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White Sox rebuilding sparing bullpen so far

A deep relief corps could be the best thing for David Robertson’s trade value

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Jennings and Jake Petricka agreed to terms on a contract for 2017 on Thursday, with the reported amounts falling within reasonable distance from MLB Trade Rumors’ projected earnings:

  • Jennings: $1.4M (projected: $1.2M)
  • Petricka: $825,000 (projected: $900,000)

Jennings and Petricka join Brett Lawrie and Avisail Garcia (corrected) as arb-eligible players with contracts, with Miguel Gonzalez, Todd Frazier and Zach Putnam yet to be determined. Frazier’s number is the only big one, in that is has some effect on his trade value. The rest lack the consequences of previous seasons, when settlements could change the projected payroll by a couple million, and an extra couple million allowed one to think about adding more at the trade deadline.

Then again, when it comes to rebuilding seasons, the White Sox bullpen doesn’t look like that big of a project. The only tell-tale sign when comparing a potential Opening Day bullpen to last year’s is the lack of a replacement for Zach Duke. Here’s how it looks in terms of merit:

  • Closer: David Robertson (Robertson)
  • Top setup man: Nate Jones (Jones)
  • Top lefty: Dan Jennings (Duke)
  • Mid-leverage righty: Petricka (Petricka)
  • Mid-leverage righty: Putnam (Putnam)
  • Second lefty: Giovanni Soto? (Jennings)
  • Low-leverage righty: Tommy Kahnle (Matt Albers)

With James Shields and Derek Holland in the fold, you could see Kahnle replaced by a long reliever (Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey lurks), but that doesn’t change the math much. It’s weaker from the left side, but knowing how the bottom three righties turned out in 2016, the White Sox could ultimately come out ahead in this department.

The problem with this unit is that it relies on good health that wasn’t there the previous season. A contending team probably would’ve added an arm — especially on the left side — to bolster it. A rebuilding team ... well, a rebuilding team probably would have probably torn this bullpen down to the studs.

As it stands, the White Sox bullpen, what with Robertson and Jones still in the fold, remains more intact than any other aspect of the club.

I’m guessing that’s dictated more by circumstances than by choice. The best time to deal Robertson isn’t off a down year during a winter with three high-quality free-agent closers. The healthiest market probably relied on the Marlins coming from off the board to sign Kenley Jansen. Once Jansen re-signed with the Dodgers to take the team with the deepest pockets out of the running, Robertson’s remaining commitment (two years and $25 million) didn’t look so tradeable unless the Sox were willing to eat a lot of money.

The White Sox have the luxury of time in this case, because 1) Robertson’s contract isn’t obstructing anything on their side, and 2) he’s coming off knee surgery. He underwent arthroscopic surgery after a season where he might’ve battled left leg problems for half of it. If the command problems stand a significant chance of stemming primarily from injury rather than decline, the White Sox are probably better off investigating that end, because a bigger return could be on the other side. For what it’s worth, Don Cooper brought up Robertson’s knee when discussing his struggles (“I think he was a bit overused, and I think his knee was bothering him down the end, too.”).

Preventing overuse looks like one of Rick Renteria’s jobs early on. The combination of Robin Ventura and a low-powered offense resulted in heavy loads for the best relievers over his tenure. There was Addison Reed’s six saves in six games. There was Jesse Crain’s shoulder dying so that the 2013 White Sox could live. There was Zach Duke leading the league in appearances before the Cardinals acquired him and overused him some more.

Nobody can count on the environment changing. In fact, it could get more dangerous for high-leverage relievers. The offense will probably be worse off without Adam Eaton unless they open the hydrant with runners in scoring position, and a Chris Sale-less rotation leaves more innings for the bullpen, so the temptation to lean on the high-leverage types will be heavy. If Robertson comes back in near-peak form, it’ll be important for Renteria to not get carried away, especially should the White Sox get off to a surprisingly good start.

Renteria should be able to divvy up some of the work without it looking like a punt. Giving the occasional save to Nate Jones could boost a pair of trade values, and a healthy Petricka and Putnam can bring his experience in high-leverage situations against the right kind of lineup. If Charlotte proves to be a waste of Zack Burdi’s time, he could be a factor there as well.

A manager risks some headaches by going away from a paint-by-numbers bullpen when he absolutely doesn’t have to, but the team stands to gain in the long run by moderating everybody’s work. I suppose Renteria, Rick Hahn and others can point to the post-April performance by the 2016 bullpen if some early auditions go awry. This might be the first time Hawk Harrelson’s repetitive complaints actually pay off.

Update: Frazier and the White Sox agreed to terms in 2017: