The White Sox Should Ramp Up Frankie Montas Pursuit After Brutal Lance Lynn Injury

The Minnesota Twins pulled off a shocker in adding Carlos Correa this offseason. The Detroit Tigers are allowing 2020 No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson to spread his wings after making splashes for Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Baez in free agency. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals are hoping youngsters like Bobby Witt Jr. can help them take another step forward. Still, everyone in the American League Central is chasing the Chicago White Sox.

Last season, the White Sox cruised to a divisional crown with a 93-69 record. They did so primarily behind a pitching staff led by veteran right-hander Lance Lynn, who finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

Lynn figured to anchor the rotation again in 2022 as the South Siders began their pursuit of another divisional title. Instead, he’ll begin the season on the Injured List.

According to ESPN‘s Jeff Passan and others, the White Sox will bring in veteran Johnny Cueto as a depth piece. But Chicago should go a step further and reengage the Oakland Athletics in Frankie Montas trade talks.

White Sox ace Lance Lynn will miss at least four weeks with a knee injury

White Sox fans couldn’t have felt overly optimistic when Lynn left his Saturday Spring Training start with knee soreness. Indeed, the 34-year-old suffered a brutal setback.

General manager Rick Hahn announced Lynn has a slight tendon tear in his right knee. He has been ruled out for four weeks, at which point he will have to start a throwing program and work his way back into shape. That extends the timeline quite a bit.

The White Sox still have plenty of arm talent. Command has been an issue for 26-year-old Dylan Cease, but he led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) in 2021 and has looked electric in Spring Training. That stuff helped Cease crack our own Adam Fromal’s Top 50 starting pitchers for the 2022 campaign. Lucas Giolito bounced back from a tough first half by posting a 2.65 ERA and .609 OPS against in his final 13 starts. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel will hope to bounce back from a poor 2021, while flamethrowing Michael Kopech will get a chance in the rotation.

Still, losing a workhorse like Lynn is a significant loss.

The two-time All-Star posted a 2.69 ERA in 28 starts, striking out 176 hitters in 157 innings and posting a career-high 161 ERA+. His power stuff and grit made him the ideal figure atop Chicago’s rotation.

Although Johnny Cueto can come in and provide innings, he’s well over the hill at this stage of his career. The White Sox would be better off pursuing a younger arm still under club control.

Chicago should revisit Frankie Montas trade talks

In March, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported that the White Sox were among the teams interested in Montas and fellow Athletics starter Sean Manaea. While Manaea is now a member of the San Diego Padres, Montas still finds himself on a payroll-slashing A’s squad.

With Lynn sidelined, the White Sox should take the opportunity to revisit trade talks and make a hard push for Montas.

The 29-year-old is coming off a spectacular season in which he posted a 3.37 ERA in 32 starts and amassed a 10.0 K/9 in 187 innings. According to Baseball Savant, Montas saw an uptick in velocity and ranked in the 91st percentile in chase rate. He did so mainly because of increased usage with his splitter, with had the fourth-best best run value among all splitters in baseball, as that pitch yielded a 51.4% whiff rate.

Although opponents can hit Montas hard — he ranked in the bottom 25% in hard-hit rate — he can avoid expected regression if he continues to hone command and make added velocity gains.

Montas might just be entering his prime. He showed enough stuff for Fromal to rank him No. 1 in his AL West starting pitchers list. He’s also the perfect trade target for the White Sox as they try to solidify their World Series contender status.

A controllable asset

Oakland Athletics right-hander Frankie Montas delivers a pitch during an MLB game against the Chicago White Sox in September 2021
Frankie Montas #47 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during a game against the Chicago White Sox on September 8, 2021 | Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

If the A’s follow through with a Frankie Montas trade, they’re likely to demand quite the ransom. But he’s worth the cost for the White Sox.

Chicago is built to win now, with a group of young and talented position players and pitchers setting the franchise up for future contention. Montas fits into the latter category.

The A’s right-hander still has another season of arbitration in 2023 before hitting free agency. Chicago has a chance to acquire him and work on an extension immediately thereafter.

The White Sox’s payroll is in decent shape, particularly considering the South Siders locked up Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert with multi-year extensions. Keuchel could come off the books next season, as well.

Chicago figures to focus on agreeing to terms on a new deal with Giolito. But extending him and locking up Montas could give the White Sox a projectable rotation of Giolito, Montas, Cease, Kopech, and Lynn, who has a club option in 2024.

Although the South Siders’ farm system has become slightly depleted in recent seasons, they still have the prospects to make a deal. For a team desperate to win its first World Series since 2005, it’s sensible to make an aggressive move and trade for Montas when he’s still a controllable asset and has yet to reach his peak.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.

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