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.

 

Friday’s arbitration deadline makes a busy week busier for the White Sox

Big payday awaits: Closer Colomé is the sole significant salary expenditure expected through the arbitration process. (@AlexanderColome)


The White Sox continue to add talent this offseason, and right-handed reliever Steve Cishek is the latest addition to the squad. The signing isn’t yet official but in short order, the organization’s expenditures over the course of this offseason will surpass $200 million in total outlay. With a reported agreement for designated hitter Edwin Encarnación also on the precipice of becoming official, it could be a busy week of roster juggling for the franchise.

Friday is the deadline for clubs to reach agreement with arbitration-eligible players. Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox has been involved in trade discussions in advance of his penultimate year of arbitration, and he’s expected to set a record for salary among players yet to reach free agency. Kris Bryant‘s situation with the Chicago Cubs is tenuous as well, due partly to the effects of the salary arbitration process. While the White Sox won’t be the focus across the sport in this regard, the club has its own decisions to make by Friday’s exchange date.

As an organization, the White Sox generally like to settle on a number rather than exchanging figures to be glossed over by an arbitrator. The franchise went many years without an arbitration fight, prior to Avisaíl García and Yolmer Sánchez heading down the process in recent years.

This year, six players are eligible to receive salary arbitration from the club.

Catcher James McCann agreed to a $5.4 million contract with the club early in December, and he’s signed on for his final season before he reaches unrestricted free agency. More of these deals should become official in the coming days. Pitchers Alex Colomé, Evan Marshall and Carlos Rodón along with outfielders Leury García and Nomar Mazara are the arbitration-eligible players on the White Sox. Fighting their own players is atypical to the modus operandi employed by the organization, so it’s expected that the five players will settle before the deadline.

The fine folks at MLB Trade Rumors do a commendable job of predicting arbitration raises annually and they see Colomé and Marshall getting somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.3 million and $1.3 million, respectively.

Rodón is in a tricky situation while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery as well, earning $4.2 million last year for just 34 ⅔ innings. Rodón is projected to receive $4.5 million for the 2020 season, in his third year of salary arbitration as a Super Two player.

García, a 28-year-old superutility player, earned $1.55 million last season; because he plays multiple positions for the White Sox, he’s slated to turn his 1.3 fWAR season into a projected $4 million commitment.

Outfielder Mazara is expected to receive a salary bump as well. The 24-year-old has been a bit of an enigma early on in his career. Regarded as one of the best prospects in the game on his way to the Rangers from the minor leagues, Nomar hasn’t lived up to his high billing. The lefty slugger earned $3.3 million in 2019; while struggling mightily vs left-handed pitching throughout his career, Mazara posted an .844 OPS with a 110 wRC+ vs RHP in 2019. He’s expected to receive $5.7 million for 2020.


The 2020 payroll, in review

Jerry Reinsdorf has opened his wallet this offseason, upping overall payroll from some uncommon recent lows. In 2019, the White Sox were 26th in baseball with a total payroll of $91,371,201. The organization currently has leaped to 16th in  payroll and is expected to spend between $125-$130 million in player salary for this upcoming season.

It can be astutely argued that they haven’t gone far enough, but the increase is a marked improvement that has quelled some recent criticism of the front office. The first addition to the 2020 club was catcher Yasmani Grandal back in November. The 31-year-old signed a four-year contract worth $73 million, so the switch-hitting backstop will earn $18.25 million next season.

The front office followed up the contract with a new deal for first baseman José Abreu. Abreu signed a three-year, $50 million contract extension with the team and he’ll earn $12.6 million against the payroll in 2020.

The next two signings slotted right into the starting rotation. First, Gio González signed a one-year contract that will pay him $4.5 million. And the biggest addition on the pitching front came days later, when the White Sox inked veteran southpaw Dallas Keuchel. The 32-year-old will earn $55.5 million over the course of his three-year commitment with the White Sox, and $18 million in 2020.

