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A modest proposal: Game the IL and run out six strong starting pitchers

Instead of having the injured list leave the White Sox short all season, let’s get ahead of it and rotate an extra starter into the mix

If the White Sox were smart, they’d be coming six strong this season.
| Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Last week, we were having a staff discussion about the White Sox need for another starting pitcher. In response, I brought out the same argument I made last year in suggesting both Carlos Rodón and another starter (they got Vince Velasquez first, so sure, Vince) were needed for a serious run.

This year, I’ll say the same, that six legitimate starters (at least) are needed for a serious attempt to retake the AL Central crown. Does that mean a six-man rotation? It’s not the dumbest idea given Michael Kopech’s uncertain health/stamina, Mike Clevinger post-two TJSs, and ... well, beyond Dylan Cease, durability in the White Sox rotation is not a strong suit.

No, there is a way to keep six major league starters on the roster but run out a five-man rotation, and that is by gaming the injured list.

Let’s face it, last year was a planning and performance disaster for a starting rotation that was expected to push the White Sox to a division title: Failing to make an offer on Rodón, signing Vince Velasquez as the only offseason rotation arm and guaranteeing him a roster spot, presuming Dallas Keuchel would be at least an innings-eater, lucking into a resurgent Johnny Cueto only after Lance Lynn cracked his knee as was out a third of the season, and otherwise having such woebegone starter depth that Triple-A Charlotte found two-thirds of its contests started by relievers (bullpen games).

And through the season, the White Sox failed miserably — beyond rotation management and planning — at utilizing the IL. We don’t have to repeat all the errors, but some highlights include sending Leury García into games hurt, letting Kopech start a game gimpy, and Luis Robert being reduced to Wiffleball-batting with a useless hand.

The White Sox should game the system, instead of letting it game them. I’d like six legit major league starters, keeping one perpetually on the IL, because there is usually at least one starter on the IL at any given time, anyway. (Last year, 36 starts were lost to the IL if you include Velasquez as a sixth “emergency starter,” or just 27 if you consider the rotation to be Lynn/Lucas Giolito/Cease/Cueto/Kopech. There were eight separate stints where these core starters were inactive, including Cueto and Lynn not even being on the roster for the first month-plus of the season.)

Nine starting pitchers with anticipated market value of $6 million or more remain out there for the White Sox: Nathan Eovaldi, Corey Kluber, Michael Wacha, Zack Greinke, Jordan Lyles, Dylan Bundy, Chad Kuhl, Zach Davies and Cueto. Eovaldi has the most value, at $16.7 million, so for argument’s sake, let’s add him.

If Cease, Giolito, Lynn, Clevinger, and Eovaldi are all healthy breaking camp, start Kopech slow after surgery, especially knowing that he still needs to build up to 32 starts/180 innings. Then when Lynn tweaks a hammy, Kopech rotates in. When Giolito needs a break, Lynn’s back.

If the high minors were stocked with Davis Martins (whatever that means) and it was just a matter of which of five great Charlotte starters gets the call to sub in, we wouldn’t need this plan because there would be several aces-in-waiting. Maybe next year, the White Sox will have Martin, Sean Burke, Norge Vera, Cristian Mena and Jason Bilous just sitting in Charlotte waiting to ascend. But it’s not the case here in 2023, as the White Sox high minors are just as thin as last year and don’t yet even have the miracle of a Cueto awaiting the call.

One of the push-backs I got from some of my fellow writers was, namely, what MLB starter in their right mind would sign up for an “unofficial” six-man/IL rotation? Fair, I guess — although “hey wait, they paid me my full salary for fewer starts” is an interesting union grievance. And let’s not forget, no starter on this roster is “strong” heading into the season, save for Cease, who has unfailingly taken the slab every fifth day in his MLB career.

But even so, a six-man rotation (unofficial, yeah) still gives each pitcher 27 starts. Going as often as they could last year in a “five-man” rotation, Cease had just 32 starts, Giolito 30, Cueto and Kopech 25, and Lynn 21. Even smash Velasquez/Martin/Kuechel into a three-headed monster sixth starter, and that slot still just had 26 starts; yes, a “six-man” rotation last year still managed just 159 starts.

So the notion that Clevinger will pout because his 3.20 ERA (har) comes with 28 starts instead of 32 is not only silly, it’s unlikely that he’ll be forced into “fake” IL time if he’s able to take the ball every fifth day. (On the other hand, if the White Sox are “over-healthy” and need to game the IL, fine; last year, Giolito was too bulky to start the season and admitted timing/release issues he couldn’t correct on the fly, so if the other five are top-shape and Gio is slumping, IL him and give him extra side session time to get right.)

For some readers who remember a more durable time in the majors, these numbers might turn stomachs. But the game is different even from just a decade ago. Mark Buehrle was an anomaly then — and he’d be an alien today.

Clevinger signing on a make-good deal in 2023 to get 3/50 next year means he wants to show he can take 32 starts with a 3.00 ERA. But again, six starters with the Sox doesn’t even eliminate that possibility. Cease is gonna get his 32, always does. Lynn? Unlikely. Giolito? Probably not. Kopech? No way. So there are 32 starts out there for more than just Cease.

And even if not, a six-man rotation is 27 starts per. Clevinger with a 3.00 ERA over 27 starts surely makes $18 million in 2024 and gets his 3/50.

The White Sox know they aren’t getting 32 x 5 starts with the rotation, and still have NOTHING (sorry, Davis) at Triple-A. Even if the rotation starts Spring Training in tip-top shape it is likely to be scraped up, if not tattered, before Opening Day. Of course we’re not going to get an ace as our No. 6 this way at this deep into the offseason, but it’s not just Ross Detwiler or Mike Wright Jr. still out there looking for work, either.

This doesn’t affect how many arms are in the pen, and doesn’t necessitate guys with options (when Martin starts games this year, it should be as the emergency doubleheader starter ONLY, and those starts don’t burn an option. Gaming the IL gets the White Sox a six-man rotation without having the sixth starter active.

WORST case, Lance has to spend an extra turn healthy but on the IL. Or Kopech misses a month he didn’t have to. Sure, there are always rust concerns with keeping guys out of game action too long, but compared to the burnout we’ve seen now for three straight White Sox seasons, including pitchers just straight-up breaking down, maybe being “too strong” isn’t a bad problem to have. Maybe our next (2023?) ALDS will feature a rotation with starters that can go, say, five innings per start instead of whatever that abomination was vs. Houston in 2021.

So, that’s my plan. Yeah, it necessitates money the White Sox don’t want to spend — but on the other hand, it puts the club in actual legit playoff contention again, vs. whatever malaise is afflicting the South Siders as they suffer through another flaccid offseason.

Poll

Game the IL to create a "six-man" rotation?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Brilliant, Ballantini, please become the GM.
    (65 votes)
  • 11%
    I am old-school and want my rotation to pitch 250 innings and start 36 times.
    (22 votes)
  • 19%
    Davis Martin is fine, just chill.
    (36 votes)
  • 3%
    But won’t the White Sox get in trouble if Lance Lynn doesn’t *really* have a month-long blister?
    (7 votes)
  • 30%
    Wait, we are still talking about making the postseason in 2023?
    (56 votes)
186 votes total Vote Now
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