline, the Brewers picked him up on a $2 million deal at the end of April and benefited from doing so. He posted a 3.50 ERA over 19 games and 17 starts.
Here’s where we note that Gonzalez averaged fewer than five innings a start with Milwaukee, and it was due to a few factors. Milwaukee’s starter tend to work shorter because of Craig Counsell’s faith in his bullpen. Specific to Gonzalez, he’s always walked an above-average amount of guys, which meant that he was running up his pitch count after coming off an abbreviated offseason. If the Brewers were concerned about overdoing it, that concern was warranted, as he missed nearly two months with shoulder fatigue. He pitched well after returning in late July, though, even while shifting to the bullpen for some piggyback work.
There’s a decent chance Gonzalez could be more than he showed in 2019 during a highly irregular season. The curveball is still a weapon, and while his starts aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing, he knows what he’s doing. His job is to take the place of guys who don’t know what they’re doing (Dylan Covey and Carson Fulmer), or for whom knowledge is no longer enough (Ross Detwiler).
In an ideal situation, Gonzalez’s willingness to take up some bullpen work will come in handy when Michael Kopech proves ready to force somebody out of a regular job. The most pessimistic forecast has Gonzalez looking like the last one they employed (Miguel), whose history of dodging the worst with shoulder issues finally caught up to him.
The most cynical forecast has the White Sox treating Gonzalez like their Zack Wheeler replacement instead of somebody with a healthier track record like Dallas Keuchel. The White Sox needed to sign somebody like Gonzalez, though, so I’m willing to temporarily assume that they’re putting a circular peg in the circular hole, rather than the star-shaped one.
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More than the value he provides, the Gonzalez signing is a fun story due to his own extensive history with the White Sox, a team he’s never actually pitched for. As Josh and everybody else has noted, the White Sox drafted Gonzalez in 2004, traded him for Jim Thome in November 2005, brought him back with Gavin Floyd when trading Freddy Garcia to the Phillies in December 2006, then sent him out to Oakland in the Nick Swisher deal in January of 2008.
All of those trades were generally OK ideas, although the Swisher trade exposed the White Sox’s issues with team-building that followed them well into the next decade. While Gonzalez has had a terrific career for other clubs, Kenny Williams put Gonzalez to good use himself.
The hope is that Gonzalez will be of use to the actual White Sox, and it’d be fun to see after a draft where the team found itself compelled to invest in high school pitchers again.
The White Sox took Gonzalez 38th overall in 2004, gaining the supplemental-round pick because the Yankees signed Tom Gordon, which tell you how far back this history goes. The White Sox could afford to take a flier on a prep arm that high because they already used two other picks on college players — Josh Fields at No. 18, and Clemson lefty Tyler Lumsden at No. 34.
Gonzalez ended up exceeding Fields and Lumsden, and it turns out that he’s been the third-best first-rounder of that entire draft, with his WAR of 29.2 behind only Justin Verlander (70.9) and Jered Weaver (34.4).
The White Sox have avoided prep pitchers since, by and large, selecting only four of them in the first two rounds of the 14 subsequent drafts.
- 2007: Nevin Griffith (second, 89th)
- 2009: David Holmberg (second, 71st)
- 2013: Tyler Danish (second, 55th)
- 2014: Spencer Adams (second, 44th)
Holmberg has been the only player to provide value, in that he was promising enough to be included in a trade for a productive major leaguer (Edwin Jackson). Then again, the White Sox haven’t had a whole lot of successes even among their collegiate picks.
The 2019 draft saw the White Sox place an unprecedented emphasis on prep talent, drafting pitchers Matthew Thompson in the second round and Andrew Dalquist in the third, along with center fielder James Beard in the fourth. Asking either of them to become Gonzalez might be a little too much, but asking either to become promising enough to involve in a beneficial trade is a little more realistic. Now, three trades in four years? Again, that’s probably asking a little too much.