Much like the rest of the team, the White Sox bullpen has found itself in an in-between phase. It’s not in terrible shape, especially if you treat David Robertson as the second-best reliever and not its figurehead.
The bigger issue is that its true quality at the moment hinges on Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam bouncing back from injuries with little to no rust. The top seven looks a little something like:
- David Robertson
- Nate Jones
- Dan Jennings
- Jake Petricka
- Zach Putnam
- Tommy Kahnle
If Petricka and Putnam can live up to last year’s expectations, that’s a decent start to a bullpen. Add Zack Burdi (and potentially Carson Fulmer) as first-half help, and that leaves the Sox pretty much one signing away from a respectable relief corps, and any surprises from the Michael Ynoa-Juan Minaya-Chris Beck-Giovanni Soto tier of relievers won’t be necessary for survival.
However, if one of Petricka or Putnam falter ... and if Jennings can’t shore up his peripherals to give him a better shot at repeating his ERA ... then you’re looking at maybe three outside additions before it’s a bullpen that’s October-worthy from the get-go.
Both of those are reasonable outlooks. Split the difference, and the bullpen isn’t likely to be a defining characteristic of the 2016 White Sox that can mask other deficiencies, and there are other deficiencies.
This being the case, it’s not necessarily surprising that the community GMs in the South Side Sox Offseason Plan Project were fairly cavalier with the bullpen even for a project that leaned toward contending as a whole. Out of 109 plans, a whopping 63 involved trading Robertson. Only seven included trading Jones. That surprised me a little, in that he’d seem to be a great sell-high candidate in any rebuilding. He is, however, Plan B for a more watchable ninth inning.
Looking at the way our offseason project went about replacing/supplementing Robertson, free agency did most of the heavy lifting, as it should. The market is providing a decent group of relievers, and with Burdi and others in the wings, the Sox don’t necessarily need to find mid-to-high leverage types through a trade.
Here’s how it broke down, courtesy of Mike’s spreadsheet.
Pay the men:
- Mark Melancon (6)
- Aroldis Chapman (2)
- Kenley Jansen (2)
You can reduce the tallies by one, because one single plan involved the White Sox signing all of these guys plus trading for Zack Britton.
Free agents with previous closer experience:
- Jonathan Papelbon (2)
- Greg Holland (2)
- Neftali Feliz (1)
- Drew Storen (1)
- Brad Ziegler (1)
I put Holland next to Feliz because Feliz might be Holland’s future. Feliz wasn’t injured like Holland, but it would’ve been a tremendous excuse for his 7.62 ERA over 30 games with the Tigers. The Pirates picked him up for one year and $4 million and received a good relief season, although his inflated strikeout rate (28 percent) was somewhat nullified by an inflated home run rate (19.2 percent). FanGraphs has pegged his value at three years and $18 million.
Holland is coming off Tommy John surgery, so he’s probably interested in the kind of one-year deal former teammate Ryan Madson received as a springboard back into a multi-year deal befitting of a World Series closer. He’ll have his pick of suitors under those circumstances.
Papelbon’s velocity dipped below 91 last year, Storen lost two ticks himself, and Ziegler is a groundballer, which might not be what the Sox need if they need strikeouts.
Right-handed free agents:
- Daniel Hudson (4)
- Peter Moylan (1)
- Joe Smith (1)
White Sox fans are familiar with Hudson — former stud White Sox prospect who has since undergone two Tommy John surgeries (you can read all about him in “The Arm”). He has some upside as somebody with a mid-60s strand rate the last two seasons, which partially explains the 4.50 ERA.
Intriguing right-handed trade thoughts:
- Raisel Iglesias
- Hunter Strickland
- Matt Andriese
Durability concerns pushed Iglesias out of the Cincinnati rotation despite a promising-enough start, but he took to the bullpen, limiting hitters to a .165/.264/.250 line while striking out 54 over 50 innings. He also recorded six saves, which is almost enough to put him in the “closer experience” group. In his plan, soxpilot traded Carson Fulmer to Cincinnati for him, which is probably not enough since Iglesias’ career path might be Fulmer’s. Iglesias will be relatively affordable. He’s guaranteed $21 million through 2020, but he can opt for arbitration, and will probably want to if he racks up huge save totals).
Strickland was the fifth reliever used by Bruce Bochy in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS, which indicates that he might be a change-of-scenery guy.
Andriese started 19 games for the Rays last year, but spent 10 games as a reliever in between shots at the rotation. The small sample agreed with him, while a third time through the order did not. His future might be in relief, although he fits the Rays’ payroll either way.
Left-handed free agents:
- Brett Cecil (22)
- Boone Logan (14)
- Travis Wood (7)
- Mike Dunn (5)
- Jerry Blevins (2)
- Brian Duensing (2)
- Javier Lopez (2)
- J.P. Howell (2)
- Marc Rzepczynski (1)
- Matt Thornton (1)
The order of interest pretty much correlates with order of ability. Cecil is already off the board, signing a four-year, $30 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. That contract has Logan licking his chops, while Wood held lefties to a .128/.208/.239 line last year (don’t look at what righties did to him).
Dunn has been a cromulent reliever in Miami’s bullpen for six whole seasons, which is an exceptionally long lifespan for a Marlin. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher — he likes them infield pop-ups.
After that, you have extreme LOOGYs (Blevins, Lopez), lefties who don’t really have a strength (Howell, Rzepczynski), and a retired guy (Thornton).
Intriguing left-handed trade thoughts:
- Tony Watson
- Sammy Solis
- Felipe Rivero
- Josh Smoker
Watson is entering the final year of team control with the Pirates, with whom he has been a venerable left-handed reliever but isn’t overwhelming enough to get a qualifying offer. In a contending situation, he’d be worth asking about.
Solis is a traditional late-blooming lefty with usual splits (good against lefties, very careful against righties), while Rivero’s changeup leaves him with severe reverse splits.
Here are three types of bullpen arms worth trading for in the Sox’ situation. Smoker is a 28-year-old indy-league success story with crazy peripherals that translated into a 4.70 ERA in his first 20 MLB games.