White Sox Ink Lance Lynn to Two-Year Extension

A surprisingly deep group of free-agent pitchers this winter became a little less so over the weekend, as Lance Lynn agreed to a two-year extension with the White Sox. The deal guarantees at least $38 million for the veteran hurler through the 2023 season and will pay him $18.5 million in each of ’22 and ’23, with the Sox holding an option for ’24 worth $18 million and a $1 million buyout.

If you happened to surf over to our in-house depth charts, you would find the White Sox only looking up at the Mets when it comes to pitching, and given that six of the 10 Mets listed are currently out with injuries, I’d prefer to have Chicago’s starting five if I’m the benevolent dictator of a contending team. The rotation is currently projected to finish with 19.3 WAR, topping the majors and enough to give the Sox one of the top 20 rotations since we survived the Y2K bug. That’s an impressive accomplishment considering that they’re currently projected to finish right around 900 innings, about a hundred short of the rest of that top 20. And as there are good reasons to think the contending years are just starting, Chicago has an obvious interest in keeping such a high-performing group together for years to come; Carlos Rodón is now the team’s only significant free agent this offseason.

It’s been an impressive reversal of fortune for Lynn, who didn’t attract a ton of interest in his first two go-arounds in free agency. After posting a 4.82 FIP in 2017 upon returning from Tommy John surgery, he only fetched a one-year contract with the Twins, but despite seeing his walks and ERA balloon to career-worsts in ’18, he closed a three-year pact with the Rangers, albeit with a pay cut. Ranking fifth in the AL in pitching WAR this season and only 1 2/3 innings shy of qualifying for the AL ERA title, he looks like a good bet to pick up Cy Young votes for his third consecutive season.

Could Lynn have made more in free agency? It’s a more complicated question than you think. It’s also one that he had little interest in testing.

“When you start getting older in this game, you realize that where you want to play and where you want to be and what kind of organization you want to be a part of weighs a lot,” he said Saturday. “Over the first half of the season, just being able to see how everybody goes about their business here, the group that’s here and the group that’s going to be here for the next couple of years, it seemed like a pretty easy fit.

It’s not surprising to see Lynn go for stability over uncertainty. By all accounts, Chicago has been a terrific fit for him, and he’s become a favorite of the fanbase. The White Sox would have been quite content to start Dane Dunning; last December’s swap was about them wanting Lynn rather than not wanting Dunning.

ZiPS Projection – Lance Lynn
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 14 9 0 3.81 31 30 172.7 156 73 26 60 192 117 3.4
2023 12 8 0 3.94 27 27 153.0 142 67 24 54 163 113 2.8
2024 11 9 0 4.13 27 26 150.3 144 69 24 55 155 108 2.4
2025 10 8 0 4.12 25 24 139.7 134 64 23 51 144 108 2.3
2026 9 7 0 4.29 22 21 121.7 120 58 21 46 124 104 1.8
2027 7 7 0 4.54 19 19 105.0 107 53 19 41 105 98 1.3
2028 6 6 0 4.81 16 15 83.7 88 45 17 34 82 93 0.8

The ZiPS projections liked Lynn to have a gentle decline through his 30s, but not one that was likely to merit a gigantic payday. The aging curve for pitchers tends to be more attrition-based than for hitters, but a long-term deal for Lynn would start to get him into his late 30s, where you do start seeing a significant dropoff in skills along with the playing time. ZiPS would have given him a longer-term deal — four years, $84 million — but the $45.5 million projection for the next two years is not a galaxy apart from his $38 million guarantee.

Recent free-agent classes have been relatively shallow when it comes to pitching talent, but this autumn’s harvest looks far more bountiful. ZiPS projects eight pending free-agent pitchers —  Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Kevin Gausman, Zack Greinke, Eduardo Rodriguez, Robbie Ray, and Marcus Stroman — to be worth at least three wins in the first years of their new deals, more than the seven it did for the previous two offseasons combined. There are some big names in that group, including several veterans also looking for two-or-three year deals. That also doesn’t include Noah Syndergaard, a pitcher who retains dizzying upside, and some interesting injury gambles in Corey Kluber and James Paxton. Given some of the name brand stars available, there was at least some risk Lynn ended up once again being a team’s consolation signing.

The league’s finances have to be considered as well. While the bottom line is certainly better than the Dickensian pauper status the owners usually suggest, it’s not at all clear that there are going to be a lot of teams hungry to spend this go-around. The vast majority of teams now appear to consider baseball’s de facto soft salary cap as if it were a harder one. On top of that, the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA expires on December 1, and unless the negotiations go shockingly smoothly, those talks will cast a shadow over baseball that’s likely to discourage teams from spending.

Whether or not he left money on the table, Lynn got a reasonable offer to stay on the team he wants to play for. The White Sox can now turn to the short-term need of picking up another bat and/or a second baseman for the season’s concluding chapters.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

newest oldest most voted
MikeS
Member
Member
MikeS

This was a little bit of a surprise. I would have guessed they were going to let him walk and move Kopech into the rotation. They can still do that if Rodon walks, but I thought Rodon was more likely to stay, especially after he reportedly took less than the biggest offer on the table to stay in Chicago last year. But even if he leaves, it makes me wonder what they plan to do with Crochet, who they want to be a starter. At least 4 guys in the rotation are controlled through 2023 now. It’s a good problem to have.

