‘Tis the season, right? With everyone — hopefully — spending more time than usual at home and nothing going on in the way of movement in the Major League Baseball offseason, people are starting to get creative in their ideas for what the White Sox should do with the roster heading into the 2021 season.
One thing that I’ve seen continuously is the idea that the club should use Michael Kopech as a trade chip in an effort to fill the voids in right field or the starting rotation.
Please, stop that nonsense.
Josh Nelson — a White Sox and baseball mind that I respect the hell out of — Tweeted this morning regarding the chatter about Yu Darvish being a potential trade target if the Theo Epstein-less Cubs decide to blow it up, that Kopech would be the headliner of any deal involving Darvish.
Number one, let’s be clear that Josh was opining on what it would take to land Darvish, not necessarily suggesting that the club should do a deal like such.
With that being said, I’m not sure why the White Sox would trade a 24-year-old pitcher of Kopech’s talent level — plus a bevy of other prospects — to the Cubs in exchange for a 34-year-old starter with a history of arm injuries, who is under contract at $21MM AAV through 2024.
Yeah, Darvish was marvelous for the Cubs in 2020 as he pitched to the tune of a 2.01 ERA (2.23 FIP), 31.3 percent strikeout rate, and 3.0 fWAR en route to a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting behind free-agent Trevor Bauer. When Darvish is healthy, he’s lights out.
He’ll also be 38-years-old when his massive contract expires at the end of the 2024 season. At which point Kopech will be just 28-years-old with club control remaining, and that’s if the White Sox don’t sign him to an extension that would buy out his latter arbitration/early free-agency years like they’ve done with a chunk of this core.
Sorry, I don’t want anything to do with that deal, and I don’t think the White Sox do either. I’d much rather the White Sox add an arm this winter via free agency, whether it be a stud like Trevor Bauer or a filler for the end of the rotation, and see what the guy we’ve been salivating over for years can do when fully healthy and working with new White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz.
Hahn has made it clear that Kopech has been in communication with pitching player development heads like Everett Teaford throughout this entire process. They love what he’s been doing while on the sideline, getting stronger and building towards a healthy future. The hiring of Katz at the major-league leveled coupled with their creating of a forward-thinking player development staff throughout the minors leads me to believe that the White Sox are looking to develop their pitching talent from within.
Kopech, 24, has been a top prospect in the White Sox since they acquired him in the blockbuster trade with Boston that signaled the beginning of this rebuild back in 2016, which is probably a couple years longer than they would have liked him donning that ‘prospect’ label at this point, but life happens sometimes.
In fact, in retrospect, Kopech made the right call sitting out the truncated 2020 season when you consider the rash of arm injuries to pitchers across the league this season. Just this week it was announced that Mike Clevinger, who the Padres acquired by sending nearly enough players to field a football team to Cleveland, will miss all of the 2021 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
After opting out of the season Kopech will have not pitched in a regular-season major-league game since September of 2018 before he underwent Tommy John surgery, a procedure that cost him all of his 2019 season.
With a clean bill of health heading into this past spring, Kopech made his return to the mound in a White Sox uniform in March against the Rangers in a Cactus League game. Kopech lit up the radar gun, looked strong, and said that he felt excellent both physically and mentally heading into 2020.
When the White Sox open their 2021 season in Los Angeles next spring, it will have been nearly three years since Kopech dazzled a Guaranteed Rate Field crowd during a rainy major-league debut in 2018.
Even so, there still remains a chance that Kopech isn’t on the roster on Opening Day 2021. After a nearly three-year absence from that environment, how he makes his return will be a major concern of the organization, and they’ll surely have a plan in place to manage his workload.
“Overcoming the two years of not facing big-league hitters is something we’re going to have to work through together,” Hahn said. “And managing the workload and our own expectations. But in terms of his commitment to being part of this, no mystery whatsoever.”
As it stands today, Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel will head up the ’21 rotation and be followed by some combination of Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Michael Kopech for much of the season. If they bring in another pitcher this winter, that’ll allow Kopech to be managed in a fashion conducive to his long-term outlook.
Despite the fire-balling right-hander opting out of the 2020 season back in July, there’s no reason to believe that he’s not going to be a big part of this franchise’s current contention window moving forward. White Sox GM Rick Hahn essentially said so himself last month during his season-ending media availability when he went over the status of players sidelined with injuries.
“Zero mystery whatsoever,” Hahn said last month. “We look forward to having Michael back with us at the start of spring training. He’s been in contact primarily with the minor-league pitching coaches and sharing the program he was working on, getting their input on it.
“He’s obviously fully invested and committed, and the view of him remains the same as when we announced he was opting out of the season: that we still see his future as very bright and that he has the potential to be a very impactful arm for us for a very long time.”
Focus on that last part of Hahn’s comments, “we still see his future as very bright and that he has the potential to be a very impactful arm for us for a very long time.”
I know that Hahn said some things during that same conference call that didn’t come true, namely the managerial hiring process, but that was out of his hands when Jerry Reinsdorf decided that he wanted to hire Tony La Russa. But, one thing that Reinsdorf has done in recent years, is keeping his hands off of Rick Hahn’s roster construction.
If Hahn thinks that Kopech is going to be a part of this for the long-haul, then there’s no reason to think otherwise. It’s not every day that Hahn states on the record that a player is going to be in their plans, “for a very long time.”
Featured Photo: Jon Antonoff / Chicago Sun-Times