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White Sox paying David Robertson a lot, but getting a lot

Yankees' waiver claim gave Sox a chance to hit reset button on four-year contract, but true replacements are still in short supply

David Banks/Getty Images

A four-year contract for a reliever is rarely a sound idea, which is why the story about the Yankees claiming David Robertson offered a little more food for thought than the typical waiver claim.

A huge swath of the MLB's active talent ends up on the waiver wire in August, so it's seldom newsworthy on an individual basis. In this case, though, it involved the Yankees opening themselves up to the possibility of getting their old closer back, even with three years and $36 remaining after this season. That's still a big price tag, so it either says something about how much they value him, or how much sheer buying power Brian Cashman has with the Steinbrenner sons, even though the Robertson claim didn't amount to anything. Both stories have news value, especially for Yankees fans.

On the White Sox' side, it isn't quite so telling, especially since they aren't and shouldn't be particularly eager to rid themselves of Robertson. He's the one major investment from the offseason who has lived up to expectations. He's had a couple of rough patches that resulted in six blown saves, but he's found ways to bounce back each time. For example, after blowing the save against the Angels and giving up a threat to the Cubs, he's retired 15 consecutive batters over his last four outings, including six by strikeout.

But I suppose that $36 million could theoretically be spent better elsewhere than on a closer on a 70something-win team -- especially since the bullpen is far deeper than it was last year, and Frankie Montas looms as a possibility for next season.

While Rick Hahn downplayed this specific development, he didn't exactly close the door on something that drastic:

Sox general manager Rick Hahn said the club is being "extremely open-minded" in figuring out what needs to be changed — from front-office decision-making to scouting and minor-league development to major-league performances.

"There are no sacred cows," Hahn said. "Everything is on the table, and we are looking at everything. As for what that translates to in terms of our offseason approach, we'll defer that until the start of the offseason."

But in this specific case, it's kinda funny. On Sunday, Robertson threw two perfect innings -- the 10th and 11th, specifically -- to pick up a much-needed win in extra innings.

Then, the Robertson rumor surfaces, and so do ideas like this:

It sounds if general manager Rick Hahn is open to using a number of avenues to resolve his club’s issues. One of those routes could involve making Nate Jones the closer and unloading Robertson for salary relief and prospects or major league ready talent.

And then later that day, Jones gives up a game-tying homer, which is his second gopher ball of the week. Then Zach Duke -- who received a three-year, $15 million deal -- gives up three runs without retiring a batter to lose the game.

These two failures conveniently illustrate the danger in dealing Robertson, even if it would allow the Sox to reallocate resources. Jones wasn't that great of a candidate for high-leverage work before he underwent back surgery and elbow surgery and missed 1½ years, so it's hard to bank on him despite a good (re)start. Duke was the Sox' attempt to hedge a bet on left-handed help. They didn't want to break the bank, so they hoped they could extrapolate a short track record with non-electric stuff over the course of multiple years. The early returns there are disappointing.

There was a reason the White Sox ponied up for Robertson, and that's because he's great and not yet in decline. I'd think it'd take more than one year removed from an abject bullpen disaster -- as well as a couple of great high-leverage candidates to establish themselves -- in order to forget the kind of risk that's assumed by shopping mid-market. Robertson's quality might ultimately be replaceable over 60-70 innings, but that doesn't mean it should be taken for granted.


Hahn's scrum stayed pretty general -- it basically covers all potential actions -- so it's hard to hunt for who might take the fall for a disappointing season.

When talking about Erik Johnson, however, Hahn might've tipped his hand, especially if it could be interpreted to line up with what you're already thinking (emphasis very much mine):

"It’s a good opportunity," Hahn said. "No matter what happens here over the next few weeks, he’s already had a great year, unlike last year where it started out rough and he’s sort of playing catch up. He’s already accomplished a great deal in 2015 and should head into the offseason with a great deal of confidence and the feeling that he’s very much back in the mix in being part of a major league rotation in 2016."

"A major league" rotation. Not "the rotation." Our "this rotation." Or "our rotation." Mmhmm. Mmhmm.