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White Sox offseason plan roundup: Starting pitching

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Plenty of options for Rick Hahn to fill the hole Jeff Samardzija is leaving

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

A dilemma that general manager Rick Hahn may face when trying to retool the Chicago White Sox this offseason is leveraging its greatest strength to fill its areas of weakness. According to FanGraphs, the American League's best starting staff belong to Chicago. The pairing of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana ranked third in fWAR only behind Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke and the Chicago Cubs' Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Add in Carlos Rodon, and the White Sox could have the best starting three in 2016.

Yet, they will have a hole to fill. Jeff Samardzija will decline his qualifying offer and test the water in free agency in hopes of netting a $100+ million dollar deal. His workload needs to be replaced and the team also has to consider that John Danks is entering the last year of his deal. Good news, the White Sox do have promising pitchers in the minors that could fill in for Samardzija in 2016 (Erik Johnson) and Danks afterward (Frankie Montas and Carson Fulmer). The problem is that they are largely still unproven.

Good help is available in the open market if Hahn wants to add. By far and away the strength of this year's free agency class is starting pitching. It's so good that Hahn might be able to add a mid-tier starter without breaking the bank. Or, if owner Jerry Reinsdorf is willing to spend a lot of money, they could end any argument for who would have the best starting staff entering 2016 by signing David Price. Imagine that for a moment --  a three-game series going up against Chris Sale, David Price, and Jose Quintana. That wouldn't be fair.

Despite how good the staff is constructed before any major moves, its not good enough to carry the team to a winning record thanks to poor defense and offense. That raises the idea of taking the likes of Jose Quintana, or one of the many young arms (Johnson, Montas, Spencer Adams) and make a deal to patch up a hole elsewhere. Thanks to the SSS faithful, many such scenarios were played out during the South Side Sox Offseason Plan Project.

Qualifying offer: Jeff Samardzija

Out of the 76 plans, only one (Gibby32) had the White Sox re-signing Samardzija to a 5 year, $85 million dollar deal. That's a pretty fair offer but its been known quite some time that the Shark is looking for the lucrative $100 million+ contract. Wish him and his agent the best of luck finding that deal.

In-house options to replace Samardzija
  • Erik Johnson (40 plans)
  • Frankie Montas (three plans)

Erik Johnson is the popular pick to replace Samardzija in the starting staff and it makes sense. He was Pitcher of the Year in the International League and had good outings in the last month of 2015. While most believe that he is ready to finally take his place in Chicago, many had Johnson used as trade bait in 30 of the plans.

The sentimental option (18 plans)
  • Mark Buehrle (asinwreck, beautox, Captain_Wookie, DaBears05, e-gus, Killah_Priest, larry, MikeyBarrett'sSadRightHook, ObsidianXIII, ParisSox, pnoles, Shoeless_Joe, sophist, thehitlesswonder, walterfan34, WhiteSoxThought, WSBill)

It feels right for Mark Buehrle to finish his career with the White Sox. It's probably a good idea to bring him in and see Herm Schneider about that shoulder which began to bark on him in September. Obviously, issues with the shoulder area are a major red flag which has played a factor into his retirement rumors. Only one plan had the White Sox signing Buehrle to a two-year deal, so the risk taken by the SSS general managers is pretty minimal.


First-tier free agents (3 plans)
  • David Price (the_armchairGM)
  • Johnny Cueto (sophist)
  • Zack Greinke (the_armchairGM)

While the world waits for Greinke to opt-out of his contract, the creme-de-la-creme of this free agency class is Price. For sure, his price will be too rich for the White Sox' blood as they have yet to commit $100 million dollars to a player,  let alone $200 million, which is what Price could net. I'm interested to see how GMs approach Cueto and if his time in Kansas City took a toll on his potential earnings (nice World Series complete game, though).

Second-tier free agents (nine plans)
  • Jordan Zimmermann (whitesoxsavant, mikecws91, GreekSox23, Captain_Wookie)
  • Yovani Gallardo (Shoeless_Joe, JofpGallagher)
  • Wei-Yin Chen (KenWo, striker)
  • Mike Leake (AHerguth)
I've been watching Jordan Zimmermann since 2007 when I got a chance to broadcast one of his college starts. He had a good-but-not-great 2015, allowing a career high 24 home runs. Still, he has good control and has been dependable health-wise, which could help net a large contract ranging from $85 million to $100 million.

