The White Sox fulfilled half of what GM Rick Hahn said he sought to do to the 2020 rotation (and an organizational prophecy to re-acquire him a third time!) by signing journeyman LHP Gio Gonzalez on Thursday afternoon. The terms are not yet known, but I’d assume it’s a year and under $6M. Again, totally fair.
Gonzalez won’t get the tingles going for anyone the way the Zack Wheeler sweepstakes did, but he’s perfectly fine as your back end hurler that helps bide time until the Michael Kopechs, Carlos Rodons and Dane Dunnings are ready to take those innings back. He’s a career 3.68 ERA/8.6 K/9/3.8 BB/9 guy that basically won’t kill you, the type of arm that probably would’ve been good for 3-5 wins last year over the sub-replacement options the White Sox threw out there almost 40% of the season. His ground ball rate (45ish%) and HR/9 rate (0.9 or so/9) will also be welcome on a team that could use a little more and less of each, respectively. Fangraphs projects him at similar numbers and 1.5 WAR for 2020, so yea they’ll most definitely take that from a #5 considering the last few years worth of results.
Originally drafted by Chicago in 2004 (though never playing an MLB game for them in two (!!) stints), Gio the elder does come with some warts. He missed a good two-plus months in 2019 to start the season, not signing until late March only to be cut by the Yankees. He battled “dead arm” and surfaced with the Brewers to put up a respectable 1.4 WAR/1.9 bWAR with a 3.50 ERA/8K/9 over 87.1 IP (19G/17GS). He’s been incredibly durable over his career, so the injuries/slow start in 2019 and his not going late into games can probably be chalked up to sitting around most of the off-season and missing spring training completely. His velocity and spin rate are slowly diminishing, but so are every other 34+ y/o not named Verlander or Greinke.
Gonzalez actually improved in a lot of areas over his sort-of-rough 2018, and it doesn’t take much for one to connect some dots and see that, hey, I wonder if new White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal had anything to do with the improvement? Well we’re all about to find as the pair will team up again in 2020 on the Southside. Sometimes these things write themselves.
While this isn’t a bad signing, it could start to look that way if the White Sox don’t look to add one of the remaining better starting pitching options remaining on the free agent or trade markets. Gonzalez is perfectly palatable as an aging and hopefully mostly effective rotation filler, but depending on your opinion he’s anywhere from the fourth to second best major league starting pitcher on the roster.
This depends on how you feel about Reynaldo Lopez being consistent and how Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech can start their second seasons with the big club (with one coming off a year on the shelf). I’m going to guess not many of you are hip to any of those three slotting in at #2 caliber material just yet, so signing Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel or trading for Jon Gray(yes, please) or David Price (gross) is still ideal to the White Sox really start pushing the Twins for the division crown in 2020 and creating a winning culture.
Funny, since the Sox will likely be battling those Twins for the services of all the aforementioned (besides Price). There’s a clear path here to making some noise and getting the fan base excited about more than just the waves of prospects set to potentially be sort of good. Signing Gonzalez can be a part of that, or it can be the signal that management really is punting this thing until 2021 (for the most part) if they keep signing off the proverbial scrap heap.