With the agreements and the trade for Mazara at December’s winter meetings, the front office effectively completed their shopping list. The decision-makers landed two starting pitchers, a right fielder and found some offensive pop from the left side. While the designated shopping list was all checked off, the organization remained motivated to add talent to the 2020 club. Edwin Encarnación is expected to make $11 million next season as the team’s primary designated hitter. Better production in that spot was another priority of general manager Rick Hahn.

And most recently, even the bullpen got a tuneup:

The 33-year-old reliever is the latest addition in Chicago. He’ll earn $5.25 million in 2020 and with an option year, could also be around for multiple seasons.

While five free agents have been added to the team, one of the bigger moves of the offseason was struck with a player already in the organization. Luis Robert will be the opening day center fielder after signing an extension that will keep him in Chicago for the next eight years.

Before their offseason signing frenzy, the White Sox had committed just $14.8 million to three players: Shortstop Tim Anderson, outfielder Eloy Jiménez and reliever Kelvin Herrera were the only members of the team not under arbitration or pre-arb status. Much has been done since that time, giving the roster a radically different look by Opening Day. While the heavy lifting has likely been consummated, another reliever, right-handed hitting outfielder or utility infielder could still be added to the mix, in addition to a bevy of non-roster invitees.

The current White Sox payroll according to Spotrac.com is $119.2 million. Depending on what else the organization decides to add before spring training, the official 2020 payroll should be in the $130 million range. The White Sox are projected to be 16th in baseball, and there’s no reason they can’t ascend into the 11-15 range on an annual basis, as the Washington Nationals are currently 10th in baseball with a total hovering around $152 million.

The White Sox don’t seem likely to threaten the $208 million competitive balance tax threshold anytime soon, and it’s not necessary for them to do so. The payroll should increase continually, right along with the expectations of the team. And nobody will care what the payroll is as long as the team wins division titles and finds a way to keep their own over this next decade.

 

The money continues to be spent: Steve Cishek signs with the White Sox

Funky fresh delivery: Cishek’s unorthodox pitching motion will help provide a contrast to the straight overhand fire spewed by much of the White Sox bullpen. (@MarinersPR)


The recent run on relievers signing around MLB was starting to look like the few remaining options in a heated game of musical chairs, but Rick Hahn was able to grab one with time to spare, and it’s a pretty decent option to boot, as former Cub Steve Cishek has signed a one year, $6 million contract to pitch for the White Sox in 2020.  This contract has an option for 2021 for another $6 million, with the conditions surrounding that option still to be announced.

Considering that relievers like Will Harris and Daniel Hudson both signed for significantly higher amounts and yearly commitments, Cishek looks to be a perfect middle ground solution that will not hamper the Sox budget to potentially improve and add talent midseason.

Entering his 11th season, Cishek has lived the nomadic life of a hired reliever for whichever employer is willing to take on his services. A 6´6´´, 215-pound right-handed sidewinder, Cishek pitched the previous two seasons for the Chicago Cubs, providing a consistent option out of their bullpen. In 2019, his numbers dipped slightly (though not outright terribly) to a 2.95 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.  He does have peripherals that are very pleasing to the analytical eye, with an average exit velocity of 84.5 mph and a hard-hit rate of 25.9% per Baseball Savant.  And the wOBA on Cishek’s fastball was a miniscule .138, so even when he throws it straight, his funky delivery clearly has a significant effect on the batter’s ability to square it up.

I would expect to see Cishek serve as one of the veteran bridges to Alex Colomé, but if the man with the tilted hat falters, Cishek has closing in his background, notching seven saves last season and 132 in his career.

Let’s welcome Steve to the South Side, and breathe a little easier that the bullpen heading into 2020 is just a bit more secure!

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.

 

What’s next on the shopping list for the White Sox?

