Zack Wheeler will not be the White Sox big free-agent splash this winter.
The White Sox were reportedly in hot pursuit of Wheeler to address their need for starting pitching, and he would have lined up nicely with the team's plans of perennial contention in the years to come. Instead, Wheeler opted to stay in the NL East, where he's spent the entirety of his big league career as a New York Met.
As for where the White Sox turn now, options exist, but they're not exactly bountiful. Wheeler would have paired nicely alongside Lucas Giolito at the top of the South Side starting staff. Other top-of-the-rotation pitchers on the free-agent market include perennial Cy Young types Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, three-time World Series champ Madison Bumgarner, 2019 ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu and 2017 World Series champ Dallas Keuchel. The market thins significantly from there, with guys like Michael Pineda and Tanner Roark the next best options, and they don't initially strike as top-of-the-rotation solutions.
The White Sox have undoubtedly been aggressive this offseason, already signing free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal to the richest contract in team history, and they seem to remain committed to their rebuilding plans, which include spending to bring in impact talent from outside the organization. But they have not been linked nearly as strongly to the Coles, Strasburgs and Bumgarners of the world as they were to Wheeler. MLB Network's Jon Heyman went as far as saying Tuesday that there is "no belief" that the White Sox are in pursuit of either Cole or Strasburg. That leaves Ryu, Keuchel or perhaps Bumgarner as potentially the next avenue the White Sox travel down in their search to upgrade their starting rotation.
For some, this might spark "here we go again" reactions after the White Sox lost out on the two biggest names on last year's free-agent market, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Rick Hahn's front office did plenty of work in dispelling the notion that the team was unwilling or unable to spend when it gave Grandal a $73 million deal, making the first big splash of this free-agent season. But Hahn has long acknowledged that words mean little in comparison to action, and that the idea that the White Sox are unable to land a premium free agent will exist until the team does so.
The White Sox have plenty remaining on their offseason to-do list, including a pair of starting pitchers, a right fielder and perhaps a designated hitter and more bullpen help. The Winter Meetings begin Monday in San Diego and will provide another opportunity for them to do some of that business.
White Sox miss out on Zack Wheeler, who goes to Phillies on five-year deal originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago