South Side Hit Pen Podcast: Episode 1

Hey now people, the South Side Hit Pen podcast is on the air! 

It’s truly an Episode 0, giving hosts Clinton Cole and Brett Ballantini a little bit of time to explore the full studio space. (Conclusion: More cowbell!)

Anyhow, with this episode recorded on Sunday and finally getting the go-ahead to publish from our new Soundcloud account today, try not to shed a tiny tear as we talk about “No. 1 free agent target” Zack Wheeler. We also pump up the volume on Yasiel Puig, take a victory lap with Yasmani Grandal, and work the mailbag.




So you didn’t sign Zack Wheeler …

Close: But, nope. (@OTHeroics1)

There’s plenty of analytical reasons that laid out the case for the White Sox to have no qualms offering top dollar to Zack Wheeler. Now that Zack (and to-be Mrs. Wheeler) has decided Philadelphia was he and his family’s preferred destination to be multi-millionaires, I need to speak to the contingent on Sox Twitter that is unhappy about another failed FA pursuit.


If the reports leaking out are true and the White Sox really did offer more money than the Phillies, then tell me: How far were you willing to go? Because, and be honest, you were going to be royally pissed if it took $150 million (call it the Mrs. Wheeler Tax) to get Zack to sign here. But again, not diving into hypotheticals, how can we blame the organization for actually doing what they should have done with Manny Machado — this time, offer the most money?!

The only person to “blame” is Zack Wheeler and whatever forces of chance/fate led to his fiancé’s family settling in the Garden State which evidently meant more to the Wheelers than any of us had an inkling of. But $118 million, a lower state income tax, and a literal Uber ride’s distance from home seems to be enough for Zack. And, once more for those in the back, THAT’S OK.

Jesus Montero Christ, there are multiple pitchers still available (Hi Madison! Hi Hyun-Jin! Hi Dallas!), a Goose Island-sized hole in right field to fill, and a whole metric ton of time to figure it out.

If Grandal is the only signing (other than Bennett Karrol’s premonitions coming true and Felix Hernandez gets fitted for a Sox uniform) and Dylan Covey is getting thousand-word think pieces on his final chance at the fifth starter spot in March, then I’m all for pitchforks and toilet papering Rick Hahn’s house. But for now, grow … the … hell … up … and move on.

Anyway, thanks for letting me rant a bit. Keep an eye out for South Side Hit Pen’s brand-new podcast dropping soon! Clinton Cole and Brett Ballantini are hosting and here to calm your troubled souls, Sox fans! (Don’t worry, they only talk about Zack Wheeler as the No. 1 White Sox FA target for, like, 33% of the podcast!)

Early moves close the book on the rebuild — it’s time to start winning!

It’s a Yaz! So far, White Sox fans are seeing less of the labor and more of the baby this offseason. (YouTube)

At this time last year, the White Sox were embarking on a seemingly endless journey in pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The club had a minimal payroll heading into the 2018 offseason, and seemed like they were in a good position to land one of the big fish. Even though the team wasn’t completely ready to start winning and they still had to work on the development of some of their own key players, Rick Hahn and Co. knew this was an opportunity that they couldn’t pass up.

With Harper and Machado having a smaller market due to their steep price tag, the White Sox were aggressive in their pursuits early as they tried to sell both players on the future of the ballclub, and how they would have a great opportunity to win consistently on the South Side. Unfortunately, we all know how this story ends, as the White Sox came up completely empty. It was yet another offseason where the White Sox were actively engaging with the big free agents, but swung and missed, leaving a lot of fans in doubt about the team’s future.

Sure, the White Sox do have talent in the farm system. However, it’s almost impossible to win on homegrown talent alone. Teams need to be able to supplement what they already have with players from outside of the organization, whether to fill holes, bring over veterans to guide younger players, or make the most of an opportunity to sign/trade for a player who once might’ve looked like a longshot. There are many reasons why free agency and trades are important, and after last offseason’s shutout it started to feel like the White Sox were running out of time to strike and make an impact move.

Fast forward to this offseason, where the White Sox once again found their name in the rumors surrounding almost all of the top free agents available. There was a little more skepticism from fans this time around, and rightfully so, as they didn’t want to get their hopes up again in what could be another failure of an offseason. Hahn acknowledged the frustration, and knew this offseason was important when he addressed the media at the GM Meetings earlier this month:

And he was right. White Sox fans are tired of “having a seat at the table” as Hahn likes to say, and want the front office to start making things happen. Being in the mix for top tier free agents and coming up empty is an exhausting practice, especially for a fan base that is starving for a winning team. At the conclusion of the 2019 season, the team was trending upwards, in large part due to the developments of core players, the arrival of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, and with Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal on the way shortly. In addition to that, the team would be getting Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodón back for the upcoming season as well.