Next up? According to recent rumors, Edwin Encarnación (seen here with the Blue Jays) could be the next major free agent signing for the White Sox. (@encadwin) 


Thus far, the White Sox have enjoyed quite the productive offseason. They’ve inked a four-year deal with All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal, re-signed and extended All-Star José Abreu, signed Gio González for a fifth starter role, and just picked up former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel on a three-year deal with a fourth-year option.

While most of the heavy lifting has been done, there are still needs that the White Sox might address. Included among these are either one or two relievers, and either a platoon right fielder or DH. Below is a list of potential options in these areas that could still be added.   


Relief Pitchers

With the increase to 26-man rosters for the upcoming season, it’s expected that teams will go with 13-man pitching staffs. Assuming the five-man rotation will include Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo López, Dylan Cease and Gio González (with Carlos Rodón and Michael Kopech ready later in the season), the White Sox have six near-locks for the bullpen, barring injury: Alex Colomé, Aaron Bummer, Kelvin Herrera, Jimmy Cordero, Evan Marshall and Jace Fry. When considering these six guys, three are coming off career years (Bummer, Cordero and Marshall) while two suffered through a difficult 2019 (Herrera and Fry) The other two spots, as of now, will be a battle among the likes of Tayron Guerrero, José Ruiz, Carson Fulmer and Dylan Covey (all but Covey have no minor-league options remaining). Thus, with so much uncertainty, it would behoove the White Sox to pursue a reliever or two in this year’s free agent class. Here’s a list of this writer’s top relief choices still available:

Dellin Betances: If he had his prototypical All-Star season in 2019, he’d already be off the board. He basically missed the entire season due to non-elbow related injuries, but according to several reports, should be ready before spring training. Betances possesses wipeout stuff as illustrated by his career 14.6 K%. His career 2.36 ERA and 2.31 FIP are nearly identical. MLB Trade Rumors projected him to receive a one-year, $7 million deal, which seems a little on the light side. Betances would give the White Sox a four-time All Star and power arm who throws more far more strikes than the recently-acquired Guerrero. As an added bonus, as a former Yankee, he likely knows how to get Twins hitters out.

Daniel Hudson: Remember this guy? Hudson was the White Sox fifth rounder who was traded way back in 2010 with David Holmberg for the well-traveled Edwin Jackson. Hudson’s the prototypical six-teams-in-11-seasons reliever, but may have just finished his best season last year, for the world champs. His numbers indicated he pitched in some excellent luck last year (2.47 combined ERA but 3.97 FIP with Toronto and Washington), so Hudson could be in for some regression. His 8.8 K/9 ratio was solid, and it seems he’s only getting better. MLB Trade Rumors projected him for two years, $12 million. He’d be a good acquisition due to his experience in both low and high-leverage situations.    

Will Harris: At 35 Harris is the oldest player on this list, but actually enjoyed the best 2019. For the Astros, all he did was post a 1.50 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. He did pitch in some luck (3.15 FIP), but aside from the freakishly-low ERA, Harris’ numbers were similar to his eight-year career averages. And it’s not like his career ERA is bad (2.84). Despite his gaudy numbers, it’s likely Harris could be acquired for a two-year deal due to his age.

Collin McHugh: McHugh’s a bit of an outlier here, because he had a down year in 2019 with the Astros (4.70 ERA, 4.43 WHIP) although he did post some impressive strikeout numbers in his swingman role (9.9 K/9). He’s just four years removed from a 19-win season, and did provide a nifty 1.99 ERA in 58 relief outings in 2018. He would give the White Sox yet continued depth in the rotation while providing another strikeout-oriented hurler in the pen. 

Steve Cishek: Yet another guy who could likely be acquired for no more than two years due to his age (33), Cishek posted a 2.95 ERA for the Cubs despite an unsightly 4.54 FIP. The sidearmer has a 2.52 ERA over the past four seasons, second only to Kenley Jansen during that time. Cishek’s strikeout and walk rates have been moving in the wrong direction, but he’s a high spin rate guy whose success comes from weak contact. He ranks in the 99th percentile in terms of opponent exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, as in 2019 Cishek’s average exit velocity of 84.5 mph ranked fourth in all of MLB.

