Countdown to Camp: Starting rotation

Jose Quintana posted a 3.51 ERA in 200 innings last season but had just nine wins to show for it. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

With Chicago White Sox spring training set to begin Feb. 15 when pitchers and catchers report in Glendale, Ariz., we're taking an early look around the diamond.

The reason the Chicago White Sox felt they could remodel the roster quickly was that the top of the rotation was strong. That doesn't mean easy decisions are on the horizon when it comes to the starting staff.

Chris Sale is the unquestioned ace and would have remained the guy at the front of the rotation even if the White Sox were able to land Masahiro Tanaka for more than $100 million on the free-agent market. Instead, the No. 2 slot goes to Jose Quintana, who will get a slight raise on the $500,000 he made last year.

John Danks, now a year and a half removed from shoulder surgery, will round out the list of definite starters in 2014. The trade of Hector Santiago to the Los Angeles Angels, in the three-way deal that landed the White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton, means a number of pitchers will be battling for two starting spots.

Erik Johnson, Andre Rienzo, Felipe Paulino, Eric Surkamp, Dylan Axelrod and Charlie Leesman will all be competing to fill out the rotation.

Paulino and Johnson would appear to have the inside track for the final two rotation spots, although, Paulino has a lot to prove since he is coming off not only Tommy John surgery in 2012, but a 2013 procedure to clean out his rotator cuff and labrum.

Since the White Sox are essentially committing $2 million on Paulino for 2014, expect to see him on the mound at some point. The White Sox will push to get everything they can from their investment. Paulino's inspiration for getting back on the mound and showing he can be a success is a $4 million team option in 2015.

Assuming Sale and Quintana will continue to deliver solid results, a lot is riding on Danks if the White Sox want to avoid getting off track for a second consecutive season. While Danks' 2013 numbers might not show it, the left-hander was showing at times last season that he had an understanding of pitching without his typical velocity.

If Danks' velocity creeps further back to normal this season, the hope is that he can combine what made him successful in the past with things he learned last year, such as the ability to change speeds and the art of hitting his spots.

After finishing sixth in the Cy Young Award voting in 2012, Sale moved to fifth last season despite his losing record (11-14). The real story was told in his four complete games, a 3.07 ERA, and career bests in innings (214 1/3) and strikeouts (226), not to mention a slew of internal numbers that were career bests. There is no reason to think Sale won't creep up the Cy Young board even further this year.

OUTLOOK: As much as all the talk is about the strength atop the rotation, 2014 is shaping up to be all about the bottom. Of the rotation contenders, the White Sox need to see which one is the most viable long-term asset. That pitcher can then be added with Sale, Quintana and Danks for 2015, while the team then spends big on another starter. Just how much might they dish out for a rotation piece? Well, adding up the expiring contracts of Adam Dunn, Matt Lindstrom and Paul Konerko, that frees up $21.5 million from the 2014 payroll right there.