With all the positive developments that came from last season, the White Sox still needed a few dominoes to fall, and had to make something happen this winter in order to start putting out a product that could win consistently. The team still has quite a few holes to fill with starting pitching, left-handed hitting, and right field being the most notable. This free agent class was littered with plenty of names that could fill those gaps and instantly be an upgrade, and it was time for the White Sox to, in Hahn’s parlance, show us the baby.

It didn’t take long for the organization to show they were serious about winning this offseason, as they came out of the gates quickly and inked Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal that gave the catcher the largest contract in the history of the franchise.

Grandal checks off a lot of boxes for the White Sox. He’s a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, gets on base frequently, and is one of the best defensive backstops in the game. This is that type of immediate-impact signing that will benefit the club and pitching staff in many ways. Everything Grandal brings to the table makes him the complete package, and his name was up there as one of the best available free agents. The White Sox were able to get the deal done and outbid the rest of his suitors, which is a result that isn’t common on the South Side.

After a painfully long 2018 offseason, it was beyond refreshing to see the White Sox get a deal of that significance done early in the process. It also goes to show that Hahn and Co. are ready to get down to business this year. Not to mention, having Grandal as a member of the team now makes the White Sox a more attractive destination for other free agents, especially pitchers. He’s a highly-respected catcher throughout baseball, and just about anyone would benefit from working with him full-time. His elite framing ability is going to get the most out of the pitchers he works with, as he’s sure to get them a ton of extra strikes during his time in Chicago.

One free agent pitcher that the White Sox have been linked to this offseason is Zack Wheeler, one of the most prized pitching targets this winter. Members from the Mets media and other Mets outlets started mentioning the White Sox as serious suitors for Wheeler. Danny Abriano of SNY even went as far to say that the White Sox were among the “leading group” of teams bidding for Wheeler’s services. This news dropped just days before the Grandal signing became official, so Hahn was working on signing not just one significant free agent right away, but two.

Hahn could’ve sat around and celebrated the first big signing, but instead immediately went right back to work, focused on making the White Sox a winning team, and making them a winning team now. There hasn’t been much movement on the Wheeler front since those initial tidbits of information dropped, but at least the club has identified what would be another major upgrade — and they wouldn’t have to spend $200 million or more for that upgrade, as they would have last year. Sure, Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg would both be incredible additions, but those two are likely going to be out of price range. It would be wise to allocate the money among multiple players, as opposed to sinking most of it into one arm. Wheeler is in a tier slightly below Cole and Strasburg, but he has the potential to be a very good pitcher for a long time — and at half the price.

In addition to that, the White Sox outrighted Yolmer Sánchez and signed José Abreu to a three-year, $50 million dollar contract. The Abreu deal didn’t make much sense at the time, especially considering the fact that he recently accepted the qualifying offer. However, with the extension, the White Sox will save money this year and it won’t hamper their ability to continue to sign free agents. Not to mention, Abreu has been around some rough teams during his White Sox career and he deserves some security for the next few years. As far as Yolmer goes, that decision was made primarily because he was due to make $6.2 million in arbitration. Even though he’s fresh off of winning a Gold Glove, defense is about the only value he provides to the team, unless you count being a clubhouse guy/Gatorade showers.

The White Sox could’ve easily been OK with paying Yolmer the $6.2 million, because they still aren’t committed to a high payroll as of now, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they did that. However, with Madrigal being ready to take over second base in the not-so-distant future, it didn’t make sense to pay Yolmer to ride the bench. The team also has Danny Mendick, who can contribute much more offensively than Sánchez, and while he’s not a Gold Glove-caliber defender, he is solid defensively and can play multiple positions. Mendick is a perfect fit to hold it down at second base while Madrigal finishes up his development in Triple-A. Barring any surprise trades or signings, I would expect Mendick to take that job for now.

So what happens next? Well, the White Sox are off to a good start this winter, but their work isn’t even close to being done. Grandal was a great signing, but they still need to add more. We know the White Sox are once again in the mix with a lot of free agents, but this time around it feels a little different. They’ve made some noise early, and it finally seems like the front office is ready to shift their focus towards winning and being more competitive. They’ve already shown the willingness to outbid other teams and set the market for certain players, and hopefully they will continue to do that with their other targets.