Brandon Kintzler: Kintzler is another Cubs free agent who’s long in the tooth (35). He’s been consistently good throughout his career, as his 10-year totals suggest (3.37 ERA and 1.25 WHIP). For 2019, he posted a 2.68 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. While this veteran wouldn’t be a bad choice, all of the above options would be better fits.     


Right Field/DH Options

As of this moment, Nomar Mazara seems penciled in as the team’s right fielder, or at least as the lefty platoon at that position paired with with Leury García or Adam Engel. Zack Collins is the favorite right now as the lefty part of a DH platoon, with fellow catcher James McCann as his counterpart. Last year, the White Sox had among the worst all-time stats at both positions, and while Mazara/García and Collins/McCann platoons wouldn’t help but improve upon last year’s ugly numbers, there are still multiple options that could really add terrific finishing touches to this offseason. 

Edwin Encarnación: Obviously a 1B/DH option at this point of his career, Encarnacion can still rake. Combined with Cleveland and the Yankees last year, he slashed .244/.344/.531 with 34 homers and 86 RBIs in just 109 games. Despite missing time due to injuries, he still posted an impressive 2.5 fWAR and 129 wRC+. With Encarnación turning 37 in June, it’s likely he’ll accept a one-year deal for less than $10 million. As a result, this signing won’t impede Andrew Vaughn from potentially making the 2021 roster. This deal would likely relegate McCann to a backup catcher role and send Collins back to Charlotte.     

Yasiel Puig: Puig’s significantly younger than Encarnación (29), but may be willing to accept a one-year deal on a contending club. He likely won’t do so, however, if assuming a role as a platoon player. If the White Sox added him, it would likely be insert him as the full-time right fielder (thereby creating a potential Mazara/McCann platoon at DH). Puig posted a 1.2 fWAR and 102 wRC+, which pale in comparison to Encarnación’s. His offensive numbers in 2019, though, weren’t bad: .267/.327/.458 in 149 games with 30 doubles, 24 homers, 76 RBIs, 19 stolen bases. As a Cuban, he’d join fellow natives Abreu, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada and Yasmani Grandal. However, the biggest concern for Puig is that his “exuberance” could create friction in the clubhouse, and this in part leads to why he could accept a one-year deal in the right situation. 

Eric Thames: Thames likely isn’t good enough defensively to supplant Mazara in right field, but he could make spot starts there, along with playing first base. In 2019 for the Brewers, the switch-hitter slashed .247/.346/.505 with 23 doubles, 25 homers, 67 RBIs, 1.9 fWAR and a wRC+ of 116. He likely would be the lefty platoon DH on the White Sox, splitting time primarily with McCann.  

Yoenis Cespedes: Cespedes could be available via trade with the New York Mets, and could be had for a relatively minor prospect. Thanks in part to a injury grievance settlement, he’ll only be paid $11 million this year. When healthy, Cespedes has produced big numbers. As recently as 2017, when he played in only 81 games, he posted an outstanding 131 wRC+ with 17 homers and 46 RBIs. With his foot injuries, Cespedes would be best suited for a DH. This would be quite the risk for a one-year deal compared to surer propositions like Encarnación and Puig, but it wasn’t that long ago (2016) that Cespedes posted a 3.7 fWAR and 136 wRC+ by swatting by slashing .280/.354/.530 with 31 homers. He also happens to be a Cuban native.

Hunter Pence: Pence enjoyed something of a renaissance with the Rangers last year, as he slashed .297/.358/.552 with 17 doubles, 18 homers, 53 RBIs, 1.8 fWAR and 128 wRC+ in just 83 games. He fared even better against southpaws: .327/.378/.636. It’s unclear how much the 36-year-old has left in the tank, as he appeared done with the Giants as recently as 2018. However, for a right-handed platoon option at either right field or DH, Pence could be worth a look for an affordable one-year deal.    

