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Thyago Vieira brings missing heat to White Sox bullpen battle

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Former Mariners prospect needs a second pitch, but he has arm strength and charisma for days

Baltimore Orioles v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Thyago Vieira is a 24-year-old reliever whose fastball exceeds 100 miles per hour, and he harnessed the direction of it well enough to reach the majors. Maybe it was only one inning, and maybe he was almost decapitated on his first pitch, but still.

After trading Tommy Kahnle and losing Zack Burdi to Tommy John surgery, the White Sox didn’t have one of these guys active in the system. After acquiring Vieira from the Mariners for $500,000 of international pool money on Thursday, now they do.

It seems like a reliever of Vieira’s profile should’ve been worth more than $500,000 based on the endowment effect alone. It feels even more lopsided when knowing the Sox couldn’t even spend that half million toward its original purpose, as the penalty for the Luis Robert signing is a hard $300,000 limit on international signing bonuses the next two seasons. They basically acquired Vieira with a gift card for a restaurant chain with no locations in the Midwest.

That leaves two general conclusions to draw:

No. 1: Vieira doesn’t have much in the way of secondary pitches.

That was the immediate reaction from a couple people who spend a lot of time watching prospects:

This shows up Vieira’s stats. Considering Law’s radar gun isn’t the high end of the readings, you’d think that Vieira would have struck out more than 45 batters over 53 innings between Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma in 2017. Indeed, even optimistic scouting reports from Baseball America and Bernie Pleskoff note that his curve isn’t yet a steady second pitch. While he’s working to upgrade his breaking ball from “flashes plus” to plain ol’ “plus,” he’ll also have to develop the command to set up hitters accordingly, according to his MLB Pipeline profile.

It’s probably aggressive to pencil in Vieira for one of the spots at this point. There’s no rush, though, which brings me to my second point.

No. 2: The Sox may have a little more leverage than usual.

Shohei Ohtani’s market is frozen for the time being as Major League Baseball and the players association try to hammer out a new posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. A prolonged stalemate isn’t great for baseball, as it’ll slow down free agency and sap some of the excitement from Ohtani’s eventual arrival. For a team like the Sox that has no shot at Ohtani, it doesn’t suck to have a little remaining pool money as other clubs try to cobble together a sales pitch for an international star, especially when the 40-man roster is still fairly flexible.

Take Seattle’s situation. The Mariners are one of the teams that could be a legit landing spot for Ohtani, so that’s one driver. They also had a major roster imbalance, which GM Jerry Dipoto explained:

Dipoto also noted that the Mariners' 40-man roster had been overweighted with pitchers due in part to additions as a result of the number of injuries last season. Prior to the two trades, Seattle had just 13 position players on its 40-man roster.

"That ratio wasn't going to work," Dipoto said, "especially considering our needs at first base and the outfield, as well as depth. Therefore, we've been exploring creative solutions, this being one."

The White Sox have their own 40-man roster crunch with Eloy Jimenez and friends coming aboard, but it doesn’t yet represent a crisis because the current roster has a decent amount of fat. Between this move and claiming Daniel Palka on waivers, the Sox are behaving as though they have free spots in mind. They also don’t yet have the pressure to win, so they can accommodate projects in multiple senses, especially a guy like Vieira with two options remaining.

This part isn’t new, as the Sox spent last season claiming former top-100 guys like Alen Hanson and D.J. Peterson. The addition of pool money allows them to chip off younger players (Vieira, Yeyson Yrizarri) who don’t require an immediate decision for one roster or another. The Sox may have one more move in them with their remaining pool money as the pressure mounts for teams with more immediate aspirations. Teams will have to add players to the 40-man roster by 7 p.m. Central on Monday or risk losing them to the Rule 5 draft. Any Ohtani deadline is still to be determined.

If Vieira is the last notable move the Sox can make on the strength of their pool money, it’s a pretty good one. Watching his control might be like watching Michael Ynoa, and watching his breaking pitches might be like watching Chris Beck, but he possesses the kind of charisma that makes one want to wait out the struggles.

If nothing else, his name kinda rhymes with “Chicago,” or sounds like it if you just ate peanut butter and only have half a tongue.