Depth gives White Sox options in Sale's absence

Depth gives White Sox options in Sale's absence

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If the White Sox don't have staff ace Chris Sale by Opening Day on April 6 in Kansas City, they should have the American League Cy Young candidate during the season's first month as he works back from a fracture in his right foot.

The White Sox approached this season certainly knowing they would need contributions from more than the 12 pitchers they break camp with. So if the White Sox don't have Sale at the season's outset, they are comfortable with the possible fill-in options -- in the present and in the not-too-distant future.

"That number some years approaches 20, but in general, it's probably closer to 17 or 18 guys to fill the 1,400-plus innings that a normal Major League season takes," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told MLB.com on Monday. "Initially when you look at our pitching staff, you deal from the front three, and actually front four including Johnny [Danks].

"You are going to have a high percentage of those 1,400 innings sopped up by that group, which helps you from a depth standpoint because there are fewer innings you need to backfill, so to speak. Any injury to any player is a setback. Fortunately in Chris' case, it appears to be a relatively minor one.

"We do look around the camp now and feel like we have more near-ready pitching depth than we've had in recent years. ... At the same time, early in the season, we may need to call on some of the veterans around here, Brad Penny or Scott Carroll, to temporarily fill in should we get to that point."

With a fifth starter not needed regularly until after April 21, the White Sox could opt for an eighth bullpen arm to move between long relief and potential starts on April 12 and 21, if Sale is not ready. Both Penny and Carroll could fill that role, as could top prospect Carlos Rodon, who had been talked about as a reliever before taking Sale's Cactus League rotation spot.

That move is conceivable but certainly too early to figure out. Between young pitchers such as Rodon, Francelis Montas and Erik Johnson, whom Hahn pointed to as being very much in that mix, the White Sox seemingly have options over the course of the season as well. Their goal was to win with the offseason additions but also win beyond one season by building the talented young core.

"Look at those great Braves teams that for a decade-plus were in the thick of things. Every year it seems they were introducing a homegrown [player] or at least someone from their Minor League system who contributed in a big way," Hahn said. "Our goal is to contend on an annual basis. Part of that is the introduction and development of young talent on an annual basis."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.