3 areas Mark Gonzales thinks the White Sox could bolster before the trade deadline
The July 31 trade deadline is more than two months away, but Michael Kopech's sore hamstring fuels some need for the White Sox to fortify a bullpen determined to lead them to their first World Series berth since 2005.
Furthermore, the eventual return of outfielders Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez sometime in the second half doesn't guarantee they'll resume their high-caliber performances after a long recovery period from their respective injuries.
Fortunately for the Sox, the sense of urgency is lessened by a lead in the American League Central and one of the deepest rotations in the majors.
Here's a look at areas of varying concern for the Sox.
The excellence of the rotation has allowed manager Tony La Russa to employ the bullpen for only 36 percent of the innings produced by the pitching staff.
Closer Liam Hendriks has pitched in a team-high 20 games, but he's been called upon to get more than three outs on four occasions and pitched the seventh inning in each game of a doubleheader sweep at Boston on April 18 (albeit on four days' rest).
The Sox were careful with Kopech, who missed all of 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, well before he injured his leg in Wednesday's loss to the Cardinals. But Kopech's ability to dominate for multiple innings is a rare asset many teams don't possess.
The trade market starts to sculpt in June and July as teams distinguish themselves as contenders and pretenders. But there could be more movement sooner. The Brewers, with a desperate need for a shortstop, acquired Willy Adames and pitcher Trevor Richards last week from the Rays for relievers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen.
The reduction of playoff berths from eight to five in each league could result in teams declaring themselves as sellers sooner, thus widening the pool of available relievers.
That could benefit the Sox as long as their pitching staff avoids severe injuries.
For now, the list of potential additions includes closer Kendall Graveman of the Mariners (unscored upon in 14 games), Mychal Givens of the Rockies and Joakim Soria of the Diamondbacks, and left-hander Tanner Scott of the Orioles.
Triple-A Charlotte pitchers Jonathan Stiever, Zach Burdi and Jimmy Lambert are internal options with plenty of promise but shallow on experience.
One opposing scout believes the Sox need more help from the left side, where they're batting .204 (14th in the American League). Veteran Adam Eaton, a lifetime .279 hitter, is batting .199 in 136 at-bats.
La Russa has managed to maximize the talents of part-timers Billy Hamilton, Jake Lamb and Danny Mendick. But adding a more seasoned hitter could alleviate the expectations on Jimenez and Robert when they return.
The defensive metrics haven't been kind to Leury Garcia in center field (minus-2 fielding runs above average), but he's the Sox's most versatile player.
Right fielder Joey Gallo of the Rangers possesses prolific power from the left side. Another consideration is David Peralta, whom La Russa identified as a major league hitter while he served as chief baseball officer with the Diamondbacks in 2014.
If the Sox aren't locked in exclusively to landing a left-handed hitter, Mitch Haniger of the Mariners, who has produced 13 home runs and an .870 OPS, is an attractive option.
Gallo, Peralta and Haniger won't become free agents until after 2022, so the price will be a tad steep.
Pitching prospects Jared Kelley and Matthew Thompson are too valuable to move, but Triple-A Charlotte third baseman Jake Burger and first baseman Gavin Sheets each play positions where the Sox are well-stocked.
Switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal is batting .120 with a minus-3 in defensive runs saved.
Left-handed hitter Zach Collins has been credited for his handling of the pitching staff but is batting .185 with 23 strikeouts in 76 plate appearances.
The hope is that Grandal will provide more production to complement his .391 on-base percentage.
The list of external candidates is thin, with Kurt Suzuki of the Angels a possibility.
• Mark Gonzales is a veteran sports writer who covered the White Sox from 2005-2012 and the Cubs from 2013-2020 for the Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MDGonzales