The White Sox enter the offseason coming off their first division title in thirteen years. General manager Rick Hahn has met with the media a few times in recent days to discuss a couple key early offseason decisions and provide updates on a few players already under team control.
First and foremost, Hahn addressed a pair of decisions Chicago has already made: exercising a $16MM club option on reliever Craig Kimbrel and declining to issue an $18.4MM qualifying offer to starter Carlos Rodón. Last month, Bob Nightengale of USA Today suggested the Sox could look to deal Kimbrel after exercising the option, and Hahn acknowledged that as a possibility.
“We view him as a potentially impactful reliever, as he’s been for the vast majority of his career,” Hahn said of Kimbrel (via Jesse Rogers of ESPN). “What we have to figure out is if it makes the most sense to have Craig in a White Sox uniform going forward or is there a better use of that spot and him perhaps via trade?”
Kimbrel’s one of trickier players around the league to value. As Hahn noted, the righty has been one of the best relievers in recent history over the course of his career. He’s an eight-time All-Star who posted an absurd 0.49 ERA with a 46.7% strikeout rate in 36 2/3 innings for the Cubs last season. But Kimbrel struggled badly with the North Siders from 2019-20, and he was tagged for a 5.09 ERA (albeit with a still-excellent 36.7% strikeout percentage) in 23 frames after being traded to the South Side at the deadline. There’ll certainly be plenty of teams intrigued by the possibility of Kimbrel as a late-game stopper, but clubs will have to weigh his upside against his recent run of inconsistency and fairly high price tag in 2022.
On Rodón, Hahn told reporters (including Scott Merkin of MLB.com) the team remained open to his return. “(The qualifying offer) was not offered to him. It doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in bringing him back,” Hahn said. “We have not ruled out him returning.” Nightengale previously reported the Sox didn’t intend to make a great effort to bringing the southpaw back, though, and it seems likely Rodón and his representatives at the Boras Corporation will be able to top the $18.4MM QO value — which Chicago was unwilling to risk, at least this early in the offseason — on the open market.
One could make the case the Sox already have an in-house option to step into Rodón’s rotation spot in Michael Kopech. The flamethrowing righty missed all of 2019-20 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and opting out of the 2020 campaign due to concerns about COVID-19. Chicago used him as a multi-inning relief weapon this past season to keep his workload in check, but Hahn told reporters (including James Fegan of the Athletic) last week the club is committed to stretching Kopech out as a starter in 2022.
The 25-year-old Kopech worked 69 1/3 innings in 2021, posting a 3.50 ERA with a huge 36.1% strikeout percentage and a fine 8.4% walk rate. There’s some risk in taking him out of a bullpen role to which he acclimated so well, but public scouting reports have long suggested Kopech could have top-of-the-rotation upside if given the opportunity. The White Sox are set to explore that possibility, although Hahn cautioned that Kopech may not be ready to take on an ace-caliber workload from Day One.
“I’m going to probably be sitting in this chair some point next summer explaining why we are doing something with Michael in terms of giving him a break in order to keep him strong over the course of that season,” Hahn said (via Fegan). “It’s the innings base and what can we reasonably tack onto him over the course of ideally seven months next year. We are going to have to be diligent in our monitoring of him over the course of the offseason as well as he goes through spring training, and over the course of the regular season in terms of how the ball looks coming out of his hand, what his mechanics look like, what the data is telling us, how Michael is reporting how he feels.”
Hahn also provided updates on a pair of injured players last week. Lance Lynn will spend the next 3-4 weeks resting and rehabbing a right knee issue that sent him to the injured list in late August (via Mark Gonzales). Outfielder Adam Engel, meanwhile, recently underwent surgery to address a left shoulder injury that landed him on the shelf in August as well (according to Maddie Lee of NBC Sports Chicago). That procedure is not expected to affect Engel’s readiness for the start of next season.