Starting pitching was the key for the White Sox when they rolled through the 2005 postseason with an 11-1 record, losing only the first game of the American League Championship Series. It’s clear Jerry Reinsdorf and Rick Hahn haven’t forgotten the value that was delivered by Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia and Jon Garland.
The White Sox leadership is investing heavily in starters, with the latest example being the two-year, $38-million extension given Lance Lynn last weekend. It is both a huge reward to the 34-year-old fastball machine and and reassurance that the Southsiders should be able to count on the rotation in future seasons.
Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease — along with closer Liam Hendriks — are now under White Sox control through at least 2023. That has to be a comforting thought with revelation Carlos Rodon headed toward what could be a lucrative opportunity to shop himself as a free agent next fall.
Rodon, an afterthought when the Sox wisely signed him for $3 million after non-tendering him, is 8-3 with a 2.14 ERA after blowing away the Astros on Sunday. He has 140 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings and is pitching with such dominance that MLB.com recently published an analysis comparing him to Jacob deGrom.
Imagine what agent Scott Boras will be able to do when he sits down to have his staff put together a sales package for Rodon.
That is, if Reinsdorf and Hahn don’t head him off at the pass.
Lynn, an Indiana native, had spoken about his comfort level with the White Sox before signing the deal that will pay him $18.5 million in 2022 and ’23, with an $18-million option (and $1-million buyout) in ’24. He experienced the fickle nature of major league baseball when he languished on the market after helping St. Louis win the World Series twice, first as a reliever and then as a starter.
Rather than sorting through attractive offers, Lynn wound up signing a one-year, $12-million dollar with the Twins. It led to a trade to the Yankees and ultimately a three-year, $30-million deal with Texas, which traded him to the White Sox last winter.
Having been reunited with Tony La Russa, Lynn wasn’t looking to go anywhere. Rodon, who has pitched only for the White Sox, will balance his feelings of loyalty to a team that stuck with him through Tommy John and shoulder surgeries if he isn’t signed to a multi-year contract before reaching free agency.
He’s a Scott Boras client, sure, but so is Stephen Strasburg, who re-signed with the Nationals when he was on the brink of free agency. While Boras drives hard bargains, it’s a myth that his players never stay in one place.
Rodon is not the only contractual concern for the White Sox’s owner and his front office.
Giolito, who has twice finished in the top seven in Cy Young voting, is due two more cracks at arbitration before he can become a free agent. There’s no sense of urgency to sign him but he’s a consistent winner (26-18 with a 3.58 ERA in 60 starts the last three seasons) who has proven durable since having Tommy John surgery as a high school senior.
The White Sox have enviable depth behind their veteran starters. Cease, who liked Eloy Jimenez was acquired from the Cubs for Jose Quintana, is delivering a breakthrough performance (7-5, 4.15 in 19 starts) in his age-25 season. Power arms Michael Kopech and Garret Crochet are being used out of the Sox bullpen, as Buehrle and Chris Sale before they emerged as No. 1 starters.
Keuchel, Lynn, Rodon, Giolito and Hendriks will combine to earn about $45 million this season. That number is due to rise to about $55 million next season, and likely beyond $65 million if Rodon is retained. Should the White Sox pay him in the range of Lynn and Keuchel, the combined price for those five starters could jump to $75 million.
Reinsdorf’s burning desire to win a second World Series title drove an Opening Day payroll of $128.7 million this season, using figures from Cots Contracts. That’s the biggest in franchise history.
Letting Lynn walk would have relieved some financial pressure, perhaps making it easier to keep Rodon beyond this season. But did you see the excitement of the White Sox fans last weekend, when La Russa’s team opened the second half against Houston?
There’s a real buzz in the air. The White Sox are providing an appealing alternative to the unraveling Cubs and Reinsdorf wants to keep the good times rolling. He is showing he is willing to pay the price.