Comparing Zimmermann to the first-tier starters, he is not that far off in terms of production:

Three year WAR totals (2013-2015)

fWAR

bWAR

Zack Greinke

13.7

17.5

David Price

16.9

13.3

Johnny Cueto (hurt in 2013)

9.5

11.7

Jordan Zimmermann

12.0

12.1

Gallardo has always been of interest to me since watching him pitch for the Milwaukee Brewers. After four consecutive years with 200-plus strikeouts (2009-12), he hasn't broken 150 in a year since. Still, he gave the Rangers his best season according to bWAR as he was worth 4.1 wins. He's not bad a choice if he is the third- or fourth-best pitcher on the staff, but he could command a bigger contract than Ervin Santana got last year with Minnesota.

Chen had a very good 2015 posting a 3.8 bWAR and a 124 ERA+. I'll put the odds of him re-signing with Baltimore close to 1 percent after the Orioles demoted Chen to High-A in June. Buck Showalter said it was give him extra rest after complaining about fatigue. Scott Boras called it "grossly irregular," and Chen expressed his own displeasure. Perhaps 1 percent is being generous.

Leake is a prototypical back-end starter that many teams tried to convince themselves that he could be a front-end type during this past trade deadline. He had a good first half in 2015, posting a 111 ERA+ starting mostly in hitters' parks, then was traded to San Francisco. The thinking was sound to predict that he could post similar if not better stats in a pitchers' park. Instead, in his nine games with the Giants, Leake was 2-5 with a 4.07 ERA and 93 ERA+. He is planning on signing quickly after the World Series, so don't be shocked if he is the first pitcher to sign from the top three tiers.


Tier 3 Free Agents (16 plans)

  • Doug Fister (Da bears-bulls-sox, gnix, JoseValentin, larry, ObsidianXIII, whitesoxsavant)
  • Marco Estrada (ChiSoxCharlie, DaBears05, DutchySox,HeyImLouie, Jasmits12, and Me)
  • Ian Kennedy (forGoodnessSakeTakeAPitch, Mr.Teeny, rl_boiler)
  • Clay Buchholz (AlbertBelleFanClub)

This tier are the free agents who will sign shorter deals in terms of years (up to three) and money (no more than $40 million). Fister has battled injuries and could be a Don Cooper reclamation project, along with Kennedy. Buchholz might also fit this category, but reports from Boston say that the Red Sox are likely to pick up his option despite an elbow injury that limited him to 113 innings.

Estrada could be a buyer-beware acquisition as 2015 was by far his best season and pitched well in the playoffs. That will generate more buzz about the possibilities of adding Estrada, but the Blue Jays are interested in bringing him back.

Trading Away

  • Erik Johnson - 30 plans
  • John Danks - 22 plans
  • Jose Quintana - 19 plans
  • Chris Sale - 3 plans
Coming full circle, instead of adding to the rotation, Hahn could always move one of the starters to patch a hole elsewhere. Even I recommended trading Erik Johnson to Miami in a deal that landed Martin Prado as the starting third baseman in 2016. Johnson is ready to take on a starter's workload in the majors, but a bad taste still lingers from 2014. Fans will clamor for trading Danks throughout all of 2016, so we'll talk about that plenty after the New Year.

If you are one that believes that the White Sox need to make a big move this offseason by trade, then Quintana is the one piece that could help Hahn reshape the roster. I have myself contemplating moving Quintana often in the past months. When you consider the contract and his production, I'm not sure the White Sox could net a return on investment that equals what they are currently getting from Quintana.

Oh, and for those suggested trading Sale: flagged.

In the end its worthwhile endeavor for the White Sox to sign one of the free agent pitchers.  Even if they shop in the clearance section, it would be wise to add more depth in the case a freak injury occurs to any of the starters. From what we saw at the beginning of this year, sometimes all it takes is the ace to land awkwardly out of his truck bed to miss all of Spring Training. It would be wise to have a backup plan in place.