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Gio, White Sox finalize 1-yr deal with club option

@scottmerkin
December 20, 2019

CHICAGO -- Gio Gonzalez’s official free-agent return Friday to where it all began 15 years ago with the White Sox brought about a two-part reaction for most of the team’s fan base. Good move to bring in the 34-year-old veteran southpaw who will be pitching in his 13th season, but

CHICAGO -- Gio Gonzalez’s official free-agent return Friday to where it all began 15 years ago with the White Sox brought about a two-part reaction for most of the team’s fan base.

Good move to bring in the 34-year-old veteran southpaw who will be pitching in his 13th season, but what does general manager Rick Hahn have in mind next to help his young starters as part of the rotation?

“We view Gio as an important addition to our pitching staff,” said Hahn from a statement in the White Sox press release announcing the free-agent signing. “He brings an impressive resume to our club as a veteran left-hander who has enjoyed success and should have a positive impact on our younger pitchers in terms of competing, battling and helping us win games at the Major League level.”

Gonzalez and the White Sox agreed upon a one-year, $5 million deal that includes a club option for 2021. The contract guarantees $4.5 million for Gonzalez in 2020, and the option is worth $7 million with a $500,000 buyout.

Among left-handers from 2010-18, Gonzalez ranked among the Major League leaders in games started (second, 283), wins (fourth, 120), opponents average (fifth, .236), innings pitched (fifth, 1,681 1/3), strikeouts (sixth, 1,605), quality starts (sixth, 167) and ERA (eighth, 3.49). He pitched 19 games, 17 of them starts, for the Brewers last season after signing with them in late April and posted a 3.50 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 87 1/3 innings.

His ’19 finish was a strong one, producing a 1.17 ERA over 23 innings with 20 strikeouts in September. Gonzalez originally was selected by the White Sox 38th overall in the 2004 Draft and pitched for Rookie-level Bristol, Class A Kannapolis and Class A Advanced Winston-Salem during the 2004 and ’05 seasons.

But he was traded to the Phillies in 2005 in the deal that brought Jim Thome to the White Sox, giving the White Sox a Hall of Fame middle-of-the-order presence from the left side as they tried to defend their World Series title. The Phillies traded Gonzalez back to Chicago a year later for Freddy García, but the White Sox dealt him a second time in 2008, sending him to the A's in the deal for Nick Swisher. He never pitched in the Majors for the White Sox, making his debut for the A’s in ’08.

Since the season-ending state-of-the-team discussion with the media in September, Hahn has talked about adding two starters this offseason to join the existing crew of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease. Many pundits would consider Gonzalez more of the fifth starter sort of addition, but he certainly has the resume proving a level above a consistent innings eater.

The White Sox targeted catcher Yasmani Grandal and right-handed starter Zack Wheeler at the Hot Stove outset, converting on Grandal through a four-year, franchise-record $73 million deal before Thanksgiving. They offered $125 million over five years to Wheeler, but he chose to stay east with the Phillies.

Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu are two front-end starters still available, and the White Sox also could pursue an addition via trade. But the White Sox, in their move from rebuild to the first year of potential contention, might not want to make the same sort of long-term commitment at albeit a lower price point with these hurlers as they were ready to do with Wheeler.

There is help within the system behind the current starters. Michael Kopech, who had Tommy John surgery in September 2018, figures to start the season at Triple-A Charlotte as the White Sox work him back gradually. He should be back in the Majors by May, while Carlos Rodón and Dane Dunning both are expected back in-season following recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Dunning has made just 11 starts with Double-A Birmingham. But Hahn spoke of him as a possible fifth starter candidate entering ’19 if not for the injury.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.