While Cy Young Award winners dot the American League Central landscape, the addition of Jeff Samardzija has given the Chicago White Sox a rotation that should be able to compete with anybody in the division.
A right-handed starter was needed this offseason and the White Sox were able to land just the man they were looking for in Samardzija. And while he becomes a free agent after this year, the White Sox felt that one season and the exclusive negotiation rights to a long-term deal were worth the price of Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, Chris Bassitt and Rangel Ravelo.
The White Sox now have a top three in the rotation of Chris Sale, Samardzija and Jose Quintana in that order, which looks daunting for opponents and matches up comparably with anything the rest of the division is rolling out to the mound.
Sale matches up favorably with aces David Price of Detroit and Corey Kluber of Cleveland, as the Tigers, Indians and White Sox look to have the top rotations in the Central. Samardzija might have a hard time matching up with the Justin Verlander of old, but he can go toe-to-toe with the Indians’ Carlos Carrasco. Quintana would seem to be able to match up with Tigers No. 3 starter Anibal Sanchez and Indians No. 3 Trevor Bauer.
Question marks remain in the back half of the rotation. John Danks figures to be even stronger another year removed from his 2012 shoulder surgery, but will he ever return to the sub-4.00 ERA days he experienced before he was injured? He was 11-11 last year with a 4.74 ERA and was able to log 193 2/3 innings.
And what will the White Sox get out of the No. 5 spot? Hector Noesi was a stellar find off the waiver-wire scrap heap last year and is expected to be the favorite for the final rotation spot. With a $1.95 million salary for 2015, he certainly will be given every chance to prove himself.
Noesi’s 4.75 ERA last season was among the highest of all AL regular starters. His value might better be determined, though, based on how close he can get to the 200-inning mark.
Noesi figures to be challenged for a rotation spot by top prospect Carlos Rodon, who will enter his first big league camp. Complicating a Rodon move into the rotation, though, is the fact that if he beats out Noesi, it would give the White Sox four left-handed starters.
Other rotation candidates include Erik Johnson, along with the hard-throwing Francellis Montas, who remains a long shot at this point because of his inexperience. Non-roster invitees to camp include Scott Carroll, Chris Beck, veteran Brad Penny and right-hander J.D. Martin, who has 24 career major league starts.
OUTLOOK: Sale has moved up the Cy Young Award voting in each of his three years as a starter, from sixth to fifth to third last year. The main concern with the left-hander, though, is the early bouts of arm soreness he has dealt with in each of the past three years, including a disabled-list stint last year. With the Cubs, and in a half season with the A’s, Samardzija knew how to rise to the occasion, and the expectation is that he has a huge 2015 with free agency pending next winter. Quintana allowed three earned runs or fewer 25 times last season, tied for seventh most among AL starters; with more run support this year his victory total might actually match his pitching acumen. Assuming an injury-free spring from the staff, the expectation is that Rodon opens the season at Triple-A as a starter, and then makes his big league debut at least by July.