In 2013, the White Sox were really, really bad. There were seemingly very few bright spots. Surprising as it may be, however, the White Sox were second in MLB in pitching (Baseball-Reference) WAR (which goes to show how incredibly bad they were offensively and defensively, seeing as they finished with the third-worst record in baseball). After the loss of Jake Peavy and Hector Santiago, however, the back end of the White Sox pitching staff sputtered, and the team fell to 20th in MLB in pitching bWAR, despite their top two starters combining for the third best bWAR for any pair of rotation-mates in baseball. As it turns out, the combination of John Danks, Hector Noesi, Scott Carroll, and the worst bullpen in baseball do not combine for a good pitching staff.
Adding Jeff Samardizja, David Robertson, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, and potentially Carlos Rodon to the big league staff will undoubtedly make it stronger. Not only are all of those players (with the possible exception of the unproven Rodon) upgrades to the spot they will be filling, but they also will lead to the demotion of lesser players to more apt roles or off the roster. While there is no clear fifth starter at the moment, needing Hector Noesi to fill in one of the five rotation spots is a large improvement over having Noesi, Carroll, Rienzo fill two of the five spots. The same can be said of the bullpen, where good-not-great pitchers like Jake Petricka and Zack Putnam can slide into middle relief roles and Daniel Webb and the rest of the mess that was the 2014 bullpen can slide off the roster, or at least be relegated to mop-up work until they prove themselves worthy of more.
All told, there are still red flags with the pitching staff, especially the rotation. A starting five of Sale, Samardizja, Quintana, Danks, and Noesi/Rodon may be enough to contend for the playoffs, but a rotation with one of them missing (especially one of the top three) suddenly becomes a lot less appealing. Knowing that expecting 150 or more starts out of the staff that the teams breaks camp with is unreasonable, starting depth seems to be inevitably important. Assuming acquiring Max Scherzer, Cole Hamels, or a similar top-flight arm is out of the question, the best way to prevent against losing too much ground in case of injury is finding depth.
If Rodon is to be used as the starter (and pitches well), the in-house is decently appealing, as Noesi (who despite his troubles looked serviceable at times last year) could be a solid spot-starter/fill in if Rodon takes his spot. Beyond that, Erik Johnson would seem to be the next man up, though expecting anything useful from him at this point appears to be a stretch. Most of the other typical spot-start names of years past (Rienzo, Carroll, Charlie Leesman) are no longer in the organization, so if Johnson falters signing depth may be the best route.
Aside from Scherzer and James Shields, the majority of the remaining free agent starters are some combination of bad, old, or coming off injury. To find depth, the White Sox’ best option would likely be to sign a guy that could either function as a swingman who can start in a pinch, or a pitcher who would take a minor league deal and toil in AAA until needed to start. The former group offers maybe the most excitement, and might be a nice role for someone like Alexi Ogando, Franklin Morales, or Carlos Villanueva before, all of whom have experience both starting and relieving. Ogando, who has been both a valuable starter and quality reliever for Texas in past years, may be the most enticing option, and might be looking for a low base salary, incentive-laden deal as he tries to recoup value. Among the group of players potentially looking for a minor league deal is of course a bunch of pitchers who really are not any good, but as much as it pains me to say it, a guy like Bruce Chen might be nice to have for a rainy day.
In an ideal world, we will not be talking about the contributions of Bruce Chen to the White Sox season come October. But seeing as things seldom turn out ideal, it is worth worrying about end-of-the-roster depth as the offseason wanes. The difference between a serviceable and replacement level fill in can be as much as a win over the course of a season, which could be the win that separates the White Sox and another team after 162 games.
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