Before the New York Yankees took a big step forward buying another World Series championship Wednesday, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said slotting Masahiro Tanaka into the starting rotation behind Chris Sale would have provided "a nice 1-2 punch for the foreseeable future."
Alas, Tanaka signed with the Yankees, who have now spent $503 million on free agents this winter, with Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann being the other expensive adds.
As Hahn later acknowledged, the Sox gave it a shot and came up short on Tanaka. But with Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks, Erik Johnson and either newcomer Felipe Paulino or Andre Rienzo likely to comprise the starting five, the White Sox' starting rotation should still be better than most.
"We feel good about it," Hahn said. "I don't think you ever feel comfortable you have enough pitching, starting or relief. Certainly, prior to Opening Day, I don't have the sense that we're done by any stretch or aspire to be done. That said, with Chris and Jose at the front and John Danks 18 months post-op (shoulder surgery), we feel real good about what those three are going to give us.
"And having the competition between Erik Johnson, Felipe Paulino, Rienzo, the kid (Eric) Surkamp we took off waivers from San Francisco and Charlie Leesman, we've got interesting guys with some upside that could help us."
We'll see what happens between now and the White Sox' March 31 season opener against the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field, but it's not too early to pull out a pen and write Johnson's name in the rotation.
Last season, the Sox' No. 1 pitching prospect barreled his way through the top two levels of the minor-league system, going 8-0 with a 2.23 ERA in 14 starts at Class AA Birmingham and 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 10 starts at AAA Charlotte.
The White Sox called up Johnson, a second-round draft pick out of Cal-Berkeley in 2011, in September and the right-hander went 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA.
While Johnson was in the midst of winning his final three starts with the Sox, I talked to David Esquer, Cal's head baseball coach.
"When he was here, all his stuff really projected to the higher levels," Esquer said. "His fastball, his breaking pitch, everything. He's built like a horse, really strong. Even here, you knew his game translated into the professional game. As a matter of fact, he was probably better suited for the professional game because it's a power game."
Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder, already has a very good fastball. If his changeup, curve and slider develop with experience, he is soon going to find himself at the top end of the White Sox' rotation.
Along with teammate and fellow Cal product Marcus Semien, Johnson was at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday calling season-ticket holders in advance of this weekend's SoxFest. While he's looking forward to picking up where he left off when spring training starts, Johnson doesn't think last year's impressive showing has earned him anything.
"I'm going to take the same approach this year," Johnson said. "It's just the next start, prepare for your next start. That's all you can control. You control what you do that day."
Johnson started throwing in early December back home in Los Altos, Calif. When White Sox pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Ariz., for spring training on Feb. 15, Johnson will be ready to go.
"For me, it's a great opportunity and I think it's something to be thankful for and hopefully I'll take this opportunity and do everything I can with it," he said. "The goal is to follow the process and try to work on what I need to work on each day, whether it be fastball, curve, slider, change.
"Whatever they say I need to work on, that's what I'm going to put my emphasis on."
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