While Jose Quintana is still their biggest remaining trade piece, unexpectedly strong starts have boosted the stock of a couple other White Sox pitchers.
Trade rumors have percolated around Chicago White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana since the beginning of last offseason. With the franchise’s full-scale rebuild still very much underway, most expect the Sox to eventually trade the talented pitcher for a significant haul. Quintana’s slow start to the 2017 season (6.75 ERA in 17.1 IP) isn’t likely to dampen his appeal to pitching-needy suitors.
However, two other members of the White Sox rotation have begun the year on surprisingly strong footing. James Shields owns a 1.62 ERA through three outings, having allowed three runs on nine hits with 16 strikeouts over 16.2 innings. Derek Holland sports a 1.50 ERA in two starts, surrendering two earned runs on five hits over 12 frames while striking out nine.
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While these are small sample sizes, it’s unexpected to see these two faring well so early, given their past struggles. Shields was simply awful after joining Chicago in a trade last season, posting a bloated 6.77 ERA in 22 starts while allowing 2.4 home runs per nine innings. Holland had to settle for a one-year “prove it” contract after contending with injuries and ineffectiveness over his last few seasons with the Rangers.
Clubs on the fringe of contention are always on the lookout for starting pitching, however, and according to a video report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Shields and Holland could join Quintana as names to watch on the trade market as the season progresses.
Rosenthal goes on to point out that the White Sox are well-positioned to initiate an exodus of veterans from their starting rotation. Any of top minor league prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer could be ready to come up by the trade deadline.
On a one-year, $6 million deal, Holland should be relatively easy to move. Shields would be trickier. He’s signed through the 2018 campaign with a team option for 2019. Per Spotrac, the Padres pay $20 million of the remaining $42 million on his deal over the next two years, along with 2019’s $2 million buyout. That’s a financial commitment certain teams will balk at, even if Shields continues pitching well.
Which brings up the next point. Two or three starts aren’t enough to declare with confidence that Shields and Holland have genuinely turned themselves around, and there are already signs that both could come back down to earth before long.
While Shields’ 1.62 ERA looks very nice, his 5.15 FIP tells a different story. Why? Because the frequent home runs that have been Shields’ bugaboo in the past haven’t gone away. He’s served up three homers so far in his 16.2 innings. That’s better than last year’s pace, but still not what you’d like to see. Shields’ 10 walks (5.4 BB/9) are also troubling.
The alarm bells aren’t quite as loud for Holland, but his 3.8 BB/9 rate is a bit elevated too. He’s also not going to be giving up hits at just a 3.8 per nine clip for the entire season. Opponents have a minuscule .147 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against him at the moment, which is bound to rise significantly at some point. (Shields is maintaining a similarly tiny .150 BABIP.)
Naturally, it would be in the White Sox’s best interest to strike while the iron is hot with these two pitchers. Two weeks into the season is obviously too early to get a trade like this done, but Chicago might be able to get something going by May or June. In the meantime, they’ll have to hope that Shields and Holland can at least sustain some semblance of respectability.
Quintana remains the big prize, but the more prospects the Sox can add to their pile, the better.