The 2022 Chicago White Sox had one of baseball’s top starters in Dylan Cease and one of the game’s best relievers in Liam Hendriks.
But inconsistency and injuries affected the rotation and bullpen as a whole.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal will look to rebound after 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.
The Sox could have one of the better rotations in the American League.
The group is led by Cease, who placed second in AL Cy Young Award voting, but the Sox need to get more out of Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech.
Lynn, who was out until June because of 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 final two months before finishing at 4.90.
Kopech showed promise returning 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 an “issue with (his right) meniscus” and is expected to be “ready for spring full go,” according to pitching coach Ethan Katz.
There is an opening in the rotation with Johnny Cueto a free agent.
“Obviously we need another starter,” Katz said during a video conference call Nov. 17. “That right now is our biggest need from the pitching standpoint. We’re having dialogue. We’ll see how things play out, but we do need another starter.”
One possibility is someone very familiar with the AL Central: free agent Mike Clevinger. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported late Friday the Sox are “showing strong interest” in the right-hander.
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 was 3-6 with a 4.83 ERA largely as a spot starter (14 games, nine starts).
“Davis is great,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during the GM meetings earlier this month in Las Vegas. “Davis provided real value last year and we expect he’ll continue to do it next year. In the end, Cueto gave us some good chunk innings (158⅓) and pitched well in them. That’s a void right now. Finding a way to fill that would be good.”
The Sox added to their bullpen leading up to 2022 with Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly and before the trade deadline with Jake Diekman.
Graveman was steady (3.18 ERA in 65 appearances), but Kelly (6.08 ERA in 43 appearances) and Diekman (6.52 ERA in 26 outings) weren’t 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 sidelined Garrett Crochet.
Overall, Hahn thought the bullpen was “a positive” in 2022.
“Certainly Liam performed at his traditional excellent All-Star level,” Hahn said. “Graveman served the role that he was brought in to serve. And Reynaldo López made a nice step forward. Jimmy Lambert acquainted himself well to the big leagues in a reliever role, which was new to him.”
Hahn said Kelly’s “underlying metrics” were “awfully 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 were healthy the Sox bullpen would have gone from “very good” to “excellent.” He anticipates López, who has experience starting, to remain in his bullpen role. Same with Lambert.
As for what’s ahead for Crochet, who missed all of 2022 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Katz said: “Realistically, I don’t think starting is in the cards next year.”
“This is just me speaking, because if he’s starting — say he is ready maybe a month after the season (and) he starts — his innings are going to be done with his rehab process,” Katz said. “You also have to factor in how’s he feeling, how’s it going. And it’s pretty tough to go out there saying, ‘You’ve got two innings, you’ve got three innings.’ That kills a bullpen. So you’re looking at maybe a piggyback situation.
“Thinking creatively, I don’t know if that’s realistic in the beginning of the season with him coming back. It’s just a matter of getting him on the field, see how he’s feeling, going from there. In the bullpen you have a better opportunity to manage him a little bit more, to take care of him, and he can get multiple ups so he’s still getting a workload under him. But it’s a little bit more controlled, whereas starting you have to take care of the other guys on the team as well.”
Not that Hahn needed a reminder, but he has 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 have to get better at various positions? yes And that was one area where we underperformed last year. Doesn’t mean we feel we necessarily have to go out and address that.
“Once at O’Hare and once even at the airport (in Las Vegas) when I was getting my bag, I had various fans tell me that catcher was an area we need to improve at. Word is out on that. I get that’s out there. Certainly 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 five homers in 99 games in ’22.
Grandal, 34, had offseason right knee surgery in October 2021, missed more than a month after suffering lower back spasms in mid-June and had a 10-day IL stint in late August with a left knee strain.
“(Grandal) obviously struggled, had his 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, much less the guy he was several years leading up to that — is a huge asset to the ’23 White Sox. Fortunately we’ll have a full offseason to get him healthy, get all things aligned properly there.
“His work with (manager) Pedro (Grifol) we think will be beneficial. And, knock on wood, we’ll get him back to the level he was at in ’21, which would be a huge shot in the arm.”