The AL Central is the worst division in baseball right now. With a few more moves and the arrival of some of the highly-touted prospects, the White Sox could potentially be in the heat of a divisional race for most of next year. At the very least, there should be significant improvement, and the team might be able to squeeze their way into a wild card spot. A lot would have to go right for the White Sox to be fighting for the playoffs in 2020, but for now, at least the team is closing the book on the rebuild and is ready to start winning.

Picks to click: free agent starters

Top dog: With three plus pitches and an ascendant career arc, Zack Wheeler would be a divine addition to the White Sox rotation. (Rawlings)

The Chicago White Sox pitching staff was 19th in Major League Baseball with an fWAR of 12.3 last year. Fortifying the roster in anticipation of the 2020 season is a desired outcome of the front office and pitching appears to be a priority. Young righties Lucas Giolito (5.1 fWAR), Reynaldo López (2.3 fWAR) and Dylan Cease (0.7 fWAR) make up the majority of that production, however, and reinforcements will be necessary.

Some good news comes in the form of 23-year-old phenom Michael Kopech re-joining the White Sox rotation, in addition to the eventual arrival of lefty Carlos Rodón. TJS rehabbing righthanders Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert, as well as southpaw Bernardo Flores, could offer late-season help from the farm system, if taking the most optimistic outlook.

But this isn’t enough depth or quality to dispel the notion that help from outside the organization will be inevitably added.

After failing to convert on intended targets last offseason, general manager Rick Hahn was emphatic that his club would continue to have a seat at the table in free agent discussions, saying, “The money will be spent. It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. It’s not just sitting around to accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in the best position to win some championships.” For the sake of everyone involved, hopefully that money doesn’t just sit and collect interest into 2020.

Southpaw shopping?

In theory, the White Sox could look to balance out their starting rotation with a left-handed option from the free market. Those options are aplenty, with names like Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Cole Hamels currently looking for work.

Bumgarner could be seen as the veteran stopper to place right in the middle of a young rotation, similar to the thinking when the Cubs signed Jon Lester was signed. The 30-year-old Bumgarner eats innings and has a strong pedigree of playoff performances. Madison also possesses a strong personality that would resonate with the city of Chicago and the South Side fan in particular. Hitting is a big part of his game, though, and he may choose to stay in the National League because of that. He a decision to make on his qualifying offer as well.

Ryu has only played for the Los Angeles Dodgers during his time in the major leagues, and he could look to stay on the west coast regardless of which uniform he wears in 2020. He’d be a solid addition for the Pale Hose, however. The 32-year-old lefty posted a 4.8 fWAR last year over 182 innings, with a 2.32 ERA and 3.10 FIP. The 6´3´´, 255-pounder will be testing the free agent market without the qualifying offer attached after accepting a QO to remain with the Dodgers last offseason.

It’s a second straight offseason of waiting for Keuchel, and his market should be more active this time around without the QO attached to his services. The 31-year-old southpaw posted a 4.06 xFIP in Atlanta this past year over 112 innings. He and superagent Scott Boras were unable to secure the escalated payroll commitment they desired in the marketplace a year ago, but Keuchel should land something in the three-year, $50-$60 million range this time around. He has a playoff pedigree as well and would slot nicely into the middle of the White Sox rotation.

Hamels was having a bit of a renaissance in the first half for the Cubs last season prior to an oblique injury that limited him to just 141 ⅔ innings. The 35-year-old was a fan of Chicago, but his thoughts on playing for the Sox are currently unknown. Cole struggled in the second half, but posted a 3.81 ERA with a 4.09 FIP overall. His rumored destinations seem to be returning to Philadelphia, where it all began for him, or a sojourn west to play for a contender. Hamels may have to ultimately wait for some of the other dominoes to fall in the market before finding his next gig.

Another spin at the Wheel

Similar to their pursuit of a hitter, it’s imperative that the White Sox don’t become slaves to handedness in their search for upgrades to the starting rotation. The southpaws on the market all would fit nicely every fifth day, but the best addition the front office can make is by adding a 29-year-old righty to anchor the current staff.

Zack Wheeler could be the remedy that the rotation needs, and the White Sox have shown interest in the former Met. Wheeler is a free agent for the first time after being selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft out of East Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga., by the San Francisco Giants.

Wheeler has had some blemishes on his record since making his big league debut in 2013, and battling numerous injuries has become a trend for the righthander. The 6´4´´, 195-pounder has accumulated 12.6 fWAR in his career but 4.7 of that came last season. Wheeler is seen as an ascending talent with some mileage left in his right arm.

