Mazara’s heroics lead the White Sox to a thrilling win in simulation

Coming through in the clutch: So far, Nomar Mazara’s come-from-behind three-run homer is the biggest White Sox hit in the young season. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)

Tuesday evening’s game in Cleveland came down to the wire, but the Good Guys came out on top in a 5-4 thriller.

Yasmani Grandal walked in the second inning, and he later came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Nomar Mazara (much more on him later). Grandal is off to a slow start offensively (.158/.238/.211), but it is still very early. While Grandal went hitless, he went on to draw another walk later on to reach base safely twice in four plate appearances.

Mazara’s sacrifice fly put the White Sox on the board with a 1-0 lead, and the score remained the same until the top of the fifth. That was when leadoff hitter Tim Anderson smashed a homer off Cleveland’s rookie southpaw Scott Moss. Moss was excellent in this game, only allowing those two runs (both earned) on three hits in eight innings, striking out eight. Moss appears very much ready for the show, but Anderson took advantage of one of his few mistakes and drove it out for his first homer.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, starter Gio González, making his White Sox debut (he finally pitched for the White Sox!), was on top of his game. González lasted five and two-thirds innings, which isn’t outstanding by any means, but he kept Cleveland off the board. González struck out four Cleveland hitters, walked three, and he allowed four hits. Reliever Steve Cishek had another great performance, retiring all four batters he faced, striking out one of them. Cishek, who recently came over from the other side of Chicago, has now thrown three and two-thirds scoreless innings for the White Sox, and his WHIP is an excellent 0.273.

Offense came at a premium in this matchup, so the score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the eighth, when the wheels fell off. Alex Colomé took over on the mound for Cishek, and he had a nightmarish evening. Of the five batters Colomé faced, three of them went yard. Francisco Lindor led off the inning with a homer, his third of the year. Two batters later, Franmil Reyes launched his fourth dinger, and two batters after Reyes, Domingo Santana launched his second. Then, with a 3-2 deficit, the bases empty, and two outs, Rick Rentería pulled Colomé for Evan Marshall. Carlos Santana reached on an error, and he came around to score an unearned run when Jordan Luplow drove him in with a double.

All of a sudden, entering the ninth, the White Sox trailed by a score of 4-2, and they desperately needed baserunners. The White Sox had struggled to get baserunners all evening. However, they managed to get on base when they needed to. With two on and one out, Nomar Mazara stepped up to the plate against Nick Wittgren. Wittgren missed his spot, but Mazara did not miss the ball. Mazara launched his second home run of the season, and this one silenced the Cleveland crowd.

In the blink of an eye, the White Sox were back on top, with a 5-4 lead. The White Sox did not tack on any insurance runs, so the bottom of the ninth was stressful. Rentería turned to Aaron Bummer, who the White Sox recently gave a contract extension to. Uncharacteristically, Bummer faced all sorts of problems finding the strike zone, walking two of the three batters he faced. Bummer also allowed a single, though he did record an out when Adam Engel gunned down Óscar Mercado trying to advance to third on said single. When Bummer departed, there were runners on first and second, one out, and the White Sox were clinging to a 5-4 lead.

In stepped Jace Fry, perhaps the best story from the 2018 season, in a huge spot. The batter was Franmil Reyes, who had just homered the previous inning. On the second pitch, Reyes beat a curveball (this is an educated guess; Baseball-Reference does not disclose pitch types) into the ground, and the White Sox turned a double play to end the threat and seal a thrilling victory.

And so, despite only getting five hits, the White Sox got a hard-earned victory at Progressive Field. After tonight’s victory, the White Sox’s record sits at 3-2, which is now the same as Cleveland’s record. The White Sox will wrap up this three-game in Cleveland tomorrow, and they will look to complete a sweep. Let’s get it done, but first, let’s take a look at a couple of trivia questions related to tonight:

  1. In this simulation, Nomar Mazara just became the third member of the White Sox to hit his second home run. Last season, who were the first three White Sox players to reach two homers?
  2. The White Sox drafted Jace Fry, who earned his first save since August 29, 2018, out of the same school as Nick Madrigal. Which school is this?

Answers

  1. José Abreu, Yoán Moncada, and Tim Anderson.
  2. Oregon State University.

Spring training’s in full swing with split-squad games — and the White Sox split them

Predicting the future: The two games today seemed to be an indication of what the major league and Triple-A lineups could look like. (@WhiteSox)


Cleveland Indians 10, Charlotte White Sox 2

Luis Basabe: 1-for-3, 0 BB, 1 K
Danny Mendick: 1-for-3, 0 BB, 0 K
Zack Collins: 0-for-2, 1 BB, 0 K
Gavin Sheets: 1-for-2, 1 R, 1 BB, 0 K
Andrew Vaughn: 0-for-1, 0 BB, 0 K
Micker Adolfo: 0-for-1, 1 BB, 1 K
Yermín Mercedes: 0-for-1, 1 BB, 1 K
Luis González: 0-for-3 0 BB, 0 K
Bernardo Flores Jr.: 1 IP, 3 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 0 K

If you needed any more proof that this was the Triple-A team (well, besides the lineup), all you had to do was check in on the first inning. Cheslor Cuthbert, a utility infielder who may see some time in Chicago, committed two fielding errors at third base. Those led to three unearned runs for Bernardo Flores Jr., who was out of the game shortly after those two errors. At least the talent difference between Charlotte and White Sox players is growing at this point in the rebuild.