Corey Dickerson: In an injury-riddled season split between two teams this year, Dickerson slashed .304/.341/.565 with 28 doubles, 12 homers, 1.0 fWAR and 127 wRC+ in just 79 games. His best year was arguably in 2017 with Tampa Bay, when he slashed .282/.325/.490 with 27 homers and 84 RBIs. His defensive metrics haven’t been that great aside from 2018, but he’s easily better than Mazara though Dickerson has played more frequently in left. His acquisition would shift Mazara to the left-handed DH role.

Kole Calhoun: Often discussed as a potential free agent pick due to his power numbers and left-handedness, Calhoun still could be had for a one-year deal. While not Gold Glove-caliber anymore, the 32-year-old is still better defensively than Mazara. He posted a 108 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR in 2019, thanks in part to 29 doubles and 32 homers. However, he did hit for a low average (.232) and fanned over 160 times.

Nicholas Castellanos: Castellanos enjoyed an outstanding 2019 offensively by slashing .289/.337/.525 with 58 doubles, 27 homers, and 100 RBIs. Despite his rough defensive analytics which have been well-publicized and warranted, Castellanos still posted a solid 2.8 fWAR and 121 wRC+. Most projections have him getting up to a four-year deal somewhere around $65 million, which may put him out of range for the White Sox. He’d be an impressive offensive force and would truly be best served as a DH, possibly playing right field against southpaws so that McCann or Grandal could DH in those instances. The White Sox seem committed to Vaughn and Abreu at DH and first base beginning in 2021, so it’s not likely the team will want to saddle Robert with Jiménez and Castellanos defensivelym either.

J.D. Martinez: Martinez, with $62.5 million and three years left in his current deal with the Red Sox, presents a similar situation to Castellanos, with two exceptions. The White Sox would have to trade for Martinez (although they likely wouldn’t have to part with much, as Boston desperately wants to reduce its overall salary) and he has an additional option year after the 2020 season. Martinez is a professional hitter and defensive liability, and even in an off-year, he posted an outstanding 3.2 fWAR and 139 wRC+, slashing .304/.383/.557 with 33 doubles, 36 homers, 105 RBIs and 72 walks. The White Sox could really use that bat, but would the team acquire him knowing that Vaughn may be just a year or two away?

Marcell Ozuna: Unlike Castellanos and Martinez, Ozuna could make a case for being a full-time right fielder despite playing most of his games in left. Though he’s not above-average in the outfield anymore, he’s likely adequate enough to play there while shifting Mazara to the DH spot. In slashing .243/.330/.474 for the Cardinals this year with 29 homers and 89 RBIs, Ozuna posted a 2.6 fWAR and 110 wRC+. It likely would take a three- or four-year commitment to ink him to a deal, but would the White Sox be willing to lose a second-round pick and international bonus pool money to do so? Now that the team’s already acquired Mazara, it doesn’t seem likely.


Summary

Edwin Encarnación on a one-year contract, with a second-year option in case neither Andrew Vaughn nor Gavin Sheets appear ready to begin 2021, is the best option for the White Sox.This would mean Zack Collins would begin the 2020 season in Charlotte, but he should be ready for backup catcher duties in 2021. As for the bullpen, Dellin Betances and Collin McHugh are the smartest picks.

