For most of the 2012 season, starting pitching was one of the strengths of this White Sox team. Chris Sale emerged into an ace, Jake Peavy stayed healthy the whole season, and Jose Quintana came out of nowhere to have a stretch of two months that were as good as any rookie pitcher in the game.
However, the rotation was also in a state of flux at times this season. John Danks was lost for the season in May, and Phil Humber was unable to prove competence after his perfect game in April. Gavin Floyd fought injuries and inconsistencies all season, and Francisco Liriano flared out after a few good starts following the July trade. Guys like Dylan Axelrod and Hector Santiago even had to fill in at times, doing an admirable job.
Despite all of that, the Sox pitching staff looked to be in good shape heading into the stretch run of September. However, the young arms of Sale and Quintana tired out, and Liriano continued to have his control issues. While Peavy had some good starts and Floyd managed to have a solid, healthy month, it was not enough to overcome the struggles of the offense and the rest of the pitching staff.
So, looking at how 2012 ended, what will the rotation look like in 2013? Let’s break it down into pieces here to make it easier.
Anybody with half a brain could see that not only is Chris Sale a lock to be in next season’s rotation, but he’s also a pretty safe bet to be a star pitcher in the Majors for years to come. The one concern with Sale in 2013 could be the “second year syndrome” that applies to second year starting pitchers. While 2012 was Sale’s third year in the big leagues, it was only his second season as a starter, and often times we see second year starting pitchers take a bit of a dive statistically. This could be for a variety of reasons (the league making an adjustment, feeling the effects of a large innings increase from the season before), but the good pitchers get themselves through it. Even if he struggles a bit more in 2013, I’m pretty confident he will be just fine in the long run.
Lock number two in the 2013 rotation is someone who only made nine starts in 2012: John Danks. By the time Spring Training rolls around, he will be about eight months removed from shoulder surgery and should be more than ready to go. Will Danks be able to avoid slow starts to the season, which plagued him in 2011 and 2012? Can he get back to his form from 2008-2010? Last season, he was expected to be the team’s ace and got a nice contract to go along with it. While he is a lock to make the 2012 rotation, he won’t have that added pressure of being the ace with Chris Sale firmly entrenched in that role.
Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn face a couple of big decisions on individual players this off-season. Two of those decisions are with team option clauses in the contracts of Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd.
The initial decision on Jake Peavy will not be a difficult one, as it’s been almost a foregone conclusion since the Sox traded for Peavy in 2009 that they will not pick up his $22 million team option for 2013. Instead, the Sox will pay his $4 million buyout and try to roll their dice in a bidding war for Peavy with other teams in free agency. While we know Peavy loves Chicago and has expressed his desire to stay with the club, money talks, and no one really knows how deep the pockets of the team’s brass will be this off-season.
Gavin Floyd’s situation is not as cut-and-dry, as a much more affordable $9.5 million club option is in his contract for next season. I do not believe there is a buyout clause in Floyd’s contract either (I use LINK Cot’s Baseball Contracts from Baseball Prospectus for all my team payroll information). While $9.5 million sounds like and probably is too much for a pitcher of Floyd’s caliber, starting pitching is a premium position and the Sox know exactly what they are getting with Floyd. I’d give the Sox higher odds to bring back Floyd than Peavy just because of affordability, but if Floyd does hit the open market, he may have more teams after him because of that same aspect.
THE QUESTION MARKS
Many people feel like Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago are locks for the 2013 rotation, or at least pretty close to it. However, I don’t see it that way, as I don’t think the White Sox feel all too comfortable with having a 2013 rotation consisting of four left-handers.
With Sale and Danks in the fold, that leaves room for only one out of “Q” and Hector for next season’s rotation. While Quintana had a great rookie campaign, I actually believe that the White Sox like Santiago better and may give him a better shot at the rotation if they indeed go with three lefties. There is also the option the Sox could trade Quintana while his stock is really high, possibly packaging him with a position player in a key trade for a right-handed starter. All of that is just speculation, but just by how the Sox pegged Santiago last season’s closer and have they relied on him to pitch spot starts in the last two weeks of the season, I think they have bigger plans for him than Q.
If the three lefty plan is in effect, it is also possible that Dylan Axelrod gets a look to be the team’s fifth starter. The Sox have had high praise for how he’s preformed in spot starts over the last two seasons, and depending on what happens with Peavy, Floyd and free agency, he could get a chance to finally make the opening day squad.
THE WILD CARD
Brett Myers is kind of the mystery piece here. First, the Sox have to decide whether he is worth bringing back or not. If that does happen, rumors have surfaced that the Sox may decide to move him back to the rotation, where he has spent a lot of time in his big league career and has had success. While I do not foresee the White Sox hanging onto Myers, I do think it is a definite possibility that he will be a member of the rotation if he does return. Again, it’s hard for me to believe the team would start the season with four lefties in the rotation.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we can probably say “so long” to Francisco Liriano and Phil Humber. Liriano was likely viewed strictly as a rental player by the Sox after they acquired him in July, and his late season issues didn’t help him for his standing in 2013. As far as Humber goes, I think the Sox kind of gave up on him at the end of the season. Remember how many innings he threw in September? Try 1.1 in two appearances, one of which he gave up eight runs in. Don Cooper is a patient pitching coach, but I think his patience with Humber has worn thin.
THE FREE AGENT MARKET
Now, there are also some names on the open market that are possibilities. While I don’t think a guy like Zach Greinke is in the cards, there are cheaper, solid alternatives like Edwin Jackson, Shawn Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, and Anibal Sanchez. While it would be nice to land another ace-type pitcher, the team probably doesn’t have the resources to do it, and guys like the names above are some middle of the rotation guys that could fit into the staff as a righty arm.
Well, there you have it: an extensive look of what to watch for this off-season in regards to the rotation. There could even be even more possibilities, as I didn’t even mention the trade market and some of the organizations prospects. While it is a long shot, there’s always a chance someone can impress in Spring Training and make a surprise run at the rotation (a la John Danks in 2007). Overall, Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn have a tough task ahead, sorting out the puzzle that is this starting rotation.