Zack posted a 3.96 ERA with a 3.48 FIP in 195 ⅓ innings in 2019. He also threw 182 innings in 2018. His 3.90 K/BB ratio was the best output of his young career and it should solidify him as the third-best option on the free agent pitching market. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are clients of Boras Corporation and could break some financial barriers this winter. The presence of that pair could help or hurt Wheeler, a Jet Sports Management client.

Boras has no issue taking his constituents into the new year and holding out for the best possible deal. This could affect Wheeler in the sense that it could potentially take desperate suitors out of his marketplace. Plus, teams that miss on the big two would likely turn to Wheeler after their failed attempts. It could also help Wheeler in the sense that he could be seen as the best pitcher on the market willing to sign before Christmas.

Fitting in Pale Hose

Due to the presence of Boras and built-in proclivities of the past, it’s unlikely that the White Sox will be serious contenders in the markets of Cole and Strasburg. Wheeler should be pitching his home games at 35th and Shields next season, though. He’d slot perfectly behind Giolito to form a dynamic duo at the top of the rotation. He’s also the perfect steward to take this young rotation into the future because he’s still ascending with his best days ahead of him.

Wheeler’s fastball sits in the 95-100 mph range regularly and he posts elite spin and velocity numbers. Equipped with stellar peripherals, Zack offers immense upside as a guy available for possibly less than he’s theoretically worth. Wheeler has three plus pitches, and throws a slider and a changeup as well. His use of tunneling to enhance the look of his stuff is another added benefit to his evolving arsenal.

The White Sox have $14.8 million committed to their 2020 payroll before arbitration raises set in, and the money will apparently be spent. Wheeler will come with a qualifying offer attached, so the White Sox would have to pay the penalty in addition to the player. For this season, that would mean the forfeiture of their second round pick, plus the slotted amount that comes with the selection, in addition to $500,000 of international pool space.

The White Sox are unlikely to play at the very top of the free agent market, but there are plenty of tertiary additions available that could thrust the franchise immediately into contention in the American League Central next season.

Zack Wheeler would be a realistic start to that process.

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Deep Dive: Available free agent right-handed starters

Big dogs: Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out) are the top right-handed starters of this year’s free agent class. (@GerritCole45)

“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 starter options that could be available this offseason. Be forewarned: The quality of these free agents does drop rather quickly.

The White Sox have just one dependable starter (Lucas Giolito) and several question marks to begin the 2020 season.

Will Reynaldo López finally show consistency? (To paraphrase the immortal Forrest Gump: “López starts are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”) Dylan Cease suffered through rookie inconsistencies, while Michael Kopech (expected return: April) and southpaw Carlos Rodón (could be back by the All-Star break) are coming back from Tommy John surgeries. None of the Charlotte starters who finished this season seem viable options, and the White Sox shouldn’t find themselves starting the likes of Dylan Covey, Ross Detwiler, Odrisamer Despaigne and/or Hector Santiago ever, ever again.

Thus, it’s likely that the White Sox will sign a No. 1-3 starter option, as well as a back-of-the rotation guy/swingman on the off-chance that Kopech isn’t ready on Opening Day. Here’s a ranking of the right-handed starter options that could be available, in order of bWAR; I will do a subsequent article regarding southpaw starting options in the near future. The stats, including bWAR, are through September 16.

(age as of April 1, 2020)

Gerrit Cole
Houston Astros
2019 bWAR 5.9
17-5, 2.62 ERA, 192.1 IP, 0.9 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 13.7 K/9

Stephen Strasburg
Washington Nationals
2019 bWAR 5.8
Stats 17-6, 3.49 ERA, 196 IP, 1.06 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 10.8 K/9
Age 31

Strasburg can opt out of his current contract which has four years, $100 million remaining.

Zack Wheeler
New York Mets
2019 bWAR 3.5
Stats 11-7, 180.1 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 8.9 K/9
Age 29

Julio Teheran
Atlanta Braves
2019 bWAR 3.1
Stats 10-9, 167.1 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
Age 29

The Braves have a $12 million club option on Teheran, with a $500,000 buyout, so Teheran is very unlikely to be available.

Jake Odorizzi
Minnesota Twins
2019 bWAR 3.1
Stats 14-6, 147.1 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, 9.9 K/9
Age 30

Yu Darvish
Chicago Cubs
2019 bWAR 2.8
Stats 6-6, 163.1 IP, 3.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 11.2 K/9
Age 33

Can opt out of four years, $81 million left on contract. Darvish has indicated he will not be opting out.