With that said, any one of the players mentioned could only benefit the White Sox for the next year. Imagine the following 26-man roster, once Robert and Madrigal are on the team:

Starters: Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo López, Dylan Cease, Gio González

Relievers: Alex Colomé, Aaron Bummer, Dellin Betances, Kelvin Herrera, Jimmy Cordero, Jace Fry, Evan Marshall, Collin McHugh

Catchers: Yasmani Grandal, James McCann

Infielders: José Abreu, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson, Yoán Moncada, Edwin Encarnación, Danny Mendick

Outfielders: Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Nomar Mazara, Adam Engel, Leury García

Injured List: Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodón

Several players will be off the books after the 2020 season (Colomé, Herrera, McCann, García and possibly González, Betances, McHugh and Mazara depending if options are accepted and/or arbitration is tendered. Many of these guys could be replaced cheaply in 2021 by in-house prospects like Zack Burdi, Ian Hamilton, Zack Collins, Codi Heuer, Tyler Johnson and Dane Dunning, to name just a few. Thus, even with extending some of our key players, the White Sox should have plenty of money to splurge on premier outfielders (Mookie Betts and George Springer immediately come to mind) if the need should arise.


 

 

Deep Dive: Available free agent right-handed relievers

Cameo: Dellin Betances has arguably the best track record of all right-handed bullpen free agents. Aside from striking out two hitters, he missed the whole season due to injuries. (@DBetances68)

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

This article delves into the plentiful right-handed relief options that will be available this offseason. Be forewarned, the quality of these free agents does drop rather quickly.


The White Sox have a closer in Alex Colomé who is arbitration-eligible and several right-handed relievers who hadn’t enjoyed success until this year, (including Jimmy Cordero and Evan Marshall). At least two lefties will likely be on next year’s roster (Aaron Bummer and one or two among Jace Fry, Caleb Frare, Josh Osich, Jacob Lindgren or others).

It’s possible that guys like Jose Ruiz and Carson Fulmer could be considered for a 13-man staff, but what other options are there? That list of available free agents is below. Most of the relievers are well into their thirties, and aside from the top dozen or so guys, the best right-handed relief options may be those coming off injuries, like Dellin Betances and Brandon Morrow.

(ages are as of April 1, 2020)


Yusmeiro Petit
Oakland Athletics
2019 bWAR 2.2
Stats 5-3, 0 SV, 2.72 ERA, 82.2 IP, 0.81 WHIP, 1.1 BB/9, 7.7 K/9
Age 35

Will Harris
Houston Astros
2019 bWAR 2.0
Stats 4-1, 3 SV, 1.51 ERA, 59.2 IP, 0.94 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 9.4 K/9
Age 35

Steve Cishek
Chicago Cubs
2019 bWAR 1.8
Stats 4-6, 7 SV, 2.95 ERA, 64 IP, 1.20 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 8.0 K/9
Age 33

Brandon Kintzler
Chicago Cubs
2019 bWAR 1.7
Stats 3-3, 1 SV, 2.68 ERA, 57 IP, 1.04 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 7.6 K/9
Age 35

Chris Martin
Atlanta Braves
2019 bWAR 1.5
Stats 1-3, 3 SV, 3.40 ERA, 55.2 IP, 1.02 WHIP, 0.5 BB/9, 11.2 K/9
Age 33

Hector Rondón
Houston Astros
2019 bWAR 0.8
Stats 3-2, 0 SV, 3.71 ERA, 60.2 IP, 1.25 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 7.1 K/9
Age 32

Cory Gearrin
New York Yankees
2019 bWAR 0.8
Stats 1-3, 0 SV, 4.07 ERA, 55.1 IP, 1.45 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 7.6 K/9
Age 33

Shawn Kelley
Texas Rangers
2019 bWAR 0.8
Stats 5-2, 11 SV, 4.94 ERA, 47.1 IP, 1.39 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 8.2 K/9
Age 35

Kelley has a $2.5 million club option, with a $250,000 buyout.

Craig Stammen
San Diego Padres
2019 bWAR 0.8
Stats 8-7, 4 SV, 3.29 ERA, 82 IP, 1.16 WHIP, 1.6 BB/9, 8.0 K/9
Age 36

David Phelps
Chicago Cubs
2019 bWAR 0.7
Stats 2-1, 1 SV, 3.41 ERA, 34.1 IP, 1.40 WHIP, 4.5 BB/9, 9.4 K/9
Age 33

The Cubs have a $5 million club option on Phelps.