This game was only on radio so there is no video, so just play along in your head. Though the Triple-A team was on display for the White Sox, Cleveland had their star guys out there and seemed to almost have the everyday MLB lineup out there to start the game. On the pitching side, only the first two innings saw majors-level pitching, though, as Shane Bieber and Brad Hand are two of Cleveland’s best.

Unsurprisingly, they recorded outs on six of the seven batters they faced. On the plus side, it was Gavin Sheets who was able to force a walk from Hand; Sheets is a lefty, so a walk off of Hand is pretty impressive. It would not get much better for the Sox, though some fun names did appear, so let’s focus on that because nobody could actually see the game.

From the starting lineup, AAAA players shined: Danny Mendick, Zack Collins, Luis Basabe, Micker Adolfo, and Yermín Mercedes, all of whom are on the 40-man roster, started today. So, this is the lineup of players that need to do the best this spring to make the team. Mendick and Collins are probably the closest to the majors, but it might be significant that Madrigal was back at Camelback Ranch in the other game featuring more of the eventual 26-man roster. Each of those five  players reached base at least once over the course of the game.

The next step below are upper-minor league mainstays. Sheets and Luis González should be in Charlotte to start the year. After the walk, Sheets singled, then scored later on in the game, while González went 0-for-3. Three other guys appeared in the game, though they did not get an at-bat: Andrew Vaughn, Blake Rutherford, and Laz Rivera.

To round out some names for the prospect buffs, Lency Delgado and Lenyn Sosa, both just 20 years old, also appeared at Goodyear Ballpark, though they too did not bat.

The pitching, well, was not pretty overall, but also had a big variety of MiLB levels on display. Flores Jr., Caleb Frare, and Kodi Mederios seem destined for Charlotte, which will give the Knights a pretty good lefty trio. Flores Jr. and Frare did not do well, at all, as both saw three runs cross the plate.

Again, for the prospect buffs, Vince Arobio (who had a breakout season from the bullpen in 2019) and Kade McClure made appearances. Arobio did allow a run, and McClure came in for two batters. It was their first appearances in a competitive (I guess it’s relative) game this spring. It’s early, guys, but at least the White Sox picked the right game to put on TV.


Chicago White Sox 4, San Francisco Giants 3

Tim Anderson: 1-for-3, 0 BB, 0 K
Yoán Moncada: 0-for-2, 1 BB, 0 K
José Abreu: 1-for-3, 1 R, 0 BB, 0 K
Edwin Encarnación: 0-for-3, 0 BB, 1 K
Eloy Jiménez: 1-for-2, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 0 K
Nomar Mazara: 0 -for-3, 0 BB, 0 K
Luis Robert: 1-for-3, 1 R, 0 BB, 1 K
James McCann: 0-for-2, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 0 K
Leury García: 0-for-2, 0 BB, 1 K
Nick Madrigal: 0-for-1, 0 BB, 0 K
Kelvin Herrera: 1 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 1 K
Steve Cishek: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
Aaron Bummer: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
Jimmy Cordero: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K
Zack Burdi: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K

Before we get started on this game, look who made it on the field… for the other team.

While one Gold Glover is gone from the team, will there be a new one from the outfield?

Yeah, that is Eloy Jiménez doing things in the outfield, and guess what, he didn’t hurt himself! All around, that was a pretty good play, but then again he set a low bar in the outfield last year. Jiménez also worked the opposing pitcher to a full count and walked. In his next at-bat, he took advantage of a Giants error and drove in a run with a single roped up the middle. All in all, a nice February appearance from Eloy, but we can’t draw any conclusions … yet.

On the other end of the spectrum, Luis Robert showed his youth and inexperience early. He struggled with some little things, but what else is spring training for than to be extremely critical about little things? In the bottom of the second, Robert rolled over on a pitch away instead of trying to go the other way with it or just laying off. In the next inning, as Kelvin Herrera had a hard go of things (three runs allowed), Robert took a bad route to a ball in the gap and seemingly allowed an extra man to score. Robert also ended his day with a bad at-bat with a swinging strike on a breaking ball low and away. These are just little things, but they will mean more if they continue into the summer, when the impatient fans might start criticizing over Robert in his rookie season.

On the other hand, if Robert just does this all the time it won’t matter.

(do not slide head first in February, please!)

or this:

The winners of the day for the White Sox came from the bullpen, though the team win would come later. First and foremost, Zack Burdi pitched and looked like a typical pitcher coming back for the first time. He got hit hard, battled back from a 3-0 count, and it all ended with for a 1-2-3 inning. Now, say what you will about the reliability of velocity from spring training, but that velocity looks fine. It is February, so hopefully that fastball gets up into the upper 90s regularly.

Meanwhile, Aaron Bummer (and his new money) and Jimmy Cordero looked like they were ready for the regular season. They combined for five strikeouts in two perfect innings, and both look like mainstays in the bullpen for 2020. In fact, Bummer could see himself become the closer if Alex Colomé falters this year. Both Bummer and Cordero kept the Giants lead at one run while the Sox tried to avoid the loss or a second straight tie.

In the ninth inning, two players trying to make the team delivered in the clutch. First, Adam Engel doubled to right field to tie the game. Though it would have been fun to tie, again, Seby Zavala put that story to an end. He shot one back up the middle to center field and Engel sprinted and dove home, in February … to win this critical preseason game. Did somebody else dump Gatorade on themselves?

