The Chicago White Sox have officially closed on a three-year, $24 million deal with top-tier reliever Kendall Graveman. This is a big move by the Sox to bolster their bullpen going into 2022, and after Liam Hendriks’ signing last year, it is the second offseason in a row that they have moved on a player that pitched against them in the postseason.
“Kendall is a veteran who provides us with end-of-game bullpen depth and an ability to induce ground balls,” GM Rick Hahn says. “He is a high-character guy and a great teammate, who will fit well within our clubhouse and bullpen.”
So, who is Kendall Graveman, and why is this an exciting deal for the White Sox?
Graveman has had a chaotic and stressful last few seasons. After being non-tendered by the Oakland Athletics at the end of 2018, he was picked up by the Chicago Cubs on a one-year contract for 2019. He spent the season in the minor leagues, still recovering from Tommy John surgery, before moving to Seattle on a one-year contract for 2020.
Less than a month after Graveman’s debut with the Mariners, he was diagnosed with a benign bone tumor in his cervical spine, resulting in him spending almost a month on the injured list before transitioning from starting pitcher to relief. Seattle declined his $3.5 million option at the end of 2020, only to resign him a day later on a one-year, $1.25 million contract with a reported $2.5 million in incentives.
This didn’t last him too long though, as he was traded to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline, which at the time infuriated his teammates, who felt ownership was giving up on the season in the deal. Graveman finished the second half of the 2021 season in Houston with a 1-1 record and 3.13 ERA, striking out 27 batters in 23 innings, having pitched in eight of their nine postseason wins.
Graveman’s new contract with the White Sox is by far the most lucrative of his career so far, and will hopefully see him settle onto a team roster for the long haul. He has been going from strength to strength over the last season, despite his tumultuous status on team rosters. His sinker pitch averaged 96.6 mph in 2021, generated a 61.5% ground ball rate, a .177 batting average and .221 slugging percentage, so it’s no wonder that White Sox manager Tony La Russa is keen to see him in the team’s bullpen.
Graveman’s signing also appears to increase the likelihood of right-hander Craig Kimbrel being traded out in the coming weeks. The White Sox recently took the $16 million option on Kimbrel, appearing to double down on an already-questionable investment after his mediocre performance in 2021, and rumors immediately swirled regarding a plan to trade him away.
With Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease the only confirmed starting pitchers for the White Sox, it is highly likely that we will see Michael Kopech move out of the bullpen this season. Hendriks is locked in as the closer, and Dallas Keuchel is floating around somewhere, so with lefty Aaron Bummer and now Graveman setting up, it definitely looks like Kimbrel is on borrowed time.
Regardless, Graveman’s signing is a great move for the White Sox. He will make a great setup man for Hendriks, and will hopefully steer the bullpen back to where we know it can be.