Yovani Gallardo’s Obvious Fit, and Even More Obvious Fit

Let’s check in on the latest in Yovani Gallardo rumors:

It took a while for any Gallardo talks to surface, but when they did, it was the Orioles, Rockies, and Astros at the forefront. Everyone agreed: those three were the lead suitors.

But the thought of a non-contending Rockies team forfeiting a draft pick for a pitcher entering his age-30 season seemed a bit peculiar, and then GM Jeff Bridich came out and said the talks were “overblown,” so people scratched the Rockies off the list. The Astros went and signed Doug Fister, and people scratched the Astros off the list. So on January 28, just the Orioles were left. On February 4, just the Orioles were left. And on February 7… just the Orioles were left.

It’s been nearly two weeks now, and the Orioles still seem to be the only obvious fit for Gallardo. On the surface, it makes plenty of sense. Last year’s Orioles had a middling rotation, and then they lost their best starter in Wei-Yin Chen and have only added a depth piece in Odrisamer Despaigne to replace him. Our depth charts currently have Baltimore projected for the second-worst rotation in baseball. It lacks much in the way of upside, it lacks much in the way of durability, it lacks any real depth, and those are just about all the ways a rotation can lack. The Orioles plan to contend; the American League is wide-open and they wouldn’t have committed $198 million to free agents Chris Davis, Darren O’Day and Hyun-soo Kim if they didn’t view themselves as contenders. But it’s hard to imagine a team with this rotation competing.

Gallardo isn’t young — no free agent ever is — but he isn’t yet old, and for each of the last seven years, he’s been an above-league-average pitcher by at least one measure of WAR. He’s never failed to throw fewer than 180 innings in a season, and last year’s transition to the American League went better than expected; he’s coming off a career-best season, by RA9-WAR. Gallardo’s got his warts, of course. He gave back the velocity that he picked up in 2014. He saw his strikeout rate drop for the umpteenth consecutive year, though the most recent drop was to be expected, given the move to the AL, and he’s somewhat mitigated the loss in whiffs by getting more ground balls than ever and giving up fewer home runs.

The big issue that’s holding back Gallardo’s market, though, is the draft pick compensation. Baltimore’s 14th overall pick falls just outside the protected top-10, making it a steep price to pay, especially for a team with an unremarkable farm system that’s likely closer to rebuilding than other AL clubs in the hunt. If he were to sign, it’s entirely possible the Orioles could recoup that pick by tendering a qualifying offer to Gallardo when his contract were up, but that hinges on a number of non-guaranteed variables.

It’s easy to see why the Orioles are hesitant to give up their pick for Gallardo, no matter how badly they may need an upgrade to the rotation. But what if there was another contending team that actually needed a rotation upgrade even more? And what if that same team could hold sign Gallardo and hold onto not only its first round pick, but its second round pick and its third round pick as well?

What I’m wondering is: why haven’t we heard Gallardo linked to the White Sox?

The White Sox, like the Orioles, view themselves as a contender. All the money they committed last offseason to Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, David Robertson, and Jeff Samardzija was the start, and they’ve since fast-tracked Carlos Rodon to the majors and traded youth for win-now upgrades in Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie. The White Sox, like the Orioles, have a shaky rotation, just in a different and far more promising way. The front end of Chicago’s rotation is the kind of thing you expect on a legitimate playoff contender. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Rodon can go toe-to-toe with nearly any trio of pitchers in baseball — only the Nationals, Indians, Mets and Dodgers have a higher projected WAR from their top three starters.

But after the top three, things get ugly. John Danks, in the final year of his exorbitant contract, is cemented in the rotation, and he’s been one of baseball’s worst pitchers. Erik Johnson is currently penciled in as the No. 5, and while his former prospect status combined with last year’s shiny ERA may be reasons for optimism, his peripherals are still downright frightening, and he needs to make major strides with his command.

Danks and Johnson could both be replacement-level starters, and they’re currently expected to make 40% of Chicago’s starts. Never mind that, on average, teams end up needing 32 starts per year by pitchers outside their Opening Day rotation, and need 10 different starters per year. The White Sox already had little in the way of starting pitching depth, and it thinned out even more after the trade of Frankie Montas. Chris Beck is the only depth piece with any upside, and he’s recovering from elbow surgery. If something happens to a White Sox starter, they’d be forced to turn to the likes of Jacob Turner or Scott Carroll.

Put it all together, and the numbers for the White Sox look like this:

  • Projected WAR from top three SP: 12.6 (fifth)
  • Projected WAR from back-end & depth: 1.9 (last)
  • Percentage of WAR from top three SP: 87% (most)

You could make the argument that no team in baseball needs a solid, mid-rotation innings-eater more than the White Sox. No team is relying on their top three starters more than Chicago. They’ve got an elite front of the rotation, but perhaps the worst depth in baseball behind them.

And what’s more: they could sign Gallardo, and still keep their first-, second- and third-round picks. Chicago’s first-round selection is protected, at No. 10, and they also received a compensation pick at No. 28 when the Giants signed Samardzija. Of course, they’d still be losing a pick they otherwise have, but it’s not like the White Sox would suddenly have an empty draft if they went out and signed Gallardo. They’d still have a top-10 selection plus the rest of a team’s normal draft picks, and the fact that they’ve been tied to Dexter Fowler shows that they’re not totally averse to parting with the 28th pick.

They’ve been tied to Fowler because they badly need an outfielder, too, but I’d argue the rotation is where an upgrade is more dire. There’s only one safe, durable pitcher left on the market, and durable and safe is all the White Sox need. Gallardo isn’t as powerful as he once was, but he’s coming off the most effective season of his career, and he’s a monumental upgrade over what the White Sox currently have at the back of their rotation. Plus, their protected first round pick coupled with the supplemental choice they received from San Francisco gives them relatively little to lose. Everything adds up, except for the part where we haven’t heard a single rumor linking Gallardo to Chicago. Though, there is this: the most recent rumor suggests a new team or two has entered the fray.

August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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8 years ago

The Sox have 4 holes to fill (Corner OF, corner OF/dh, SS, 5th starter). If they can fill any of them they can be a favorite for the Central.