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Nemesis, undone: Welcome to the South Side, Kelvin Herrera!

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White Sox nab another late-inning righty; Ian Clarkin is DFAd, again

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals
Can’t beat ’em, buy ’em: When you’re tired of getting beaten by the bully, sometimes you just buy the bully.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Chicago White Sox added another late-inning righty to the mix on Monday, giving Kelvin Herrera a two-year, $18 million free agent deal. Herrera will be paid $8.5 million for the his first two seasons, and contrary to initial reports of the third year being a vesting option, the third year is a White Sox option to pay the reliever $10 million or buy him out for $1 million.

It’s not clear how closing duties will be parsed out between Herrera and Alex Colomé, who the White Sox acquired from the Seattle Mariners earlier in the offseason. Given that Colomé worked as the setup man to closer Edwin Diaz after his midsummer 2018 trade from the Tampa Bay Rays, while Herrera has been a full-time closer for the past two seasons, it would appear that the tentative depth chart will list Herrera as closer and Colomé as setup. However, overall Herrera has seen more short-inning time as a non-closer than Colomé.

GM Rick Hahn was noncommittal in Tuesday’s White Sox press release, saying, “Kelvin adds another veteran pitcher to our bullpen who has outstanding credentials and the proven ability to close games. He provides Ricky Renteria with another quality option in the late innings.”

Is dual closing — like, literally, Renteria uses two late arms to close out the final inning — on the horizon? (Joking ... I think?)

The White Sox now boast at least four viable options to close games: Herrera, Colomé, Nate Jones and Jace Fry. But one of the big pluses in acquiring a second experienced closer for the bullpen is the freedom it will allow both Jones and Fry — particularly Fry. After the trade of closer Joakim Soria to the Milwaukee Brewers last July, the White Sox scrambled for a ninth-inning reliever, forcing the young Fry, among others, into the position. Given the manic matchup game that managers play with bullpens in today’s game (White Sox manager Ricky Renteria changed as many as four ... or five? pitchers in one inning in 2018), keeping top lefty reliever Fry as a sixth- to ninth-inning option best suits the team.

Not for nothing, but in the 2018 SB Nation offseason simulation back in November, where I headed up a South Side Sox brain trust GMing the White Sox, we signed Herrera ... for the the identical three years, $27 million that Hahn just did.

Herrera was fire in the first half of 2018, starting the season with a 1.05 ERA (just three earned runs in 25 23 innings) and 14 saves before his trade to the Nationals on June 18.

Herrera had his 2018 shortened by a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot that reduced him to 10 games in the second half, but apparently has cleared up enough for the fireballer to pass his physical. He’s been a fairly high-appearance short man in the majors since 2012 (four seasons of 70-plus games), with almost all of his reps earned with the Kansas City Royals. Herrera has 60 saves and 113 holds in his career, and has been a full-time closer for just two seasons. He was an All-Star in both 2015 and 2016. Per the White Sox, Herrera has allowed fewer hits than IP in six of his seven full seasons in the majors.

While you might be concerned that there’s a lot of mileage on Herrera’s arm (463 career games), he’s no graybeard. Herrera debuted with the Royals in 2011 at age 21, and was the seventh-youngest player in the American League that season; he just turned 29, as a New Year’s Eve baby.

Herrera has also put up some very solid WAR seasons, including a spectacular 2.6 bWAR in just 84 13 innings in 2012 and 2.8 bWAR in just 70 innings in 2014. For his career, Herrera sports a solid reliever WAR of 10.1 bWAR. His 1.6 bWAR in just 44 13 innings for K.C. and Washington would have ranked him as the top pitcher on the White Sox.

Herrera has been very tough against the South Siders over 62 career games (59 23 innings), with just two saves but a 2.56 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. At Sox Park, Herrera has a 1.50 ERA in 31 career games, with a current streak of 11 straight scoreless outings on the South Side.

Finally, Herrera has also been money in the postseason, with a 1.26 ERA (just four earned runs) in 22 career playoff games, with 38 strikeouts. He threw three scoreless innings in Kansas City’s clinching Game 5 victory over the New York Mets in the 2015 World Series.

The 23-year-old Clarkin has been ping-ponged around Chicago all season. The White Sox tried to DFA the southpaw prior to the 40-man roster deadline last fall, but saw him claimed by their crosstown rivals. However, when the Cubs tried to return serve and DFA Clarkin six days later on November 26, the White Sox snatched him back. While teams have significantly reshuffled their rosters since then, the fact that Clarkin was untouched until the Cubs bit back in November indicates there’s a fair chance the Double-A starter/reliever remains in the White Sox system.