NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The White Sox’ starting-pitching mix is starting to fill out.
But that doesn’t mean they’re done.
Chris Getz’s front office was one of the few across baseball to get anything done at a mostly sleepy Winter Meetings, agreeing with Erick Fedde on a two-year free-agent deal before selecting Red Sox minor leaguer Shane Drohan in the Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday.
Neither acquisition provides an overwhelming amount of certainty, with even more questions added to a starting staff already riddled with them. But the starting-pitching cupboard, especially at the major league level, was mostly bare when Getz was promoted to general manager in August. Trade-deadline deals helped bring in some promising youngsters, but without any idea if those guys would be ready to contribute in 2024, there was a glaring need to add arms.
Getz & Co. have done that so far this offseason, acquiring Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster in the trade that sent Aaron Bummer to the Braves before this week’s additions. Of course, the biggest White Sox related talking point of the Winter Meetings — where Dylan Cease might end up in a potential trade — could make that need in the rotation even greater and truly eliminate the biggest pitching certainty the team has.
But the White Sox believe in what Fedde showed pitching this year in Korea, where he was that league’s MVP and put up some eye-popping numbers — including 20 wins and a 2.00 ERA — after some rough results pitching for the Nationals in 2021 and 2022.
“There’s some real material differences with his stuff,” Getz said. “He added the sweeper, he got a better feel for his sinker, he changed his attack plan. And he more or less dominated over in the KBO. … We talked to hitters over there, we talked to people that are around that league, and we felt he was the most feared pitcher in that league. And the numbers show it.
“For him to come back here, with that level of confidence and the ability, which is a difference from where it was before, we’re willing to take that bet. … When you look at a projection system, and we’ve got the ability to get a better understanding of, ‘Is it going to translate? Should it translate?’ And there was enough support there that we thought we should go and get Erick Fedde.”
The influence of new senior adviser to pitching Brian Bannister is already showing. According to Getz, Bannister is involved in all pitching acquisitions, and it was Bannister to make the first comments on Fedde on Tuesday night, taking to Twitter to expound on the White Sox’ reasoning for bringing Fedde aboard before the deal was even official, which it still isn’t, by the way.
Given the uncertainty of whether or not Cease will be on the White Sox come the spring, Fedde could be the only slam dunk in terms of projecting out a rotation. Getz said after the Bummer trade that he was hopeful Soroka and Shuster would be part of the rotation, but it will undoubtedly be helpful to infuse as many options as possible into the mix.
The team sees Michael Kopech as part of their 2024 rotation, but his dreadful 2023 campaign raises plenty of questions about whether he’ll be able to pitch well enough to keep a spot. Getz has already praised Kopech’s “versatility” as someone who could end up in the bullpen if he can’t stick as a starter.
Late-season auditions by Touki Toussaint and Jesse Scholtens didn’t instill a ton of confidence that they could be leaned on to be effective across 30 starts in a season. Nick Nastrini could perhaps be the only one acquired in those deadline trades who could push for an Opening Day roster spot.
And then there’s Drohan, the former fifth-round pick of the Red Sox who had decent 2021 and 2022 seasons before watching his ERA explode upon a promotion to Triple-A during the 2023 season. He finished with a 6.47 mark at that level. Rule 5 rules state the White Sox need to keep him on the major league roster if they’re going to keep him at all.
As for whether he’ll end up a rotation candidate or not, it seems too early to tell, with Getz taking a similar tack that he did in discussing Kopech, describing Drohan as an envisioned starter with the ability to pitch out of the bullpen, if necessary.
“We had some early spring training looks on him this year, and we liked what we saw,” Getz said, “and during the season, as well. In further evaluation analytically, there were some indications of some upside here. So it’s an opportunity to take a shot on an arm that we feel has the potential to have some survival skills at the major league level, to begin with and long term, with a little bit of upside that could potentially be a rotation piece or a reliever of some sort.
“Obviously these things are bets, but there’s enough support and indicators to think that there’s potential here.”
While Fedde got a multi-year major league deal, ensuring his place in the rotation, there seems to be somewhat of a strategy of throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Getz is talking an awful lot about “bets,” after all. The organization lacked depth on this front (and still does on others), so adding as many arms as possible and taking the best five into the regular season doesn’t strike as too bad an idea, even if certainty is in short supply.
And that’s why the White Sox are expected to keep at it on the starting-pitching front.
“It remains a high priority,” Getz said. “We’ve got some innings to cover, and we’re going to try to go out there to get the best pitchers we can within the means that we have.”
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