Minor key: The last bullpen spot

Eighth spot to lose: Improbably, a combination of factors give Carson Fulmer the inside track on the final White Sox bullpen spot. (@Carson_Fulmer)


For some pitchers, a relief role is the path to glory and riches. For others, it’s a last stand, a last-ditch attempt to cling to the majors. The Chicago White Sox feature both extremes in their Cactus League bullpen at present, and all manner of pitchers in-between.

The former was taken care of this past weekend. Aaron Bummer’s job security wasn’t in question this spring, but the organization assured so in a big way after announcing a long-term pact with the lefty reliever on Saturday.

The White Sox are loathe to go through the arbitration process with their players, but this contract is a big win for the team beyond dodging that process with Bummer. The 26-year-old was selected in the 19th round of the 2014 draft out of Nebraska and underwent Tommy John surgery as a minor leaguer. After posting a 2.13 ERA with a 72% ground ball rate in 67 ⅔ innings in 2019, boasting a 1.3 fWAR powered by an elite sinker, Bummer has arrived as a fixture in the Pale Hose bullpen going forward.

Bullpens are fickle, and deals like this one are uncommon as a result. But the deal guarantees a payout of only $16 million, and the decision-makers likely see that as a pittance in the face of four years of arbitration under super two status for a pitcher like Bummer, who’s seen as a major spoke in the wheel. Regression could obviously occur, but Bummer’s current status and future promise is a massive scouting win for the organization, which should rightfully celebrate his arrival as a dependable big league reliever.


Judgment Day: Carson Fulmer

Carson Fulmer was the third-ranked player in the 2015  draft according to MLB Pipeline. In Doug Laumann’s final year at the helm, the White Sox used the eighth overall pick in an otherwise poor class on the righthander from Vanderbilt. Many observers praised the organization for selecting another quick-moving pitcher and nabbing the “best college starter” in the class.

Pipeline lauded Fulmer for his competitiveness and placed a 70-grade on his fastball with a 60-grade curveball. The 6´0´´ righty threw his fastball in the 93-97 mph range and had been named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Fulmer displayed an electric arm, with a power breaking ball. Carson lacked prototypical size and possessed a tough-to-repeat, highly unorthodox delivery. Many evaluators questioned his command and control, wondering if he would end up in the bullpen down the road.

Fulmer didn’t throw enough strikes in college, and he hasn’t thrown enough strikes as a professional, either. Now hanging onto a roster spot tenuously, at risk of changing organizations, Fulmer’s future hinges on his ability to throw strikes this spring. The 26-year-old posted a 6.26 ERA in 27 big league innings last year, and that was after reworking his delivery in the offseason. He did average 13.5 K/9 with the Charlotte Knights with a 3.24 FIP — but also walked more than five hitters per nine as well.

Fulmer is the likely favorite to earn the eighth and final spot in the White Sox’s bullpen this spring. He’s out of options, and while losing him wouldn’t seem drastic, his draft status likely affords him one last shot in Chicago. He had a horrendous debut (two walks, two Ks, HBP, getting yanked mid-inning) in Sunday’s White Sox spring training opener, but Cactus League stats are a poor way to determine roster decisions; paying attention to how Fulmer looks and feels may end up being more appropriate. Fulmer’s cloudy future should be an interesting storyline to monitor, though, on a pitching staff lacking drama.


Easy decisions

With a 26-man roster taking effect in 2020, the White Sox will begin the season with eight relievers. Roster churn will bring a lot of new faces through Chicago during the course of the years, but the group likely to open the season won’t feature many surprises. The southpaw-hungry pen gives 26-year-old Jace Fry an easy spot, along with Bummer. Fry is a former third-rounder looking to bounce back in 2020, and controlling his walks will play a significant part in that quest.

Alex Colomé and Kelvin Herrera are back for another spin at the back end of the 2020 bullpen. They are both slated to make real money this year and will likely see high-leverage innings early in the season. Colomé is looking to keep thwarting his ugly peripherals, while Herrera just needs to remain healthy. Steve Cishek was signed as a free agent this offseason, and he should serve as quite an insurance policy for Rick Renteria.

Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero will likely receive spots as well. Marshall threw 50 ⅓ innings in 2019 and posted a 2.49 ERA. His walk rate increased, but he didn’t allow homers and kept the ball on the ground for the most part. The organization will pay the 29-year-old $1.1 million in 2020. Cordero was claimed off of waivers during the 2019 campaign and threw 37 ⅓ innings for the White Sox in 2019. The 6´4´´, 220-pounder throws very hard but doesn’t strike out many hitters. The sleeveless man posted a 2.89 ERA and is also out of minor league options, giving him an edge for  the big league roster.


Competition at camp

The White Sox released an extensive list of non-roster invites to spring training that included veteran journeymen along with pitching prospects from their own system. Zack Burdi, Matt Foster, Ian Hamilton and José Ruiz are members of the 40-man roster and the likeliest competition for the final spot on the big league roster. Ruiz has big-time power stuff, and threw 40 innings in Chicago in 2019. He’s not the front-runner for a spot breaking camp, but he’s definitely an option. The 25-year-old posted a 5.36 ERA in the majors.

Burdi was a first round pick in 2016 and is looking to finally crack into the bigs. The fireballer is healthy for the first time in awhile and could join the White Sox at some point during the 2020 season. Hamilton looked like a serious option at this time last year, but battled a facial fracture and injuries sustained in a car collision in 2019. Foster was a 20th round pick in 2016 and was added to the 40-man this offseason after posting a 3.76 ERA in Charlotte last year.

