The Chicago White Sox are tentatively less than one month away from reporting to spring training for what appears to be their most important season in over a decade. General manager Rick Hahn has addressed several of the team’s needs this offseason, including signing closer Liam Hendriks, signing outfielder Adam Eaton, and traded for pitcher Lance Lynn. Hahn has yet to address the team’s fifth starter role, a role that has been an issue for the last several years.

The White Sox Haven’t Had A Reliable Fifth Starter In Over Six Seasons

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Since 2014, The White Sox have failed to have a full rotation in which the team had a reliable fifth starter. Whether it was John Danks, Mat Latos, Ervin Santana, Dylan Covey, Ross Detwiler, Gio Gonzalez, or Carlos Rodon, the team has failed to have a quality fifth starter. One of the attributing factors to the prolonged issue has been the team’s short-term solutions.

Instead of trying to find a long-term solution via free agency or trade, the team has either taken a risk on a sox pitcher returning from significant injury or signing a pitcher to a one-year deal. In 2016, the team turned to Danks, who appeared to be past his prime, to be the fifth starter. The former 2012 Opening Day starter struggled as he posted a 4.71 ERA over four starts.

During the rebuilding phase from 2017 to 2019, the White Sox did not sign or develop a reliable starter to fill out their starting rotation. Although Chicago in a rebuild, the organization could not find a pitcher for the role over the three seasons. Although Hahn brought in pitchers such as Ivan Nova, James Shields, and Derek Holland, the White Sox simple could not add another pitcher to be an inning-eater during the rebuild.

The worst moment of the three years came in 2019, where on several occasions, Chicago either had to call up a minor league starter or go have a bullpen day because they didn’t have a full five starters in the rotation. Although there were injuries involved, it was still the organization’s fault for not adding starting pitching in the offseason.

2020 Could Serve As A Warning for 2021

Last season, it appeared that the team had enough depth to ensure a full five-man starting rotation. Due to COVID delay, pitcher Michael Kopech chose to sit out the 2020 season, while Rodon, Gio Gonzalez, and Reynaldo Lopez either all struggled with injuries or to be effective. The team overcame the issue given the shortened 60-game season, but the lack of starters would come back to hurt the team in the playoffs.

In the team’s best of three playoff series against the Oakland A’s, the White Sox virtually had only two reliable starters in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. In the third and deciding game, the team couldn’t decide whether to start Dylan Cease or Dane Dunning. No matter who the White Sox started in the third game, many believed the starter wouldn’t be given a long outing. Manager Rick Renteria pulled Dunning after two outs in the first inning and used an MLB record nine pitchers in the 6-4 loss.

In the offseason, the team traded for Lynn but gave up Dunning in return. At the moment, Chicago’s projected starting rotation is Giolito, Keuchel, Lynn, Cease, and potentially either Lopez or Kopech. Again, Hahn and the White Sox could be in a position where their fifth starter is either ineffective or suffers an injury, which is likely as one pitcher has pitched since 2018.

The White Sox could sign a proven pitcher as free-agent pitchers such as Trevor Bauer, Felix Hernandez, Jake Arietta, and Trevor Cahill. Chicago missed a perfect opportunity to find a reliable back of the rotation starter in pitcher Jose Quintana. Quintana signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as he made back to back 30 start seasons in 2018 and 2019.

If the 2021 season starts on time, the team will be playing a full 162 game season in which a five-man rotation will be needed. If Kopech or Lopez fail in the role, the team could be at risk of losing vital games and or may have to trade quality prospects to fill the spot before the trade deadline. Hahn and the front office have had several years to resolve this issue and have failed to do so. Unless Chicago makes another move this offseason, the team could repeat the mistake this year as they are slated to contend for not just a division title but for the World Series.

Steve Pusch
Eastern Illinois University graduate, Steve earned a Bachelor’s in Journalism with a concentration in sports. While at EIU, Steve co-hosted a weekly radio sports talk show focused on Chicago.