Which top-tier starter should White Sox sign?

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 22: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros delivers the pitch against the Washington Nationals during the third inning in Game One of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 22, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 22: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros delivers the pitch against the Washington Nationals during the third inning in Game One of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 22, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

With the Chicago White Sox losing out on Zack Wheeler, the team is now forced to alter their offseason plans as they look elsewhere to add a top-tier starter. 

On the free agent market currently, there are only really three top-tier starting pitchers left with those three being Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Madison Bumgarner.

That is likely the order from highest to lowest in terms of their next contract.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that is the order of which each is the best fit for the White Sox in 2020.

In this article, I will look to make the case both for and against each one. Furthermore, the slides will go from my last choice (next slide) to my first choice (final slide).

All of these arms would make a major impact for the team both in terms of their performance on the field and their financial weight on the franchise.

None of these options will come cheap, as would also have been the case with Wheeler, meaning that the team needs to carefully evaluate each option in order to avoid being the team that makes a regrettable offseason signing that serves as a burden on the franchise.

(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

1. Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner has obviously been one of the best starters in all of baseball over the last decade with a 3.13 ERA, 3.32 FIP, and 1.127 WHIP for his career that has spanned parts of 11 seasons.

On top of it, the left-hander is a three-time World Series champion with the San Francisco Giants and he played a major part in all three.

In fact, he is one of the best postseason pitchers of all time with an ERA of 2.11 in the playoffs.

However, since last appearing in the postseason in 2016, Bumgarner has only made 30 or more starts once, dealing with a multitude of injuries.

That being said, he tied a career-high in starts this past season with 34 while registering a 3.90 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 1.127 WHIP. He also had 8.8 K/9 as compared to 1.9 BB/9.

Despite being only 30-years-old, though, Bumgarner has a lot of mileage on his arm between his postseason runs and seven seasons throwing 200 innings or more.

While that also shows durability, his 240 innings tossed from 2017-2018 certainly puts it into question whether he can maintain that.

According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the expectation is that Bumgarner will receive a contract worth at least $100 million.

Bumgarner would add some much-needed playoff experience to the White Sox, but at that price, he’s a bit of a risk.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

2. Gerrit Cole

So, I know that everyone will think this is a little weird as Gerrit Cole was one of the top three pitchers in all of baseball and arguably should have won the Cy Young Award over his then-teammate, Justin Verlander, in 2019.

Cole’s talent is undeniable with a 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP, and 0.895 WHIP in addition to a career-high 13.8 K/9 as compared to 2.0 BB/9 in 2019.

The White Sox would certainly be improved if the team signed him and there’s no question about that. He would immediately be their ace and Lucas Giolito would be right behind him in the rotation.

With that being said, the price tag to sign Gerrit Cole is going to extremely steep.

Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors predicted at the beginning of the offseason that the right-hander would receive an eight-year, $256 million contract. On top of it, many have even speculated that his deal could top $300 million.

Is he deserving of that type of contract on the open market? Absolutely.

However, it might not be in the best interest for the White Sox to jump in on him given his reliance on velocity which tends to not age well.

Furthermore, the chances of the White Sox actually landing him are not high as Cole’s preference appears to be to play on the west coast and the Los Angeles Angels are currently offering that to him.

On top of it, if he were to choose to play somewhere not on the west coast, it would probably be for the New York Yankees.

The only chance the White Sox would really have of landing him is if they offered the most money and by a significant margin.

I’d guess that if the difference is $10 million or less, he’ll go to one of the other two teams.

While the appeal of having Gerrit Cole top the White Sox rotation in 2020 is very appealing, it’s hard to envision it actually happening.

And by the time they realize that, it’s very possible they would’ve missed out on each of the other two top-tier pitchers talked about in this article.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

3. Stephen Strasburg

This might come as a bit of a surprise that he tops my list, but Stephen Strasburg would be the most ideal of the three remaining top-tier starters to join the team.

Strasburg, 31, probably is the “just right” pitcher of the three as he isn’t as good as Cole, but also is better than Bumgarner.

What makes him the right choice, in my opinion, is that he has proven that he can stand the test of time and might be able to age gracefully.

Despite velocity that has diminished back-to-back seasons down to 94.3 on his fastball (FanGraphs), Strasburg has maintained a consistent strikeout rate that was 10.8 K/9 each of the past two seasons.

Yes, if his velocity decreases too much his talent-level probably will start to diminish with it.

That being said, the biggest thing that needs to be considered when giving a long-term contract to a pitcher is determining whether or not they are likely to become unbearable at any point in the deal.

Given the fact that Strasburg has already figured out ways to adjust to diminishing velocity, the chances of his effectiveness “falling off a cliff” are minimal.

On top of it, Strasburg had one of the best years of his career in 2019 as he tossed a career-high 209 innings while registering a 3.32 ERA, 3.25 FIP, and 1.038 WHIP. He also later won World Series MVP for the Washington Nationals.

Strasburg’s price tag won’t be low by any means as Dierkes predicted him to receive a six-year contract worth $180 million.

However, that is significantly lower than Cole’s deal and is probably better value than what Bumgarner is now expected to receive.

On top of it, Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported last week that Strasburg’s free agent situation is a “wide-open scenario” and that the White Sox are a “dark horse” to sign him.

That certainly sounds like they’d have better odds of landing Strasburg than they would Cole.

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While all three pitchers would help the White Sox in 2020, Stephen Strasburg is the one they should sign and give a big contract to.