Kodi Medeiros, Drew Anderson, Bryan Mitchell, Jacob Lindgren, Caleb Frare, Brady Lail and Tayron Guerrero are some other arms who have an outside shot at a roster spot. Southpaws Medeiros, Lindgren and Frare have the benefit of being lefties, in somewhat high demand in the White Sox system. Mitchell, Anderson and Lail all have big league experience, and while they are more likely to pitch for the Knights than the White Sox, they still qualify as options. Guerrero throws extremely hard, but his peripherals leave much to be desired and is no longer a member of the 40-man.


Outside help?

Fulmer has the inside track at a roster spot due to his draft pedigree and option status, but he’s far from a lock. An outside addition via trade or waiver claim should also be considered a possibility in filling that final spot. The White Sox have added non-roster players to the roster prior to Opening Day in the past, and while it could happen again, its unlikely due to the names currently in the mix.

Fulmer’s grip on the final spot is shaky, and there’s a solid chance that his next big league game will be thrown in a different uniform. The ideal situation for the franchise would be someone like Hamilton or Burdi taking the reins and claiming a major league spot.

Who will be the eighth member of the White Sox’s bullpen to start the year? Internally, Ruiz appears to have the best shot at filling that role. From outside the organization, it’s anyone’s guess. The front office has an entire month to sort it out, and this whole exercise may seem futile once we get to March 26.

The biggest surprise would be to have a spring devoid of bullpen surprises.

 

Aaron Bummer signs a five-year, $16 million extension

Far from a bummer: The White Sox’s best reliever in 2019 has signed a long-term deal that could keep him on the South Side through 2026. (@BallparkPost)


Aaron Bummer, 26, has signed a five-year with the White Sox. As per the agreement, Bummer will earn $1 million in 2020, $2 million in 2021, $2.5 million in 2022, $3.75 million in 2023, and $5.5 million in 2024. Those totals add to $14.75 million, but Bummer’s guaranteed money ends up at $16 million, as this deal includes team options for 2025 and 2026. If the White Sox do not decide to bring him back for either of those seasons, they will owe the lefthander a buyout of $1.25 million. If the White Sox bring him back, Bummer will earn $7.25 million in 2025 and $7.5 million in 2026, which would bring the total value of this deal to $29.5 million over seven years.

Bummer was the White Sox’s most reliable reliever in 2019. In 67 ⅔ innings, Bummer had a 2.13 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 3.49 xFIP, and 0.990 WHIP. Those numbers rendered him a 1.3 WAR player per FanGraphs and a 2.8 WAR player per Baseball-Reference, a remarkably high total for a reliever.

As expected from a pitcher with those numbers, Bummer had quite a few great moments last season, but given the circumstances, one performance sticks out more than the rest. Most White Sox fans will remember the June 18 game at Wrigley Field as the game Eloy Jiménez hit a go-ahead, ninth-inning home run. While that home run was the highlight of the game, and arguably the season, that game may have played out much differently had Bummer not been on top of his game. When Bummer entered the game in the sixth inning, he inherited a runner on first and nobody out, but the North Siders could not manage anything in two innings against him. When all was said and done, among White Sox players, only Jiménez had a higher WPA (+.242) in that memorable game than Bummer (+.216).

Granted, relievers’ performances are often volatile from year to year, and 2019 was Bummer’s first season as a pitcher who was clearly above average. Despite these factors, this seems to be a great deal for both sides. Given Bummer’s 2019 performance, he could regress quite a bit and still be worth this contract. In addition, Bummer looked like an entirely different pitcher last year than he was in 2018. It seems safe to say that in the future, Bummer will look more like his 2019 self than his 2018 self. Props to the front office for getting this one done.

South Side Hit Pen Podcast No. 6: Luis Robert, welcome to the South Side!

James Fox, South Side Hit Pen managing editor who broke the Luis Robert extension story 10 days ago and confirmed the extension today, jumps on the Emergency Pantera Network podcast to talk Robert, the no-risk nature of the extension, and bullpen help going forward. No animals were harmed in the recording of this podcast.

Photo: Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen

Penned in: A look at the 2020 bullpen options on the South Side

Top target: Will Harris is on the short list for several teams, as a veteran, trusted bullpen hand. (@Astros)


Ken Williams and Rick Hahn have been lauded of late for their successful offseason shopping spree in an attempt to turn the Chicago White Sox into a contender in 2020. They’ve accomplished their stated goals in acquiring two starting pitchers, a designated hitter, help in right field and one of the best catchers in baseball.

While there’s been some chatter about the need to further upgrade their outfield mix, it seems as if the bullpen might be the next area of focus.

Possible targets

The best remaining relief option on the free agent market currently is Houston Astros righthander Will Harris. The 35-year-old Harris posted a 1.50 ERA in Houston last year despite a FIP of 3.15. In 60 innings pitched, the 6´4´´, 240-pounder averaged 9.30 K/9 and 2.10 BB/9. Harris is likely looking for a multi-year commitment, and his Baseball Savant page really tells the story of his success.

Harris only falls in the 25th percentile in terms of fastball velocity. He doesn’t throw that hard, but he is impeccable in every other way. His fastball spin rate falls in the 96th percentile in baseball and the curveball spin rate is in the 86th percentile. The righty ranks highly in xWOBA (89th percentile), xSLG (81st percentile) and hard-hit rate (84th percentile). Harris hasn’t been linked to any particular teams yet in free agency.