Andrew Cashner
Boston Red Sox
2019 bWAR 2.7
Stats 11-8, 142.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 6.3 K/9
Age 33

Tanner Roark
Oakland Athletics
2019 bWAR 2.5
Stats 10-8, 157.1 IP, 4.12 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 8.7 K/9
Age 33

Adam Wainright
St. Louis Cardinals
2019 bWAR 2.4
Stats 12-9, 155.1 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 8.2 K/9
Age 38

Michael Pineda
Minnesota Twins
2019 bWAR 2.3
Stats 11-5, 146 IP, 4.01 ERA, 1.7 BB/9, 8.6 K/9
Age 31

Pineda received a 60-game suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy. As a result, he likely wouldn’t be available to pitch until May of next year. Pineda’s younger brother, Ramon, pitches in the White Sox organization.

Iván Nova
Chicago White Sox
2019 bWAR 2.0
Stats 10-12, 176 IP, 4.86 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 5.4 K/9
Age 33

Homer Bailey
Oakland Athletics
2019 bWAR 1.6
Stats 13-8, 151.1 IP, 4.76 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, 8.0 K/9
Age 33

Jake Arrieta
Philadelphia Phillies
2019 bWAR 1.0
Stats 8-8, 135.2 IP, 4.64 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 7.3 K/9
Age 34

Arrieta can opt out of one-year, $20 million remaining on contract unless Phillies exercise a two-year, $40 million option. Given Arrieta having bone spur surgery that ended his season in August, neither option seems likely.

Chris Archer
Pittsburgh Pirates
2019 bWAR 0.9
Stats 3-9, 119.2 IP, 5.19 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 10.8 K/9
Age 31

The Pirates have a $9 million club option on Archer for 2020, which could be bought out for $1.75 million. That buyout seems very unlikely, even given Archer’s awful season.

Rick Porcello
Boston Red Sox
2019 bWAR 0.6
Stats 13-12, 162.1 IP, 5.77 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 7.2 K/9
Age 31

Kyle Gibson
Minnesota Twins
2019 bWAR 0.4
Stats 13-7, 155 IP, 4.76 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 8.8 K/9
Age 32

Michael Wacha
St. Louis Cardinals
2019 bWAR 0.2
Stats 6-7, 121 IP, 4.76 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, 7.4 K/9
Age 28

Clay Buchholz
Toronto Blue Jays
2019 bWAR 0.2
Stats 1-5, 46.1 IP, 5.63 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 4.9 K/9
Age 35

Edinson Volquez
Texas Rangers
2019 bWAR 0.2
Stats 0-2, 12.2 IP, 5.68 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 7.8 BB/9, 6.4 K/9
Age 36

Tyson Ross
Detroit Tigers
2019 bWAR -0.1
Stats 1-5, 35.1 IP, 6.11 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 4.6 BB, 6.4 K/9
Age 32

Jhoulys Chacin
Boston Red Sox
2019 bWAR -0.1
Stats 3-10, 94.1 IP, 5.44 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
Age 32

Jeremy Hellickson
Washington Nationals
2019 bWAR -0.3
Stats 2-3, 39 IP, 6.23 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 4.6 BB/9, 6.9 K/9
Age 32

Corey Kluber
Cleveland Indians
2019 bWAR -0.4
Stats 2-3, 35.2 IP, 5.80 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, 9.6 K/9
Age 33

The Indians have a $17.5 million club option on Kluber for 2020, which could be bought out for $1 million. With Trevor Bauer gone, it seems a wise move to pick up Kluber’s option, and that’s just what Cleveland has indicated it will do.

Marco Estrada
Oakland Athletics
2019 bWAR -0.4
Stats 0-2, 23.2 IP, 6.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 4.2 K/9
Age 36

Ervin Santana
New York Mets
2019 bWAR -0.4
Stats 0-2, 13.1 IP, 9.45 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 3.4 K/9
Age 37

Trevor Cahill
Los Angeles Angels
2019 bWAR -0.5
Stats 3-9, 97 IP, 6.31 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, 7.10 K/9
Age 32

Matt Harvey
Los Angeles Angels
2019 bWAR -0.6
Stats 3-5, 59.2 IP, 7.09 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9, 5.9 K/9
Age 31

Felix Hernandez
Seattle Mariners
2019 bWAR -0.6
Stats 1-6, 61.1 IP, 6.31 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 7.5 K/9
Age 33

Shelby Miller
Texas Rangers
2019 bWAR -0.9
Stats 1-3, 44 IP, 8.59 ERA, 1.98 WHIP, 5.9 BB/9, 6.1 K/9
Age 29

Edwin Jackson
Detroit Tigers
2019 bWAR -2.4
Stats 3-10, 64 IP, 9.70 ERA, 2.02 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 6.9 K/9
Age 36