November 28: Jim Bowden of The Athletic reports that the guarantee is $12MM.
November 27: The White Sox have agreed to a one-year deal with right-hander Mike Clevinger, and the contract will become official once Clevinger passes a physical. Clevinger, represented by ACES, will earn over $8MM in guaranteed money.
After undergoing a Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the entirety of the 2021 season, Clevinger returned to the Padres in May. He experienced a noticeable drop in velocity, with his fastball averaging 93.5 MPH compared to 95 MPH during the 2019 and 2020 seasons — this likely contributed to a decreased strikeout rate (18.8% in 2022 compared to 27.5% in 2020 and 22.6% in 2019). Nevertheless, Clevinger was able to pitch 114 1/3 regular season innings of 4.33 ERA ball, with a 7.2% walk rate, and 35.2% groundball rate. He also started a pair of playoff games, allowing seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.
The White Sox now have a projected staff of Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Michael Kopech, though Kopech is recovering from a left knee strain and right shoulder inflammation. The addition of Clevinger likely closes the book on a potential Johnny Cueto return. 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 may aid him in rediscovering his 2017-2019 form, where the righty pitched 447 2/3 innings with a 2.96 ERA, 28.3% strikeout rate, 9.1% walk rate, and 40.2% groundball rate.
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 Ken Rosenthal reported at the time that the Sox felt they were something of a “stalking horse,” as Cleveland never intended to move the righty to a division rival. Clevinger made four starts after the deal, 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 facing Tommy John surgery the following month.
At the time of the TJ 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% of opposing batters. Clevinger’s fastball had a pronounced decline as the season wore on, occasionally working at 95+MPH in some of his earlier starts versus a few sub-93 MPH games in the dog days of summer. Although, this was the first time he had pitched over 42 innings in a season since 2019 and some fatigue was expected.
With a cast of unproven hurlers vying for the fifth starting spot and Kopech recovering from knee surgery, starting pitching was certainly on GM Rick Hahn’s to-do list heading into the offseason. However, Hahn said earlier this month that the team was somewhat limited financially, and the Sox weren’t going beyond the roughly $193MM payroll (a club record) spent last season. Other reports suggested that number might be closer to $180MM, and depending on just how much over $8MM Clevinger is receiving, Roster Resource estimates that the White Sox are already close to that $180MM figure.
As it happens, that $8MM-ish payday for Clevinger comes close to the $8MM that AJ Pollock left on the table by declining his player option for the 2023 season. Pollock wasn’t expected to decline his option, so in that sense, Clevinger’s signing might almost be found money for the front office — and he’ll become an even bigger bargain if he returned to his pre-Tommy John form. MLBTR ranked Clevinger 49th on our list of the winter’s top 50 free agents, and projected him for a one-year, $10MM.