Steve Cishek is another veteran right hander whose fastball velocity is only in the 18th percentile range. He doesn’t possess a high-octane fastball but he’s in the 77th percentile in fastball spin rate. The 33-year-old sidearmer pitched 64 innings with the Cubs last year and posted a 2.95 ERA. His FIP wasn’t as good (4.54), but he held righties to a .583 OPS on the season. The 6´6´´, 215-pounder averaged just more than 8 K/9 and falls in the 99th percentile in both hard hit rate and exit velocity.

Cishek knows how to get people out, and he’s made a career of doing so. Similarly to Harris, Cishek is likely holding out for a multiyear pact from a club. He hasn’t been linked to any team specifically, but he would fit nicely as a piece in the White Sox’s evolving bullpen.

Two other names on the market who could be potential options are Daniel Hudson and Craig Stammen.

Hudson was a fifth round pick of the White Sox way back in 2008, and made his major league debut with the club before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The righthander has had an extensive history of arm troubles but is still just 32. The 6´3´´, 225-pounder posted a 2.47 ERA with a FIP of 3.97 last year. He pitched 73 innings with the Blue Jays and Nationals and completed high-leverage stints on a World Series winner. Hudson has some familiarity with catcher Yasmani Grandal from their days in Los Angeles together with the Dodgers.

According to Jon Morosi of the MLB network, the White Sox have shown interest in righthander Craig Stammen. The 35-year-old was a bit overused in the first half of last year, and some of his numbers reflect that. The 6´4´´, 230-pound reliever posted a 3.29 ERA with a 4.12 FIP, but pitched the majority of his games at the arm-friendly PETCO Park in San Diego. He averaged around 8 K/9 and 1.65 BB/9 over 82 innings last season. Stammen has great command, and surrenders lots of soft contact. In 2018, the big righty posted a 2.73 ERA and accumulated 2.2 fWAR in 79 innings.

The White Sox could also look to the trade market to acquire relief help if necessary. Three of the bigger names out there are Ken Giles of the Blue Jays, Mychal Givens of the Orioles and Ian Kennedy of the Royals. But Giles and Kennedy both have just one season of team control remaining — and Kennedy comes with a significant salary cost of $16.5 million.

Kansas City’s closer was superb in relief last season, though. In 63 ⅓ innings, Kennedy posted a 3.41 ERA with a 2.99 FIP. The converted starter has found a role in relief that works for him and while he’s expensive, he could really help a contender. Kennedy also averaged 10.37 K/9 and just 2.42 BB/9 on the season as well.

Giles, on the other hand, should cost a pretty significant prospect return, and it’s unclear whether Toronto is still open to making a deal before the season. The 29-year-old posted a 1.87 ERA with a 2.27 FIP for the Blue Jays last season. The 6´3´´, 210-pound righty averaged a whopping 14 K/9 with 2.89 BB/9 as well. He threw 53 innings and would be a huge upgrade for the White Sox. Givens is in a similar spot on a bad AL East club, but the Orioles would definitely trade him under the right circumstances. The 29-year-old posted a 4.57 ERA with a 3.62 xFIP in 63 innings for the Orioles in 2019. He also averaged 12.3 K/9 on the year and his stuff is still a factor.

Current Mix

The White Sox bullpen fared decently in 2019 and finished the season in the middle of the pack of the American League in most statistical categories. Arb-eligible Alex Colomé and Evan Marshall don’t have their 2020 salary figures yet, but they seem likely to return to the club. They’ll be joined by righthander Kelvin Herrera and southpaws Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry.

Colomé is expected to earn around $10 million in his final season of arbitration. The 30-year-old righty posted a 2.80 ERA last year, but his peripherals weren’t kind and he’s likely in for some regression. Colomé’s strikeout rate was down as he averaged 8.11 K/9 and 3.39 BB/9. In 61 innings, he posted a 4.08 FIP with a 45% ground ball rate, and his stuff deteriorated some over the course of the season; his Baseball Savant page illustrates that some trouble could be on the horizon.

Given his overall performance in 2019 Colomé will return as the closer in 2020, but his numbers indicate that an upgrade might be essential. He finished in the 30th percentile in fastball velocity and 23rd percentile in fastball spin rate. Colomé’s strikeout rate falls in the 45th percentile, while his hard-hit rate was in the 12th percentile range. He still gets outs, but he was also in the 2nd percentile in exit velocity last year — a huge concern going forward.

Under contract for $8.5 million next year is 29-year-old righthander Kelvin Herrera, and he’ll be counted on in some capacity as well. The 5´10´´, 200-pounder struggled last year working his way back from a lower leg injury, posting an ERA of 6.14 with a 4.58 FIP. He did throw 51 ⅓ innings and averaged 9.29 K/9, but also 4.03 BB/9. Herrera has a long track record of success, and was clearly battling last year. He should be better in 2020 based on his late season results, but counting on him as an integral part of the bullpen mix might be foolish.

Former 19th-rounder Aaron Bummer had his breakout campaign in 2019 with the White Sox. The 26-year-old southpaw posted a 2.13 ERA with a 3.41 FIP and compiled 1.3 fWAR on the season. The 6´3´´, 200-pound lefty averaged 8 K/9 while displaying a stellar 72.1% ground ball rate in almost 68 innings pitched. Bummer was very good vs righties last year, but was death on lefthanders (.178/.213/.233).

