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Lack of options creates many possibilities for White Sox bullpen

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Matt Albers, Maikel Cleto and Javy Guerra will eventually require decisions, but it's too close to call now

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

David Robertson is still in search of his first David Robertson-like outing after two appearances, one of which could be classified as "shaky," and the other one "rough."

Though he's allowed two runs on four hits and a walk over 1⅔ innings, Robin Ventura isn't particularly concerned about the 10.80 ERA:

"Even he would admit it wasn’t a good night for him," Ventura said. "I think he was reaching, feeling for a lot of things. But I think he’ll be fine. When you get out there, get the adrenaline going and feel it…. Just chalk it up to a bad night."

Erik Johnson rescued Robertson’s Cactus League ERA with a bases-loaded strikeout to end the inning. Robertson said late last month he likes to take his time getting ready for the season. With seven seasons under his belt, Robertson isn’t likely to panic over a bad outing either and his interaction with Ventura would indicate that’s how it played out Thursday.

"He knew it wasn’t good and promised to be better," Ventura said. "He just promised to be better, so I am going to take him at his word."

Given that he's just starting a four-year, $46 million contract, he doesn't really have to worry about his spring. He might cause us to worry, but fans' emotions have always been the collateral damage in spectator sports.

Zach Putnam is also off to a sluggish start (five baserunners, five runs, two homers over five outs recorded), but he doesn't need to earn his way on the team thanks to his outstanding 2014 out of nowhere. Such generosity may not extend deep into April if he stumbles into the regular season, but he's not included in the open competition until any of his bosses suggest otherwise.

For the time being, Ventura and Don Cooper already have several relievers in need of more urgent consideration. There's a competitive game of musical chairs with two bullpen spots available for what looks like a pool of four right-handed relievers.

Here's what the scoreboard looks like through Friday:

G IP H R ER HR BB K ERA
Matt Albers 3 4 1 0 0 0 3 4 0.00
Maikel Cleto 3
3 3 1 1 0 1 5 3.00
Javy Guerra 4 4.1 5 2 2 0 2 1 4.15
Daniel Webb 4 4.1 6 5 5 0 5 2 10.38

I intentionally arranged their names in alphabetical order to not lead the witness, but hell, that's pretty much how I view their chances at this point in the spring based on performance alone.

Albers: He doesn't look like he's suffering from any of the effects of the cranky shoulder that knocked him out for all but 10 innings in April last season. The limited pitch data from Brooks shows his sinker averaging 93 mph, which is where a healthy Albers should be. The stuff looks like it plays. If you attribute the occasional control lapses to rust, then he's on track to crash the party.

Since Albers isn't on the 40-man roster, he may not have to open the season with the White Sox if they have a contentious out-of-options situation to accommodate. But since Albers picked the Sox out of multiple offers, I imagine he has some opt-out protection, by either the start of April or the middle of May.

Cleto: He hasn't lost the notes from his sneaky second stint last season -- fast fastballs, slow changeups, and a reasonable amount of strikes. That version of Cleto fanned 37 percent of the batters he faced over his last 12 innings of 2014. That version also probably wouldn't make it through waivers unclaimed, so I imagine the Sox wouldn't want to risk designating him for assignment if they can help it. Everybody's worked too hard here.

Guerra: The release of Dayan Viciedo is a sign that Guerra's $937,500 contract for 2015 guarantees little beyond a fraction of that sum. Though he provided some stability to an awful bullpen situation last season, he doesn't stand out in a competitive environment for one skill, tendency or identifier. He's not a strikeout pitcher. He's not a ground-ball pitcher. He's not a classic strike-thrower. He doesn't have reliable matchup splits. He can't even really point to the 2.91 ERA last season, because you can see the cracks if you look closely (3.95 FIP, and 15 of 29 inherited runners scored). This is a tricky one.

Webb: This is not a tricky one. He has options remaining, and right now, he's giving the Sox plenty of reasons to use one of them in 2015.

So let's go back to Guerra for a second.

Javy Guerra Reaction GIF

Thanks for the enthusiasm.

While Guerra may not have any standout qualities, he does have three acceptable-or-better seasons of MLB relief pitching to his Baseball-Reference.com page in spite of that:

Year Age Tm ERA G SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
2011 25 LAD 2.31 47 21 46.2 37 12 12 2 18 1 38 160 3.30 1.179
2012 26 LAD 2.60 45 8 45.0 44 13 13 1 23 5 37 147 3.34 1.489
2013 27 LAD 6.75 9 0 10.2 15 9 8 1 6 0 12 55 3.99 1.969
2014 28 CHW 2.91 42 1 46.1 41 15 15 3 20 5 38 134 3.95 1.317
4 Yrs 2.91 143 30 148.2 137 49 48 7 67 11 125 131 3.57 1.372

The Sox could use somebody with this track record within their first eight options, and none of non-Albers non-roster invitees can make that case unless Jesse Crain officially rises from the dead (or bullpen sessions and side games). Alas, Guerra looks like he could be the eighth option at the moment.

"At the moment" is key, though, because there's a lot of spring left. And at the moment, all we really have right now is a Matryoshka doll of conditional statements. We're left to wait and see:

If everybody makes it to April in one piece: The injury bug -- and/or a gulf in talent -- may make the tough decision for the White Sox.

Inside that?

If Albers has a pressing opt-out clause: It'd be nice if the Sox had the luxury of waiting a month as a backup plan, but that might not be the case.

Inside that?

If the Sox could carry eight relievers: No, wait, stop booing. I mean, on a 12-man staff. If the Sox can roll with four starters until Chris Sale comes back, that would buy them an extra week.

You get the point, though. That's a lot of ifs, so it's not worth jumping to any conclusions on March 14. Unless you're Daniel Webb, anyway.