Joe Smith
Houston Astros
2019 bWAR 0.7
Stats 1-0, 0 SV, 1.80 ERA, 25 IP, 0.96 WHIP, 1.8 BB/9, 7.9 K/9
Age 36

Sergio Romo
Minnesota Twins
2019 bWAR 0.6
Stats 2-1, 20 SV, 3.43 ERA, 60.1 IP, 1.11 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
Age 37

Collin McHugh
Houston Astros
2019 bWAR 0.4
Stats 4-5, 0 SV, 4.70 ERA, 74.2 IP, 1.23 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9, 9.9 K/9
Age 32

Tommy Hunter
Philadelphia Phillies
2019 bWAR 0.3
Stats 0-0, 0 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.38 WHIP, 5.1 IP, 0.00 B/9, 8.4 K/9
Age 33

Jared Hughes
Philadelphia Phillies
2019 bWAR 0.3
Stats 5-5, 1 SV, 4.04 ERA, 71.1 IP, 1.18 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 6.8 K/9
Age 34

Philadelphia holds a $3 million club option, with $250,000 buyout.

Kenley Jansen
Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 bWAR 0.2
Stats 5-3, 33 SV, 3.71 ERA, 63 IP, 1.06 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 11.4 K/9
Age 32

Jansen can opt out of the remaining two years, $38 million left on his contract, which is not likely.

Nate Jones
Texas Rangers
2019 bWAR 0.2
Stats 0-1, 1 SV, 3.48 ERA, 10.1 IP, 1.65 WHIP, 6.1 BB/9, 8.7 K/9
Age 34

The Rangers hold a $5.15 million club option, with a $1.25 million buyout. Book the latter.

Darren O’Day
Atlanta Braves
2019 bWAR 0.2
Stats 0-0, 0 SV, 1.69 ERA, 5.1 IP, 0.75 WHIP, 1.7 BB/9, 10.1 K/9
Age 37

Arodys Vizcaino
Seattle Mariners
2019 bWAR 0.1
Stats 1-0, 1 SV, 2.25 ERA, 4.0 IP, 1.50 WHIP, 6.8 BB/9, 13.5 K/9
Age 29

Greg Holland
Arizona Diamondbacks
2019 bWAR 0.1
Stats 1-2, 17 SV, 4.54 ERA, 35.2 IP, 1.37 WHIP, 6.1 BB/9, 10.3 K/9
Age 34

Addison Reed
Minnesota Twins

The 31-year-old didn’t pitch in 2019.

Dellin Betances
New York Yankees
2019 bWAR 0.0
Stats 0-0, 0 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.2 IP, 0.00 WHIP, 0.0 BB/9, 27.0 K/9
Age 32

Betances missed most of the season due to shoulder, lat and Achilles injuries

Pedro Strop
Chicago Cubs
2019 bWAR 0.0
Stats 2-5, 10 SV, 4.97 ERA, 41.2 IP, 1.27 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9, 10.6 K/9
Age 34

Anthony Swarzak
Atlanta Braves
2019 bWAR 0.0
Stats 3-4, 4 SV, 4.56 ERA, 53.1 IP, 1.48 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9, 7.9 K/9
Age 34

Given this year’s beef among Bria Anderson, Ariana Giolito and Elizabeth Swarzak, don’t expect a return to the South Side.

Josh Fields
Texas Rangers

The 34-year-old didn’t pitch in 2019.

Brandon Morrow
Chicago Cubs

The 35-year-old missed 2019 due to injury. There’s a $12 million club/vesting option that could be bought for out $3 million.

Dan Otero
Cleveland
2019 bWAR 0.0
Stats 4.85 ERA, 29.2 IP, 1.52 WHIP, 0.9 BB/9, 4.9 K/9
Age 35

Otero has a $1.5 million club option that can be bought out for $100,000.