Jace Fry was a third round pick of the White Sox out of Oregon State in 2016. He’s strictly a reliever now after undergoing two Tommy John surgeries, and he struggled in 2019 after a breakout season the year prior. The 26-year-old has elite spin on his fastball but posted a 4.75 ERA with a 4.41 xFIP in 2019. The southpaw averaged 11.13 K/9 but also 7.04 BB/9 in 55 innings with the Sox last year. Left-handed pitching is an organizational weakness at the moment, and Fry should lock up a spot on the 2020 squad fairly easily.

Evan Marshall was a bit of a revelation last season. The 29-year-old righthander posted just a 4.30 FIP but his statcast data was very positive as well. The 6´2´´, 225-pounder posted a 2.49 ERA and averaged 7.28 K/9 in 2019. Marshall threw 50 ⅔ innings and should be a lock to return once pitchers and catchers report. Marshall is projected to earn just more than $1 million in arbitration. Marshall falls in the 81st percentile in curveball spin, 78th percentile in fastball spin, 90th percentile in exit velocity and 89th percentile in hard-hit rate.

Internal Options

Non-roster invitees to spring training haven’t been announced yet, but the organization has gotten lucky finding contributors from that pile in recent years. Looking at the 40-man roster, Zack Burdi, Jimmy Cordero, Dylan Covey, Matt Foster, Carson Fulmer, Tayron Guerrero, Ian Hamilton, Kodi Medeiros, and José Ruiz will be given an opportunity to make the 2020 club.

Cordero pitched well last year after being claimed on waivers in June. The 28-year-old righty throws really hard (95th percentile in fastball velocity). The 6´4´´, 222-pounder posted a 2.89 ERA with a 3.69 xFIP in 2019. Cordero was very solid to close out the year and he threw almost 38 innings down the stretch. He has a solid shot to pitch for the 2020 club, but he’s out of options at present.

Another hard thrower and recent addition that is also out of options is former Marlins flamethrower Guerrero. Guerrero was claimed off of waivers earlier this offseason, and he’ll have an opportunity this spring as well. The 28-year-old falls in the 100th percentile in fastball velocity but he posted a 6.26 ERA last year. He was hit hard and often, and averaged 7.04 BB/9 with Miami.

Fulmer was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Things haven’t gone well since for the former Commodore. The 26-year-old righthander posted a 6.26 ERA with a 6.29 FIP with the White Sox last year. He averaged 8.23 K/9, but 6.59 BB/9 as well. Carson threw 34 innings with the Charlotte Knights as well and averaged 13.5 K/9, 5.5 BB/9 and a 3.24 FIP. Fulmer’s spin rates are elite (88th percentile in curveball spin and 91st percentile in fastball spin) but his command is too erratic to put them to use consistently. Fulmer is also out of options, and could find himself on another team soon.

Covey, like Fulmer, has gotten lots of chances and the White Sox just can’t decide what role is best for him. He could be outrighted off of the roster once further additions are made and offer depth in Triple-A. Kodi Medeiros is a young lefty who will be given an opportunity in spring training. The first-rounder has failed as a starter, but met some success after transitioning to the bullpen last season.

Ruiz is another young, hard thrower who is short on experience but long on stuff. He was given a pretty decent-sized leash last year and likely gets an opportunity again. Ruiz possesses minor league options and could help to fill out the Knights bullpen to start the season. Foster was protected in advance of December’s Rule 5 draft, and he’ll be in the mix as well. The 24-year-old threw 55 innings for the Knights and posted a 3.76 ERA while averaging more than 10 K/9.

There will be many options for the 2020 Chicago White Sox to use out of the bullpen. Any of Reynaldo López, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodón could pitch some meaningful relief innings at some point, however unlikely that seems. Chances are, the South Side decision makers will make a couple of additions to the bullpen before the start of the season to enhance their chances of holding leads and winning games. Some prospects could shine and force their way into the mix as well.

The higher-leverage options in the bullpen appear to be set until upgrades can be made, possibly not until the summer. The best outcome for this club, though, would be getting serious help from within. Burdi and Hamilton are hard-throwing righties coming back from injuries in 2018. If either pitcher can round themselves into form, they could be mainstays in Chicago for a long time. After them, Tyler Johnson and Codi Heuer are fairly recent draft picks who could be knocking on the door to a bullpen audition as well.

 

Joc of all trades: Pederson a perfect fit for Chicago’s right field woes

Rock n’ Joc: Reviving a trade for this fella could solve a lot of problems for the White Sox. (Rawlings)


The MLB Hot Stove usually takes a slow-roll, kindling approach before exploding –– especially when it comes to the last few winters. The 2020 offseason was presumed to be no different, until the Chicago White Sox dumped $123 million worth of gasoline onto the stove top, bringing Yasmani Grandal, a premium two-way catcher into the fold, and extending hometown star José Abreu.

These early moves put the accelerant on a publicly-stated desire by the front office to address holes at DH, C, RF, and in the starting rotation. Chicago’s dotted transaction history to begin the offseason places even more of an onus on smoothing out the rough edges of a roster that suddenly looks on track to do some damage in 2020.

SSHP’s own James Fox has already written about the next logical step in the process: Securing a front-end starter in the form of free agent Zack Wheeler.