I’m not sure what Rodon will command as a FA. Say he makes 30 starts this year for the first time in his career and has a second half as good as his first. That makes him about a 7 win pitcher who maybe wins a Cy Young, a former high draft pick that most everybody loved coming out of college, and a guy who hasn’t been healthy enough to average 20 starts a year over 7 years. This will be his first > 1 WAR season since 2016. I don’t know what guys like that get paid at 29. I suspect someone is going to throw a lot of money at him and either get a really good deal, or watch him make 100 starts in 6 years.

rhdx
Member
rhdx

Although the option may vest, Keuchel only has 1 more guaranteed year in his contract. And pitchers miss starts all the time, so I think they can move Kopech into the rotation next year if they want even if they sign Rodon. Much better to potentially have 1 pitcher too many than 1 too few.

Buford
Member
Member
Buford

There is no way the Sox will allow Keuchel’s option to vest during the 2022 season. And don’t be surprised if Keuchel is traded in 2022 , or even as soon as this year, because the Sox want Kopech in the rotation this year and ready for the playoffs. They won’t give the soft-tossing Keuchel a chance to repeat his 2020 playoff performance.

texag
Member
texag

They specifically don’t want him in the rotation this year. Ignoring the fact that he’s our second best weapon out of the bullpen at the moment, this is a guy who missed 2019 with Tommy John surgery, opted out of 2020, and is not too far removed from a lengthy stint on the IL with a hamstring issue. They are going to do everything they can to ease his innings up because he is expected to be a mainstay in the rotation next year and beyond.

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

I believe he already had the QO, but I think this a pretty fair deal for a very good pitcher. The White Sox are clearly in win-now mode and you could very easily move Kopech into the rotation because pitchers get injured all the time. And they could do that even if they re-sign Rodon (which they probably should do anyway, because again they’re in win-now mode).

As for Crochet, that makes no sense that they’d want him to be a starter. He looks like a classic Corey Knebel-ish firebreathing late inning guy. Anytime you try and make a guy like this pitch more than 2 innings at a time it turns out badly. You wouldn’t want Corey Knebel, or Matt Barnes, or Tanner Scott to be a starter.

bighurt35
Member
bighurt35

Chris Sale would like a word.

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

This seems to be a common response but Chris Sale never walked this many batters. Not even close. Crochet is more Sergio Santos than Chris Sale.

mbs2001
Member
mbs2001

There’s not much data to analyze with Crochet. We are picking apart his first 30 innings. His 5.2 BB/9 is worse than Sales rookie year 3.9 BB/9 and 3.4 BB/9 sophmore seasons but a good 10 innings would flip this comment thread. More data.

natedub
Member
natedub

Obviously, it’s a small sample size. But what would you like us to do? Ignore them in favor of made up numbers that project him as someone we wish him to be?

We have the numbers they have. We shouldn’t make hard-and-fast statements in regards to those numbers, but we also shouldn’t just write them off because they don’t favor our opinion.

MikeS
Member
Member
MikeS

I don’t think you can just move Kopech into the rotation mid-season on a whim or to cover an injury unless you will be satisfied with short outings on an emergency basis. That’s how they used him early in the year and it worked out as well as you could ask, but he was only able to go 3 IP once, then 5 IP a full 7 days later. They don’t get him stretched out unless somebody is gone an extended period of time. As that kind of guy, he’s probably unique in all of baseball and an extremely valuable weapon to have for 7 inning double headers. I’m really surprised they used him yesterday to get the eight inning of a 4 run game instead of today when the pitcher for game 2 is still listed as TBD and is likely to be Reynaldo Lopez which is a big step down in quality. Maybe it has something to do with his recent injury, or maybe TLR has lost faith in some of the other guys in the bullpen. I’m sure they really didn’t want to blow that game after the way they were not very competitive in 4 of the first 5 games they played against the Astros this year.

I don’t think you can say Crochet can’t start yet since he literally has never had the chance as a professional. He went from college to MLB with no minor league appearances. The walk rate is concerning, but the sample size is small. Besides, some people say the same thing about Kopech. I think both deserve a chance to show whether or not they can start. Even today, starters are more valuable than relievers since 180 IP is more valuable than 70. The fairest thing to say about both of them is that their floors are as high leverage relievers. But, again, too many starters isn’t a problem a lot of teams have, even good ones.

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

No, I think they should move him into the rotation to start the season and keep him there because the chances that Rodon doesn’t sign or one of him Cease / Giolito / Lynn / Keuchel are hurt is something like 80%. And if by some miracle they are all ready to start they can let him work it out in AAA, or make Keuchel a long reliever or something.

MikeS
Member
Member
MikeS

I am 100% on board with this plan, but I don’t think they are interested in sending Kopech down or moving Keuchel to the bullpen.

But if I were running the team (and there are very good reasons why I am not), I would be fascinated by a rotation of Lynn, Giolito, Rodon, Cease, and Kopech with Keuchel in a swing man role for short outings by starters, double headers, injury, and poor performance.

Buford
Member
Member
Buford

With Scott Boras as Rodon’s agent, an extension is just a pipe dream.

Also, with the success the Sox had with Chris Sale, stamping Crochet as a reliever this early in his career would be premature. After all, the Sox didn’t use the #11 pick in the 2020 draft on someone they immediately and solely viewed as a reliever.

tung_twista
Member
tung_twista

‘Boras clients don’t sign extension’ is a lazy trope that should have ended a while ago.
Strasburg, Bogaerts, Altuve, Andrus, Carlos Gomez, etc.
What is true is that Boras clients don’t sign “wow, that is a great deal for the team” kind of extension like Albies.

dl80
Member
Member
dl80

They only sign for what they would have gotten as free agents, which makes it not like an extension at all