White Sox gauging young talent in offseason plan

White Sox gauging young talent in offseason plan

CHICAGO -- With the two-year contract extension with Jake Peavy and by picking up the $9.5 million contractual option for Gavin Floyd, people were immediately thinking the White Sox would move a starting pitcher during this offseason.

After all, they have six quality hurlers as part of the rotation, a desire to upgrade at third base and the need to strengthen their catching position behind Tyler Flowers, if A.J. Pierzynski departs via free agency. The White Sox rotation seemed to be the best way to improve the club in more ways than one.

But the real question should be how much the White Sox trust their young players in the present as much as the future. For example, if Floyd is traded, then it would be Dylan Axelrod, Andre Rienzo, Simon Castro, Nestor Molina or Charlie Leesman who would step up a notch in the rotation pecking order.

None of them aside from Axelrod have any big league experience, despite being considered to have Major League capabilities. Of course, the employment of 10 rookie hurlers in 2012 didn't exactly hurt the White Sox 85-victory cause.

Maybe one year of Floyd won't be enough to pry loose a difference-making third baseman from another team. To hypothetically acquire a player such as San Diego's Chase Headley, who is not on the market, the Padres would have to be figuratively knocked over.

That overwhelming offer could include a third team to supplement the White Sox talent, an idea mentioned by general manager Rick Hahn to reporters at last week's GM Meetings in California. It also could include someone like Rienzo, the right-hander on the rise who has drawn interest from more than just the White Sox with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.

It's up to the other Major League teams to decide if the White Sox have the unproven talent of the future to enhance deals. It's up to Hahn and his staff to decide if enough talent exists in a much maligned system to move a frontline prospect or frontline player or two.

Ken Williams, who was promoted to executive vice president on Oct. 26, and Hahn did a great job in 2012 of adding key pieces such as Kevin Youkilis and Brett Myers while only giving up utility infielder Eduardo Escobar out of their three-year plan. Creativity figures to be the watchword again during the present offseason with a projected payroll near $100 million, similar to last season's, already featuring $90.25 million committed to nine signed players.

Floyd, who turns 29 in January, should hold great interest on the open market. He's durable, having made 30 starts and thrown at least 185 innings in four of the past five seasons, and finishing with 29 starts and 168 innings pitched last year despite two separate stints on the disabled list due to right elbow issues.

Even in its depth, though, the White Sox rotation has a few issues to be ironed out. John Danks continues to make solid progress in his rehab from season-ending arthroscopic shoulder surgery on Aug. 6, but while the southpaw plans to be ready for the start of Spring Training, the White Sox aren't totally sure what they will get from their 2012 Opening Day starter post surgery.

Chris Sale has the makings of an ace and pitched as such for much of 2012, while Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago were both pleasant rookie surprises. The White Sox also fell short during the final few weeks, in part, because their young pitchers were pushed to an innings level where they had never been before.

"A fair amount of it was our young guys, our pitchers in particular, who were pushed beyond wherever they had historically gone," Hahn said. "Having all those guys back and strong we think will help take us to the next stop. Young bullpen guys are now acclimated to a pennant race, and that will play a big role in making us better."

Hahn also knows that pitching wins championships, which played out again during the Giants' run to the 2012 World Series title. That pitching, even in its best laid-out form, usually requires more than the season-opening 12.

So, the trick is to improve the perceived roster weak spots without weakening the pitching depth anywhere in the organization.

"Since I've been here, we've never gone a full year with 12 or 13 pitchers," Danks said. "We usually need to dip into the Triple-A team, and we have guys fully capable of stepping in. It's a luxury to have.

"I feel really good about where we are as a staff, with a deep bullpen and rotation. I've got to believe Rick and Kenny feel the same way. They can turn the focus on other areas of need. It's a good feeling going in with deep pitching and a chance to compete."

Pitching has been the focus of the early Hot Stove talk, but as CSN Chicago reported from the GM Meetings, four opposing executives believe Gordon Beckham, Dayan Viciedo and/or Alejandro De Aza also might be available. The trio would be considered part of the White Sox young core, but the team also has fast-moving potential replacements in infielder Carlos Sanchez and outfielders Courtney Hawkins, Trayce Thompson, Keenyn Walker and Jared Mitchell.

All five probably wouldn't be ready to break camp with the White Sox, so it's a delicate situation Hahn has to navigate. The White Sox always have viewed top prospects as a way to help the team on the field or help the team get better as part of a trade. Much like last season, both scenarios figure to play out in '13.

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.