Going into the offseason, general manager Rick Hahn had a checklist. On the top of that list was a right-handed starting pitcher. In December, the second year GM landed his target in former Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija.
Samardzija was a good addition, as they can slide him in the middle of two lefties; Cy Young candidate Chris Sale and the highly underrated hurler, Jose Quintana. If this trio can stay healthy, they are expected to be one of the top one-two-three punches in the league.
Two questions remain:
Quite possibly the second-best lefty in the game, the 25-year-old just keeps getting better. In just 170 innings last year, Sale put up phenomenal numbers with 2.17 ERA, 2.57 FIP, .966 WHIP, and a (10.8) SO/9. He has finished sixth, fifth, and third over the last three years in the Cy Young voting and also finished his second straight with over a (5) WAR.
With a sturdier rotation behind him, Sale shouldn’t face as much pressure. That being said, Sale is still a fierce competitor and it takes a lot for him to come out of any game. As always, health will be a main concern, but he is going into his 4th year as a starter and has shown no sign of wearing down from his scary delivery.
Projected Year: 17-8/2.55 ERA/220 IP/240 K’s
Samardzija, who was a childhood White Sox fan, finally gets to live out his dream. The question remains, for how long? As of right now, he is a one-year rental, but his agent has said they are willing to listen to any offer Hahn and company have for the impending 30-year-old free agent.
Going into his fourth year as a starter, “Shark” threw his second 200 inning season in a row. He carried a 7-13 record but had an impressive 2.99 ERA between the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics and made his first all-star team in 2014. He was also a (3.7) WAR pitcher.
The right-hander is expected to be sandwiched in the middle of Sale and Quintana to start the season, which will give the south siders a venomous three-headed punch. If Samardzija truly is playing for a new contract, expect him to put up another good year.
Projected Year: 15-11/3.50 ERA/215 IP/210 K’s
Did you know that Jose Quintana was cut twice in one month by both New York teams?
Quintana may be the most hard luck starter in the entire American League. Over the last two seasons, Quintana has 29 no decisions over his last 65 starts, with 17 of those coming in 2013. Last year, Quintana’s FIP of 2.81 was lower than his ERA of 3.32, and he had a 3.5 WAR.
The 26-year-old Colombian has yet to win more than 9 games in a single season. Will that change in 2015? With better run support, he should be in for his first double-digit win season. In 19 of Quintana’s 32 starts last season, he received in or fewer runs of support.
Projected Year: 13-9/3.35 ERA/200 IP/175 K’s
Noesi is another reclamation project that the pitching Don Cooper has been tasked with. Although he is still a work in progress, his numbers with the White Sox are better than his 2014 totals show on the surface.
In 27 starts since being acquired from the Texas Rangers, Noesi was 8-11 with a 4.39 ERA in 166 innings. After starting off 0-4, Noesi settled in and won 8 of his last 15 decisions. Being a right-handed arm will help his cause this spring, and unless he severely under-performs in March, he is expected to slide in to the rotation, at least for the time being while top prospect Carlos Rodon gets more time at Charlotte.
Projected Year: 12-11/4.35 ERA/180 IP/125 K’s
Since the injury bug hit Danks back in 2010, he has not been the same pitcher. He hasn’t had an ERA under 4.00 since 2009 and hasn’t thrown over 200 innings since 2010.
In 2012, Danks signed a lucrative 5 year/ $65 million contract and has only thrown in 63 starts since that time. Over the last three years, the White Sox have seen him go from a frontline starter to un-tradeable due to a large salary and underwhelming production.
With two years still remaining on his contract worth $31.5 million, Danks will need to have a good half to the year if Hahn wants to dump his at the deadline when Rodon is ready. If not, the Sox will ultimately have to bite the bullet and either put him in the pen or make an unfavorable trade down the road.
Projected Year: 10-12/4.80 ERA/180 IP/115 K’s
Last year’s third overall pick in the draft, the former North Carolina State star, is looking to make an impact in 2015. With his role coming out of spring training not yet determined, expect Rodon to impress next month.
Rodon rose through the ranks in just three months, going from rookie ball, all the way to triple-A. In nine appearances, including six starts, he posted a 2.92 ERA, with 38 strikeouts, in 24.2 innings. The future is bright for the 22-year-old but Hahn seems to be in no rush to get him to the majors.
If all goes well, Rodon could be up with major league team by mid May, which would also give the Boras client an extra year of contract control, which could be key, given his agent’s history with the team. In a more unlikely scenario, the lefty could see time in the bullpen before he makes his way into the rotation.
The immediate future is uncertain but Rodon’s name will be a popular one in the coming years, not only in Chicago, but around the baseball world.
Erik Johnson, Brad Penny, Scott Carrol, J.D. Martin, Raul Fernandez, and Shawn Haviland are all candidates to impress in spring training and land a spot on the 25-man roster as a long reliever/spot starter. While Rodon is expected to take more time down at Charlotte and refine his approach, when he is ready, he will take priority over any of these names.
One through three in the rotation may be the AL’s best trio. After those three, the question marks start to cloud the bottom of the rotation. The X-factor(s) will be both Danks and Noesi, who will make or break this team’s success, at least until around the trade deadline or until Rodon is deemed ready.
Overall, this team’s rotation is much improved from last year and should see a much better success rate from the addition of Samardzija and possibly Rodon.