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The White Sox and the Braves are in very different places. Anyone who can call up the standings on their phone knows that.
But it very much defines the two sides of the trade the teams pulled off last week, when Chris Getz started his offseason work by shipping Aaron Bummer to Atlanta for five players. None of those five players had much future with the 2024 edition of the Braves, it seems, with Bummer being a late-inning piece Brian Snitker can plug into the back end of his bullpen right away.
When it comes to the White Sox, as Getz put it Friday: “We are further away than just a left-handed reliever from where we need to go.”
Who knows how many of the players Getz added to the organization will be part of the next contending White Sox team. But remember that Getz needs to field a squad for the 2024 season, as well, whether the idea is to contend for an AL Central title or not. The sheer number of holes coming off that 101-loss season means some guys who had little chance at contributing to a World Series hopeful like the Braves have the potential to play significant roles on the South Side.
So while there is a lot of offseason left — we’re not even to Thanksgiving — here’s what Getz envisions for the players who just donned their first pair of white socks.
Will Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster make White Sox’ starting rotation?
Getz made it clear during the general managers meetings earlier this month in Arizona that a trade that saw a pitcher leave town — he was particularly talking about Dylan Cease at the time — would have to address the White Sox’ dire need in the starting rotation, and this deal did just that, even if “address” does not equal “finalize.”
Soroka has not been the same pitcher as the one who finished runner-up in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 2019, and he has started a grand total of nine major league games since the end of that season, away from the bigs entirely in 2021 and 2022 as he recovered from an Achilles injury. Last season, he made six starts for the Braves, with a 6.40 ERA in those games, but spent most of his time at Triple-A, where he had a 3.41 ERA in 17 starts.
Shuster, a left-hander, started more games at the major league level last season, though with not wildly better results, owning a 5.81 ERA in 11 outings. Pitching at Triple-A this year, he had a 5.01 ERA in 16 starts.
The raw numbers of neither pitcher scream “thrilling upgrade” for White Sox fans, most likely, but given the dearth of starting-pitching options on the roster past Cease, these are at least two players with some experience at the big league level who could slide into the rotation and provide innings. In fact, in talking about the team’s need there after the trade, that’s just how Getz classified it, saying the deal addressed the team’s need for “starting-pitcher innings.”
And so both Soroka and Shuster are now part of the White Sox’ starting-pitching mix, and their presence there makes that group deeper than it was just a few days ago. Getz obviously has plenty of offseason remaining, and he plans to add more starting pitching. But he’s already forecasting these two as being prime candidates for two of the five spots on the starting staff in 2024.
“It’s early in the offseason and certainly there’s more work to do, but I anticipate both of them coming into spring training and competing for a spot in the rotation,” Getz said. “I’m fairly confident that one or both will be in our rotation, but we want to create a competitive environment.
“We will acquire more pitching, and certainly we’ve got younger pitching in our system that will be pushing here shortly. We look forward to getting to spring training and getting these guys ramped up for the season and creating a competitive environment to fill out that rotation for 2024.”
While White Sox fans might not be overly jazzed about a couple of guys who had 5.00-plus ERAs joining the rotation for next season, some hope for a turnaround could be found in the presence of new front-office member Brian Bannister. The new senior adviser to pitching said in September that he specializes in working with pitchers who had success prior but haven’t been able to recapture it. Sounds a lot like Soroka.
Is Nicky Lopez an everyday infielder or a bench player?
White Sox fans are familiar with Lopez from his lengthy tenure as a Royal, not to mention his well-known status as a “local product.”
The Naperville native, according to Getz, helps address the GM’s other big priority for this team, improving the infield defense. Lopez has, generally, been a positive defensive presence during his career, particularly when he’s received plenty of playing time.
The White Sox need everyday starters at both second base and shortstop, and Lopez can play both positions. Though it’s unknown at the moment, perhaps even to the White Sox themselves, whether Lopez will be called upon to be an everyday player or if he’ll serve in more of a reserve role.
“Defensively he’s got a strong reputation,” Getz said. “You look at his defensive ratings or any sorts of evaluation, it’s strong. He can play shortstop, he can play second, he can play third base. … Nicky can certainly provide improved defense, and that’s certainly something we’ve set out to do.
“It’s still kind of early to determine the amount of playing time. I do anticipate other infielders being in the mix, whether it be internally or acquiring one. The door is still open.”
If the season started today, Lopez would almost certainly be starting at either second or shortstop.
But the season doesn’t start today.
If Braden Shewmake is ‘infield depth,’ what does that mean?
The White Sox acquired the prospect ranked No. 15 in the Braves’ system in Shewmake, a lefty-hitting shortstop who made his major league debut last season and played in only a couple of games. He played 122 games at Triple-A and slashed .234/.298/.407.
The on-base numbers might leave more to be desired, but don’t expect Shewmake to be the White Sox’ follow-up to Tim Andersonat shortstop just yet. While he also stood out to Getz because of his defensive ability, the GM wasn’t describing him in the fashion that would suggest an everyday role is on the horizon.
“Middle-infield defense is a strong suit for him,” Getz said. “He’s got some left-handed power. He’s controllable. And just to provide infield depth for us, where we’re certainly in need of, made him attractive.”
But while “infield depth” might mean there’s no rush to include Shewmake as part of Opening Day roster projections, realize that the White Sox used an awful lot of “infield depth” last season, with Zach Remillard and Lenyn Sosa playing in a combined 106 games.
Didn’t the White Sox get a fifth player in the trade?
Absolutely, there was. And like Lopez, he’s a local product.
Riley Gowens is a Libertyville native and University of Illinois alum who was drafted by the Braves in the ninth round of this year’s draft. His pro-ball journey is just beginning, obviously, and he only made one start at A-ball this past season.
That almost certainly will keep him from making a big league impact in 2024, but with Getz focused on long-term goals as well as building a more well-rounded roster for next year, Gowens will be one of many charges of new farm director Paul Janisch as he looks to help mold the White Sox’ future.
“When it comes to Gowens, he’s a guy that we (identified when we) did a deep dive throughout their system,” Getz said. “We’ve got a little draft history with him because he was in a recent draft, went to the University of Illinois, and there were some attributes in his pitching repertoire that we felt like we could work with and potentially turn him into something.”
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