Clevinger, who turns 32 in less than a month, is two years removed from Tommy John surgery. He returned from the procedure this year to post a 4.33 ERA, 18.8 K%, 7.2 BB%, and 35.2% groundball rate in 114 1/3 regular season innings for the Padres. He also started a pair of playoff games, allowing seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.
The White Sox currently have a solid starting four lined up for their 2023 rotation in Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Michael Kopech, though Kopech is recovering from a pair of injuries. Clevinger could potentially fill the shoes of Johnny Cueto, himself a free agent. Cueto proved invaluable after signing a minor league deal with the Sox, posting a 3.35 ERA in 158 1/3 frames.
Though Clevinger’s post-Tommy John work was uninspiring, some teams may hope further distance from the surgery and/or tweaks to his repertoire can recover some of his previous form. From 2017-20, mostly pitching for Cleveland, Clevinger put up a 2.96 ERA over 489 1/3 innings, including an excellent 19 K-BB%. He was quite possibly one of the 20 best pitchers in baseball during that time.
The Padres acquired Clevinger from the Indians in a nine-player trade at the 2020 trade deadline. It’s worth noting that the White Sox were also in the mix for the pitcher they knew so well from the AL Central, though Rosenthal heard from one team official who felt they were used as a “stalking horse.” Clevinger made four starts as a new Padre, but was then scratched for what was at the time called biceps tightness and later revised to an elbow sprain. The Padres brought him back for Game 1 of the NLDS that year, but he was pulled from the start and was on the operating table the following month.
At the time of the surgery announcement, the Padres also bought out Clevinger’s final two arbitration years for a total of $11.5MM, effectively paying him that amount for what he could contribute in ’22. Though Clevinger remarked in March, “I feel healthier than I have in my entire career,” he sprained his knee shortly thereafter, leading to a May 4th season debut. He hit the IL again after three starts due to a triceps strain.
Over his first ten games, Clevinger was able to miss bats at an above average 24.7% clip. Over his last 11 starts, however, Clevinger punched out only 13.5%. Clevinger lost a bit off his fastball as the season wore on, occasionally working at 95+ in some of his earlier starts versus a few sub-93 games in the dog days of summer. Denied communication with the Padres during the lockout as well as a typical spring training, perhaps changing those variables will lead to better results for Clevinger in 2023.
With a cast of unproven hurlers vying for the fifth starting spot and Kopech recovering from knee surgery, White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz recently commented, “Obviously, we need another starter,” as reported by James Fegan of The Athletic. But as Fegan noted from the GM Meetings earlier this month, “If there’s one thing the White Sox are not touting about themselves this offseason, it’s their payroll flexibility.” For an overall view of the challenges faced by GM Rick Hahn, check out my Offseason Outlook here.
MLBTR ranked Clevinger 49th on our top 50 free agents list, predicting a one-year, $10MM deal. While we do find a two-year pact plausible for Clevinger, it’s possible he’d prefer to sign a one-year contract to rebuild value in ’23 – though he would be subject to a qualifying offer if he succeeds. A handful of starting pitchers have come off the board at this early point in the offseason, Martin Perez, Tyler Anderson, and Nick Martinez chief among them.