The Chicago White Sox will begin the season with a rotation that includes one former Cy Young award winner and four former No. 1 draft picks. Sox general manager Kenny Williams decided to let iconic left-hander Mark Buehrle leave as a free agent and moved Chris Sale from the bullpen.
The keys to the rotation’s success are Jake Peavy's health and Sale’s progress. If starting pitching is 75 percent of the game, then pitching coach Don Cooper may be the most important person in the Sox organization.
The Sox are in real trouble if they lose one of their top five pitchers to injury. There is no answer other than long man Zach Stewart to pitch at the major league level. The Sox believe right-hander Nestor Molina, acquired in the trade that sent closer Sergio Santos to Toronto, will be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher with a little more experience. The Sox will go into full-blown rebuilding mode and trade veterans such as Gavin Floyd if the team falters early in the season.
• John Danks takes over as ace of the staff. The 27-year-old left-hander is coming off his worst season in four years (8-12 4.33 ERA). Danks has a lot of the qualities Buerhle possessed both off and on the field. The club gave Danks a record five-year, $65 million contract in the offseason -- the most money and the longest commitment to a pitcher in club history. It should be noted that the Sox only gave him a no-trade clause in the first year of the contract.
• Will the real Peavy please stand up and throw in 33 games? The injury-prone starter has a huge upside if he can just get through a season without a setback. Peavy has not made more than 17 starts in a season since 2008. If Peavy does pitch well, a July 31 trade may help him and the Sox for the future as he likely will be a free agent when the team gives him his $5 million buyout after the season.
• Floyd is one of those hard-luck pitchers who throws a lot of innings and never has much to show for it. Floyd, like Peavy, can be a free agent after the season if the team does not pick up his option, thus leaving him vulnerable to a trade. Floyd has not had a season with a better than .500 record since his 17-win 2008 campaign. The former No. 1 pick has dealt with trade rumors since the end of the 2011 season. Floyd is valuable just because of his durability -- he never misses a start.
• Sale Is the poster child of the White Sox’s future. The team and training staff will watch the innings pitched in his first professional season as a starter. Look for him to make 23 to 25 starts as he, along with Danks and Molina, will be a pitcher the team builds around. Nasty breaking stuff and a funky delivery could make him a future star.
• Phil Humber is the latest Cooper project to be resurrected as a quality starter. Pencil him in at 13-10 with a ton of good starts. Humber is a young 29 who has very few miles on his arm. Cooper and the Sox get the most out of players than anybody else.
Three keys to success
• Peavy must stay in one piece all season and help Danks lead the staff. If not, all the team’s veterans will be lined up to be traded beginning in June.
• Sale has to build up his endurance and pitch count at the major league level rather than learning his trade for a season in the minor leagues.
• Danks needs to pick up the innings and leadership that Buehrle left behind.