Bud Norris
Toronto Blue Jays

The 35-year-old didn’t pitch in 2019.

Tony Barnette
Chicago Cubs
2019 bWAR 0.0
Stats 0-0, 0 SV, 6.75 ERA, 1.1 IP, 1.50 WHIP, 0.0 BB/9, 0.0 K/9
Age 36

Barnette has a $3 million club option for 2020.

Brad Brach
New York Mets
2019 bWAR -0.1
Stats 5-4, 0 SV, 5.47 ERA, 54.1 IP, 1.62 WHIP, 1.8 BB/9, 9.2 K/9
Age 33

Juan Nicasio
Philadelphia Phillies
2019 bWAR -0.1
Stats 2-3, 1 SV, 4.75 ERA, 47.1 IP, 1.65 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, 8.6 K/9
Age 33

Luke Gregerson
St. Louis Cardinals
2019 bWAR -0.1
Stats 0-0, 0 SV, 7.94 ERA, 5.2 IP, 2.12 WHIP, 1.6 BB/9, 3.2 K/9
Age 35

Pat Neshek
Philadelphia Phillies
2019 bWAR -0.1
Stats 0-1, 3 SV, 5.00 ERA, 18 IP, 1.39 WHIP, 1.0 B/9, 4.5 K/9
Age 39

Neshek has a $7 million club option (that will probably be bought out) for $750,000.

Cody Allen
Minnesota Twins
2019 bWAR -0.2
Stats 0-2, 4 SV, 6.26 ERA, 23 IP, 1.91 WHIP, 7.8 BB/9, 11.3 K/9
Age 31

Tyler Thornburg
Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 bWAR -0.2
Stats 0-0, 0 SV, 7.91 ERA, 18.2 IP, 1.66 WHIP, 4.8 BB/9, 10.6 K/9
Age 31

Adam Warren
San Diego Padres
2019 bWAR -0.2
Stats 4-1, 0 SV, 5.34 ERA, 28.2 IP, 1.40 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, 7.8 K/9
Age 32

Warren has a $2.5 million club option with a $500,000 buyout.

Matt Albers
Milwaukee Brewers
2019 bWAR -0.2
Stats 8-6, 4 SV, 5.13 ERA, 59.2 IP, 1.37 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9, 8.6 K/9
Age 37

Fernando Rodney
Washington Nationals
2019 bWAR -0.2
Stats 0-5, 2 SV, 5.66 ERA, 47.2 IP, 1.62 WHIP, 5.3 BB/9, 9.3 K/9
Age 43

Yoshihisa Hirano
Arizona Diamondbacks
2019 bWAR -0.3
Stats 5-5, 1 SV, 4.75 ERA, 53 IP, 1.38 WHIP, 3.7 BB/9, 10.4 K/9
Age 36

Wily Peralta
Kansas City Royals
2019 bWAR -0.4
Stats 2-4, 2 SV, 5.80 ERA, 40.1 IP, 1.59 WHIP, 4.2 BB/9, 5.4 K/9
Age 30

Jeremy Jeffress
Milwaukee Brewers
2019 bWAR -0.5
Stats 3-4, 1 SV, 5.02 ERA, 52 IP, 1.37 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 8.0 K/9
Age 32

Seunghwan Oh
Colorado Rockies
2019 bWAR -0.6
Stats 3-1, 0 SV, 9.33 ERA, 18.1 IP, 1.91 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 7.9 K/9
Age 37

Trevor Rosenthal
New York Yankees
2019 bWAR -1.2
Stats 0-1, 0 SV, 13.50 ERA, 15.1 IP, 2.41 WHIP, 15.3 BB/9, 10.0 K/9
Age 29

David Hernandez
New York Yankees
2019 bWAR -1.9
Stats 2-5, 2 SV, 8.02 ERA, 42.2 IP, 1.71 WHIP, 4.2 BB/9, 11.2 K/9
Age 34