It took until Nov. 24, but the White Sox finally made their first noteworthy addition of the winter, acquiring Tommy Kahnle from the Colorado Rockies for Yency Almonte.
It's a decent chain of moves for Rick Hahn. He acquired Almonte, a former big-bonus draft pick of the Angels, for Gordon Beckham in 2014. Then, after getting the first healthy year out of Almonte, Hahn sent him to the Rockies for Kahnle.
Almonte has potential, as he put together an encouraging season across Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, with an uptick in performance at High-A. Going through the comments at Purple Row, they're happy to get somebody with such statistical upside for a reliever with control problems who had been designated for assignment, and they're not wrong.
On the White Sox' side, they got a major-league arm for Beckham the long way, which isn't bad. As Steve noted, Kahnle gets grounders and can hit 100 on the gun. They also filled the void left by Casper Wells by acquiring a Capital Region kid (Hello, Latham!), so I'd call it a serviceable deal on both sides.
Kahnle doesn't have a clean path to the bullpen, but his acquisition does give the Sox somebody new to test. Barring a trade, four righties have a lock on a relief job in 2016 (David Robertson, Nate Jones, Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam). Assuming Matt Albers doesn't return, though, that fifth spot is up for grabs. Daniel Webb would've been the default choice, so at least Kahnle presents somebody who gives Webb a challenge, even if he might be something of a kindred spirit as well.
I'm guessing Albers will follow Geovany Soto's lead and seek a bigger and better role elsewhere.
After the Mariners signed Chris Iannetta away from the Angels for one year and $4.25 million, the Angels replaced him by signing Soto for one year and $2.8 million. He deserved that $1.3 million raise by exceeding expectations for the Sox in 2015, which makes one wonder why the Sox didn't want him back at that price. However, Iannetta leaves more playing time to pick up (80 starts). At the moment, he looks like he could get a 50-50 split with Carlos Perez, who is the brother of White Sox catching prospect Carlos Perez.
The pairing of Soto and Tyler Flowers gave the Sox middle-of-the-pack production from their catchers at a rather low price, which is why retaining it was the most popular choice in our offseason plans. But with the Sox bypassing capable free-agent veterans like Soto, Iannetta and even A.J. Pierzynski, perhaps they have their sights set on supporting Flowers with one of the many blocked younger catchers around the league. Whatever the case, sticking with the remaining on-hand talent like Rob Brantly and Kevan Smith is hard to sell as a feasible plan.
Regarding potential trades, Tom Verducci's in-depth feature on Erik Johnson (h/t striker) makes any analysis of his outlook more complex, although in a good way.
Read the whole thing. Even by athlete standards, Johnson is a closed-off interview, but while Verducci runs into those defense mechanisms at the top ...
It’s the story of how White Sox pitcher Erik Johnson, on his own, rescued his failing career. It is a story Johnson still does not tell with full disclosure.
"First off, I’m going to say I’ve found a few things I like to call my edge," Johnson said. "For me those things I keep very close to myself. As far as sharing with other players, that’s my edge over other guys. Some of those things I will not share."
... he ends up getting an awful lot of detail with his combination of reporting and research.
After his disastrous 2014, Johnson worked with an independent pitching coach over the offseason (he didn't give the name), and he was able to work past the delivery issues that pretty much cost him in every respect:
Johnson came back in 2015 a different pitcher. He didn’t want to specify all the changes he made, so I ran past him all the changes I noticed on video: the way his hands stay in front of and closer to his chest before taking the ball out of his glove, a shorter arm swing, the way he no longer pulls the baseball behind his back, a more packed humerus, no forearm flyout, a more neutral stride, better timing with his hips, the way the ball comes out of his hand later. It’s a much more efficient delivery.
"I know those are all changes you can see," Johnson said. "I just have to say it like this: ‘What’s the most efficient way you can get the ball to the plate, from point A to point B, from the moment you start your delivery to the moment your arm slows down?’ I think of it as the path of least resistance. It’s a shorter path. From what you’ve explained, it seems like I’ve cleaned up some things."
Johnson's health history isn't as checkered as Almonte's, but it's been a high-maintenance affair, which is why I've been leaving room in my head for a trade at some point this winter. I don't think this changes the odds much -- he's still the rare combination of talented and expendable -- but it answers a lot of questions if the Sox end up giving him that delayed extended opportunity.