Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Brandon Woodruff: The Perfect White Sox Free Agent Signing

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Chris Getz has been hard at work in reshaping the White Sox pitching staff this offseason. He has acquired a couple of young pitchers (Mike Soroka, Jared Shuster), signed a former KBO MVP (Erick Fedde), added a pair of innings eaters (Chris Flexen, Chad Kuhl), and brought in a few veteran relievers (Tim Hill, John Brebbia), as well as some minor league pitching signings. Yet, with the exception of possibly Fedde and Soroka, the moves he has made this offseason will have little, if any, long-term impact on the team. These are all placeholder acquisitions with limited potential to fetch anything at the 2024 trade deadline, much less be building blocks on the next good White Sox team. Thankfully for Getz, one option, in particular, has significant future upside and should be relatively affordable given his circumstances.

Woodruff’s Resume

Enter Brandon Woodruff. A two-time All-Star, Woodruff has seasons of 4.7 fWAR, 3.6 fWAR, and 3.3 fWAR to his name and a career ERA just a tad over 3.00. He has never gotten the credit he deserves because he lived in the shadow of Corbin Burnes in the Brewers rotation for a long time, but Woodruff has been one of the better starting pitchers in baseball for many years now. Since becoming a full-time starting pitcher in 2019, Woodruff has had more fWAR in fewer innings than guys like Clayton Kershaw, Logan Webb, Zac Gallen, Dylan Cease, and Pablo Lopez. Woodruff is also tied with Max Fried for 15th most fWAR of any pitcher in that same span. Being a top-15 pitcher in baseball is nothing to scoff at, especially given that it is over a sample size of several seasons. 

Injury Concerns

However, one cannot discuss Woodruff without mentioning his injury concerns. After all, that is why the Brewers decided to non-tender him this offseason. The 2023 season in the injury department was particularly tough for Woodruff, as he suffered a sub-scapular strain in his throwing shoulder in April. Yet, in an abbreviated 2023 campaign, Woodruff was still great. He struck out more than a batter an inning, had a WHIP well under 1.00, and an ERA in the low 2’s in 11 starts. Unfortunately, he underwent surgery on the same shoulder this past October and likely won’t pitch in 2024. 

Shoulder injuries can be career killers. Sox fans know that firsthand with 2008 Blackout Game legend John Danks. He was never the same after injuring his shoulder. Woodruff might fall into the same category; there is no way to predict injuries, especially ones involving a pitcher’s throwing shoulder. The murkiness of his injury situation and the fact that he is on the wrong side of 30 are likely why he is still unsigned.

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Contract Amount/Length

Based on his circumstances, forecasting what kind of contract Woodruff will get is challenging. Tyler Mahle is the best comp for Woodruff, at least in this offseason’s free-agent class. Mahle signed a two-year, $22 million contract with the Rangers earlier this offseason despite having Tommy John surgery in May of 2023. While his injury differs from Woodruff’s, his situation is comparable, as he will likely not pitch much in 2024. Woodruff is a superior pitcher to Mahle, so it will require more money to sign him, but Mahle’s contract can serve as a reference, if nothing else. Woodruff may prefer to sign with a contender, but there is an argument that the White Sox are an appealing destination in a case like this because there is minimal pressure, and he would have a long leash if he struggles with rust out of the gate.

The Final Word

Jerry Reinsdorf will not pay for quality free-agent pitching. That’s the reality of the situation. Nothing suggests he would ever pay up for the Blake Snells or Jordan Montgomerys of the world, and when healthy, Woodruff is better than either of those guys. While signing Woodruff is risky to some extent, the reward is also high. He could be a significant piece in the starting rotation moving forward or at least a valuable trade chip at the 2025 trade deadline. Adding Woodruff via free agency is a unique opportunity to bring in a talented pitcher at a fraction of the cost of other elite pitchers. The White Sox have minimal payroll commitments moving forward and don’t sign big-name free agents, regardless. It is up to Jerry Reinsdorf if he wants to be serious about making his ballclub better. If he does, Woodruff is the guy.

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