The 2022 Chicago White Sox had one of baseball’s best starters in Dylan Cease and one of the game’s best relievers in Liam Hendriks.
But inconsistency and injuries have hurt the rotation and the bullpen as a whole.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal will look to bounce back from career lows in hitting (.202), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.269).
What’s next for the Sox behind the plate and on the mound? Here are three questions to monitor this offseason.
1. How will the Sox fill their rotation opening?
The Sox might have one of the best rotations in the American League.
The group is led by Cease, who placed second in AL Cy Young Award votingbut the Sox need to get more from Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech.
Lynn, who was out until June with right knee surgery to repair a torn tendon, battled back to go 8-7 with a 3.99 ERA in 21 starts. Giolito’s ERA hovered around 5.00 for much of the last two months before finishing at 4.90.
Kopech promised to return to a starting role after spending much of 2021 as a reliever, but his season was cut short by injury. He underwent surgery in late September to address what the team called a “problem with (his right) meniscus” and is expected to be “ready for spring,” according to pitching coach Ethan Katz.
There is an opening in the rotation with free agent Johnny Cueto.
“Obviously we need another starter,” Katz said during a Nov. 17 video conference call. “That’s our biggest need right now from a pitching standpoint. We have dialogue. We’ll see how things go, but we need another starter.”
One possibility is someone very familiar with the AL Central: free agent Mike Clevinger. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported Friday night that Sox ‘show strong interest’ in the right hand.
Clevinger, who turns 32 on Dec. 21, spent parts of five seasons in Cleveland before being traded to San Diego in 2020.
He went 7-7 with a 4.33 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 23 appearances (22 starts) for the Padres in 2022 after missing all of 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Clevinger has a 51-30 record with a 3.39 ERA and 694 strikeouts in 128 outings (114 starts) with Cleveland (2016-20) and San Diego (2020, ’22).
Internal pitching help could include Davis Martin, who went 3-6 with a 4.83 ERA, mostly as a starter (14 games, nine starts).
“Davis is great,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during GM meetings earlier this month in Las Vegas. “Davis provided real value last year and we expect him to continue to do so next year. Finally, Cueto gave us some good innings (158⅓) and pitched well in them. It’s empty right now. You better find a way to fill that.”
2. How is the pen shaping up in terms of health and responsibilities?
The Sox added to their bullpen through 2022 with Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly and before the trade deadline with Jake Diekman.
Graveman has been consistent (3.18 ERA in 65 appearances), but Kelly (6.08 ERA in 43 appearances) and Diekman (6.52 ERA in 26 appearances) have not been as effective.
Hendriks had another strong season, finishing third in the majors with 37 saves. Reynaldo López and Jimmy Lambert made solid contributions, while injuries slowed Aaron Bummer and edged out Garrett Crochet.
Overall, Hahn thought the bullpen was “a positive” in 2022.
“Liam certainly performed at his traditional All-Star level of excellence,” Hahn said. “Graveman fulfilled the role he was brought in to serve. And Reynaldo López took a nice step forward. Jimmy Lambert got a good handle on the big leagues in a reliever role, which was new for him.”
Hahn said Kelly’s “core values” were “horribly positive.”
“Given that he was coming off (the right biceps nerve injury),” Hahn said, “(it wasn’t shocking) that it took him a little while to get his legs under him.”
Hahn said if Crochet and Bummer had been healthy, the Sox lake would have gone from “very good” to “excellent.” He anticipates López, who has starting experience, to remains in his bullpen role. Same with Lambert.
As for what’s next for Crochet, who missed all of 2022 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Katz said, “Realistically, I don’t think starting next year is in the cards.”
“That’s just me talking, because if he starts — let’s say he’s ready, maybe a month into the season (and) he starts — his innings will be over with the rehab process,” Katz said. “You also have to consider how it feels, how it goes. And it’s pretty hard to go out there saying, ‘You’ve got two innings, you’ve got three innings.’ That kills a bullpen. So you’re looking at a piggyback situation.
“Thinking creatively, I don’t know if that’s realistic at the start of the season when he comes back. It’s just a matter of getting him on the field, seeing how he feels, going from there. In the bullpen you have a better opportunity to manage him a little more, take care of him, and he can get more ups, so he still gets a workload under him. But it’s a bit more controlled, whereas at the beginning you have to look after the other guys in the team as well.”
3. What is the key to more production at catcher?
Not that Hahn needed a reminder, but he heard from fans about the Sox’s lack of production at catcher.
“Do we need to add a catcher to accomplish what we want to do next year? No, Hahn said. “Do we need to be better at different positions? Yes. And this was an area where we underperformed last year. It doesn’t mean we feel like we necessarily have to go out and solve it.
“Once at O’Hare and once right at the airport (in Las Vegas) when I was picking up my bag, I had various fans tell me that catcher is an area where we need to improve. It is being talked about. I understand it’s there. Definitely an area where we can stand improvement.”
That starts with getting Grandal back to his best. He went from 23 homers in 93 games in 2021 to 5 hits in 99 games in ’22.
“(Grandal) obviously struggled, he had physical issues in ’22, and it’s important not to lose sight of how productive he was the year before,” Hahn said. “And having Yasmani right — the 2021 version of Yasmani Grandal, let alone the guy he was a few years before that — is a huge asset for the ’23 White Sox. Fortunately, we’re going to have a full offseason to get him healthy, to get everything lined up properly there.
“We think his work with (manager) Pedro (Grifol) will be beneficial. And, knock on wood, we’re going to get it back to where it was in ’21, which would be a huge shot in the arm.”