Dipping into free agency and deploying cash have been the avenues of choice in player acquisition thus far, but Rick Hahn and Co. have been transparent in that the trade market is a viable route as well when it comes to certain upgrades.

That may not ring truer than in the context of right field, where the free agent inventory isn’t exactly thin, but is riddled with case-by-case complications, especially when it comes to finding a fit lacking warts.

There’s Nicholas Castellanos, who would surely be a spark in the lineup — but his glove in right is sure to douse some of those contributions in terms of overall net gains. Plus, his price tag is such that similar funds in the Brinks Truck could be wheeled elsewhere, if you catch my drift –– particularly if it’s an either-or scenario budget-wise.

Kole Calhoun is a reasonable enough stopgap, but given that DH is starting to look like a timeshare between Grandal, Abreu, James McCann, and Zack Collins, that’s not a significant enough addition for a right field position that now needs to feature more of a consistent lineup cog. After all, Chicago right fielders combined for a dismal .220/.227/.288 line in 2019, serving as their most glaring roster blemish.

Marcell Ozuna could provide some pop, but he’s far removed from his spectacular 2017 campaign with the Miami Marlins, in which he pounded 37 home runs and featured a slugging percentage 100 points better than his career average. At the right price, he’s a potential free agent fit, with some upside to go along with a very playable floor in the high ~700 OPS and two-WAR range.

But that would mean paying for more than you might actually get, eating the draft compensation consequences, and not spreading dollars elsewhere across the diamond, like the pitcher’s bump.

Then there’s Avisaíl García, who is simply not returning to the White Sox. They had the opportunity to retain him for $6-$8 million last offseason but chose to non-tender him instead. That says everything about their current interest. He’s a passable corner outfielder with steady tools, but low defensive value. And despite a potent frame and occasional bursts, García not been a benefactor of the juiced-ball era’s power dividends.

Same applies for Yasiel Puig, who is just not meant to wear black and white. For whatever reason, this oft-rumored and volatile target hasn’t found a place on the South Side, despite the ever-present Cuban-connection narrative and positional need. The White Sox are placing a premium on clubhouse culture, and there seems to have been and likely continues to be a mismatch here.

Corey Dickerson typically mashes when healthy while also sporting non-sinking defense. Despite an injury-riddled 2019, he’d be the go-to option in the free agent market and may very well be what the White Sox pursue.

But can Chicago do better on the trade circuit?

There’s no Christian Yelich-style deal to be had this offseason, and there’s a strong case for why Chicago’s not even at the point where trading from the upper echelon of their prospect pool for a single prized fixture would even make sense.

Funneling multiple upside assets into one premium proven player comes at that “final piece” stage, which is at least a year or two down the line. It dooesn’t help that right fielders like Cody Bellinger, Max Kepler, and Austin Meadows aren’t available, anyway.

Mookie Betts is available, but now that’s a move more than a year down the line, seeing as front office actors don’t even consider rentals until they’ve paid off their rebuilt suburban mortgage and suddenly want to live in a high-rise on Parade Ave. in Championship City for a year.

However, there is one player who won’t cost an “arm and a bat” plus Hahn’s first-born, whose performance is just a tick below the top-tier.

That would be Joc Pederson, who sits below the Bellingers of the world but was still better than just about two-thirds of the league’s right fielders with a 3.0 fWAR in 2019 –– an output that also outpaces every available free agent at any outfield position not named Brett Gardner (who can’t be expected to end up anywhere other than back in New York pinstripes).

Pederson himself has had an interesting MLB career, going from the 15th-best prospect in baseball in 2014 while flaunting a 30/30 ceiling, to a 2015 full-season stint that saw him parlay initial explosiveness into an All-Star selection, only to sputter out as the season dragged on.

The depth and versatility of the Los Angeles Dodgers outfield has always made them a matchup smorgasbord, which limited Pederson’s playing time at various moments due to his poor splits against left-handed pitching. Such curated and maximized deployment resulted in an .847 OPS with 25 bombs in 2016.

An injury-riddled 2017 was rock bottom of sorts, where Pederson turned in a .212/.331/.407 line with just 11 home runs.

He got back to the 25-home run threshold in 2018 with an .843 OPS and slugging percentage above .500, but it still didn’t make him a lock to be a Dodgers stalwart moving forward.

Entering his age 27 season, he started to look like the odd man out in an increasingly crowded Dodgers outfield that included Chris Taylor, Bellinger, the newly signed AJ Pollock,  emerging top prospect Alex Verdugo, and rumored aspirations of splashing on Bryce Harper.

Chicago read the tea leaves and immediately got on the phone lines despite still apparently pursuing Harper themselves, which turned out to be overplayed in its own right. Here was the first scoop from FanSided’s Jason Kinander:

Legend has it that this trade was actually pretty darn close to being filed for print. But deals are susceptible to “leaks,” and those leaks can seemingly manifest into floodgates of competition from other clubs. In the case of the Pederson deal, the flood rose L.A.’s price tag for Pederson beyond Chicago’s comfort zone –– something Hahn essentially alluded to at an NBC Chicago Summer podcast interview at Reggie’s Chicago, despite his usual couched language.

Yet, when the dust settled, not only wasn’t Pederson traded to Chicago, he wasn’t traded at all, so who’s to say why the I’s and T’s could never be officially dotted. Maybe it’s still possible to get “cold feet” in LA despite the beachy weather.

