On Friday, the White Sox avoided arbitration with five pitchers locking up, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, and Jose Ruiz, to one-year deals. The White Sox had good reason to bring the five right-handers back on the pitching staff, but difficult extension decisions are looming.
Giolito headlines the list after a rocky 2022 season. The White Sox and Giolito agreed to a $10.4 million deal. Avoiding arbitration with the big right-hander is a victory for both sides after what transpired last off-season.
There were reports that the two sides were nearing an extension last year. After things fell through, the White Sox failed to reach an agreement with Giolito before the arbitration deadline. Giolito filed at $7.5 million and the White Sox at $7.3 million. Squabbling over less than a million dollars frustrated the former All-Star, who called the disagreement “disheartening.” Eventually, the White Sox were able to avoid a hearing and come to terms on a contract, but one can’t help but wonder if the incident affected Giolito’s confidence on the field.
Heading into the season, Giolito had led all American League pitchers in complete games and shutouts while ranking in the top five in opponent average, strikeouts, WHIP, quality starts, and ERA since 2019. He also received Cy Young votes in three consecutive seasons. In the second half of the 2021 season, Giolito posted a 2.65 ERA with 76 strikeouts.
That is why it was so baffling when his ERA ballooned up to 4.90, with a 1.435 WHIP and his lowest strikeout rate since 2018. After being considered the ace of the staff, Giolito could no longer be counted on down the stretch.
The 28-year-old right-hander is set to hit free agency next offseason. Avoiding arbitration is the equivalent of a prove-it deal. The $10.4 million locks up Giolito for his seventh season on the South Side, with a chance to earn an even bigger payday once he hits the open market.
Dylan Cease was one of the few bright spots for the White Sox in 2022. His efforts earned him a $5.7 million deal to avoid arbitration.
The 27-year-old certainly earned it. After posting a career year that saw him finish with a 14-8 record, 2.20 ERA, and 227 strikeouts in 184 innings, Cease has suddenly lined himself up for a big payday down the road. He finished second in the Cy Young voting, the highest for a White Sox pitcher since 2003, when Esteban Loaiza also finished second in the voting.
The hard-throwing right-hander ranked fifth in the AL in bWAR, second in strikeouts, and 10th in innings. However, he also led the league in walks. The walks didn’t seem to matter much. His opponents hit just .190 against him on the season. Cease set a new MLB record with 14 consecutive starts of no earned runs allowed.
White Sox ace Dylan Cease recently switched his representation to Boras last offseason. This could be bad news for the White Sox if they want to retain him after his contract is up.
While he isn’t up for free agency for another three years, he may price himself out of Chicago if he continues on this upward trajectory. Carlos Rodon was the last Boras client to leave the South Side in search of a bigger payday. Cease is more talented than Rodon and doesn’t have the same checkered injury history.
Seeing that he earned over $5 million in his first year of arbitration, the White Sox would be wise to lock up Cease to an extension sooner rather than later.
The White Sox and Micheal Kopech agreed to a $2.05 million deal for the upcoming season to avoid arbitration.
Like Cease, it was also Kopech’s first year of arbitration. While Kopech has shown flashes of excellence, he has struggled to stay healthy for an extended period of time. He finished the season on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation.
The 26-year-old is coming off his first full season in the starting rotation. He had a solid showing, tossing 119.1 innings with a 3.54 ERA, a 1.190 WHIP, and 105 strikeouts in 25 starts. This comes just one year after spending the 2021 season in the bullpen.
He posted similar numbers as a reliever, with a 3.50 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. The major difference was the dip in strikeouts once he joined the rotation. Out of the bullpen, he averaged 13.01 strikeouts per nine innings, the third-highest single-season total for a White Sox reliever in franchise history.
The 119 innings he threw in 2022 were the most he has accumulated as a professional since 2018. The Longview, Texas native missed two seasons due to Tommy John surgery and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kopech figures to be an essential member of the pitching staff next season. Two million dollars is a very fair price for a pitcher of Kopech’s caliber. If he can stay healthy, he could see a pay raise in 2024.
Reynaldo Lopez may be the X-factor for Pedro Grifol’s bullpen next season. He has the inside track position to be the closer on Opening Day, with Liam Hendriks likely to miss an extended period of time with his recent cancer diagnosis. The White Sox and Lopez agreed to a $3.625 million deal for 2023.
In 2022, Lopez carved out a role as a high-leverage reliever. López has all the tools to be a dominant closer. He throws hard and does not walk, guys. His 4.3 walk rate in 2022 ranked in the top five percent of all MLB pitchers. According to Baseball Savant, his fastball velocity ranks in the 93rd percentile.
López is a two-pitch pitcher that relies heavily on his fastball-slider combo. He does have a changeup and curveball but only throws them 12.7% of the time. The San Pedro de Macorís native posted a career-low 2.76 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and held opponents to a .218 batting average.
He is in the final year of arbitration and can become a free agent after the 2023 season. An extension may be in the cards for Lopez in the near future.
Jose Ruiz was the biggest surprise on this list. The White Sox and Ruiz agreed to a $925K contract. While the price is low, it is debatable whether it was even worth bringing him back.
Ruiz is a former catcher who was converted into a pitcher. The White Sox claimed him off waivers from San Diego in 2017. Ruiz made his debut with the big league club in 2019. He appeared in 40 games over six stints, posting a 6.08 ERA.
The following season he began the season on the injured list. Once he was reinstated from the IL, he was recalled from the Schaumberg training facility on August 9th. His stay in the big leagues didn’t last long. He was optioned back to Schaumberg on August 18th, just three days after making his season debut. He was recalled a second time on September 17th. After serving up a walk-off home run to Jose Rameriez on the 22nd, he was optioned to Schaumberg for the rest of the season.
The 2021 season marked Ruiz’s first full season with the White Sox. He held batters to a .210 average and recorded career highs in appearances (59), innings pitched (65), strikeouts (63), and holds. He finished the season with a respectable 3.05 ERA.
In 2022 he took a massive step back. The hard-throwing righty had a 4.60 ERA in 60.2 innings. His walk rate and opponent hard hit percentage ranked in the bottom four percentile in the MLB.
Given Liam Hendriks’s potential absence, bringing Ruiz back into the fold isn’t the worse thing in the world. Just don’t count on the 28-year-old in any high-leverage situations.