As history would have it, Pederson would go on to produce arguably the best year of his career in 2019, with a .249/.339/.538 slash line and a career-high 36 home runs to go along with his highest fWAR since 2016. Not to mention top career marks in HR/FB ratio backed by a career-high hardest-hit rate (45.2% per FanGraphs).

What’s interesting, though, is that the crowded outfield of 2019 hasn’t really changed in the context of 2020. Bellinger, Verdugo, and Pollock are the tailor-made starting outfield and there’s still Taylor and Matt Beaty to take reps out there as well. Instead of Harper potentially on the horizon like last offseason, the Dodgers are exploring another prize in Mookie Betts via trade –– which in theory could involve Pederson. Yet ultimately, the script is very similar to last winter where smoke was almost met with fire.

It almost goes without saying that Pederson checks a lot of boxes for the White Sox.

He’s got the defensive chops to play right field, as he has played center for a good portion of his career and has the arm to handle a corner. He brings true left-handed power to a lineup that desperately lacks it even after the addition of Grandal.

Pederson’s contract situation fits like a glove. He’s got one season left of team control, and would come at an arb rate in the $8-$10 million range. That’s the perfect bridge to an internal option, in case one of Micker Adolfo, Luis Alexander Basabe, Blake Rutherford, Luis Gonzalez, or Steele Walker emerge as a true everyday outfield option to pair with Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert for the long haul.

At just 28, Pederson could excel beyond what he’s presently shown and even become a worthy extension candidate if the farm goes through a drought and other options look undesirable. It’s entirely possible that Pederson takes advantage of the bandbox that is Sox Park, goes off for 40 home runs, and realizes enough of an OBP and defensive value to be a keeper beyond 2020.

The main pitfall is Pederson’s near unplayable splits against lefties, but assuming superutility player Leury García is back for 2020, his career .285/.311 AVG./OBP. splits could cover Pederson semi-competently. That said, a true fourth outfielder and better platoon fit than Adam Engel could be pursued to complement Pederson if a trade with L.A. actually comes to fruition.

So here we are, yet again, with another Dodgers outfielder surfacing, swimming, and downright bobbing around in the sea that is the White Sox rumor mill. It has to happen at some point, right? Books could be written from all the prior trade conjecture surrounding Matt Kemp, Pederson, Puig, and yes, even Andre Ethier at one point, with regard to Chicago’s predilection for a Hollywood outfielder. Even Verdugo was a popular name during Quintana-Dodgers rumors.

So what will it take for a player to finally book their flight from LAX to O’Hare? Kinander gives us some insight into the potential cost, with perspective into last offseason’s deal structure at least:

It’s safe to say the interest in Carson Fulmer is dead. Bryce Bush destroyed rookie ball in his draft year, but was absolutely abysmal last season in A-Ball, with a .201/.285/.346 slash line and K-rate north of 30.

Aaron Bummer was coming off a mixed 2018 campaign when the Dodgers apparently had interest. The good metrics were a 2.40 FIP and 9.9 K/9 while the bad were a 4.26 ERA, 1.579 WHIP, and a 11.4 H/9 metric that gave pause. While Pederson had a career year in 2019, Bummer did so as well. He posted a 2.13 ERA across 67.2 innings, with a 3.41 FIP, sub-one WHIP, and limited hits to just 5.7 per nine.

He’s far from just a lefty specialist, limiting RHB to a .234/.337/.332 career mark. Bummer’s transformation came from increased fastball velocity, the introduction of a cutter, as well as positive regression from previous bad luck. There’s a far more detailed explanation here.

Still, the 82.3% strand rate and .228 BABIP are almost the inverse of the bad luck from 2018 and somewhat unsustainably positive, which means Bummer’s true self might be somewhere in between 2018 and 2019 — but the full package is still a non-specialized, nearly lights-out reliever.

There’s a lot of volatility in relievers, but there’s also five years worth of cheap control in Bummer as well. That seems steep for one year of Pederson, but if the White Sox wanted to guarantee it would get done, then this is a one-for-one that would make ink dry on LA’s end at least.

Maybe at that point, just paying for Dickerson and keeping Bummer makes more sense, but there’s still the chance that net-net in 2019, Pederson outpaces that tandem in wins if a replacement level arm could be plugged in for Bummer.

But between Caleb Frare and Jace Fry, the White Sox are very thin on reliable lefty pen options, and neither the free agent market nor their system provide much in the way of immediate help. At that point, trading five years of a potentially plus-reliever for what could be a one-year stopgap starts to seem ill-advised.

The White Sox could then look to a prospect-only package here, given the leverage of Pederson truly being an odd man out in LA, but he won’t just be given away for nothing.

Something like RHP Jonathan Stiever (No. 7 White Sox prospect per MLB) and RHP Codi Heuer (No. 19) would likely be enough to get it done.

If there was very little competition in Pederson’s trade market, Stiever could be swapped for LHP Konnor Pilkington (No. 16 prospect) and a pot-sweetener like OF Luis Meises. But that’s about the line before a Dickerson deal starts to make more sense, unless Chicago likes Pederson enough to at least consider this the beginning of a longer-term relationship.

Adding Pederson to the existing offensive corps would undoubtedly give the White Sox a playoff lineup –– at least offensively. But Stiever is a legit prospect and one that Chicago is very high on, so parting with him could be the first real sting of this impending transition to the promised land.

This is not the type of trade a rebuilding team makes, but all indications are that the White Sox no longer wish to be a rebuilding team.

Follow Owen on Twitter