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Plenty of Bullpen Help Available for First-Place White Sox

Relief pitching is an area of concern, and the organization must step up to the plate soon to bring in a bridge to the ninth

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers
Rangers closer Ian Kennedy is the most gettable of several likely relief targets for the White Sox.
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The White Sox have gotten production from unlikely sources during the 2021 season, and the pro scouting department in addition to the club’s front office deserve plenty of credit for that success. The coaching staff has melded well as the season has gone on, and manager Tony La Russa also deserves credit for letting his talented team thrive while stewarding the ship from the hull.

Back in June, it looked like adding an outfielder would be necessary for the team to weather the storm. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore, though. Eloy Jiménez could return any day now, and Luis Robert isn’t far behind in his rehabilitation. Meanwhile, the club has survived the onslaught of injuries and built an eight game lead in the American League Central, while sitting 20 games above .500 in mid-July.

Billy Hamilton, Brian Goodwin, Jake Lamb, Gavin Sheets and the return of Adam Engel have all been positive developments for the squad, and some combination of those players could keep the White Sox in solid standing for the remainder of the season. It wouldn’t be a negative if GM Rick Hahn decided to splurge and acquired a player on the level of a Joey Gallo or Starling Marte, but the primary objectives of the upcoming trade deadline have likely shifted.

With the loss of Nick Madrigal for the remainder of the season, second base is a bigger need than the outfield. Adam Frazier of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Eduardo Escobar of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Jonathan Schoop of the Detroit Tigers are all potential options, and the organization should have varying levels of interest.

It’s fairly likely that a new infielder will be acquired by the front office prior to July 30, but the relief market will be hotter, and acquiring right-handed relief help has climbed to the top of the target list. Every contender needs bullpen help, and the White Sox are no different.

The White Sox have the best pitching staff in all of baseball, totaling 16.0 fWAR on the season already. The starting staff has posted a 3.31 ERA on the year, but the pitching staff as a whole is averaging 10.41 K/9 with a 3.55 ERA and 3.64 FIP. Projected as the best bullpen in the sport coming into the year, the group has underachieved slightly, despite stellar results overall.

The bullpen is ranked fourth in the majors after compiling 3.7 fWAR. The collection of arms has posted a 3.97 ERA while striking out more than 10 hitters per nine innings. Much of that success can be attributed to Liam Hendriks, the club’s most significant free agent addition of the offseason.

The 32-year-old righty has posted a 2.68 ERA with a 2.58 FIP. In 40 13 innings pitched, Hendriks is averaging 14.5 K/9 while walking just 0.89 in the same span. The righthander has a WHIP of 0.74, and he’s already been worth 1.3 fWAR.

The White Sox have gotten exactly what they’ve paid for in regards to their closer — but building a bridge to said closer has been an issue at times.

Yes, 27-year-old southpaw Aaron Bummer has struggled at times, but appears to be rounding into form after an injured list stint. The lefty has posted a 3.11 FIP with a 2.90 xFIP. He’s averaging 12.77 K/9, but a 5.23 BB/9 is much higher than expected. From the right side, 25-year-old Codi Heuer has been much better of late as well. The 6´5´´, 190 pounder has posted a 3.60 xFIP and accumulated 0.6 fWAR in 35 23 innings.

Youngsters Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet will play prominent roles down the stretch, but other essential arms haven’t quite lived up to expectations in 2021. One of those guys, Evan Marshall, was set to be the right-handed setup man, and he’s been on the shelf with a right forearm issue and no timetable for a return. Another reliever joining the fold will be a priority for the front office in the lead up to the trade deadline.

Craig Kimbrel of the Chicago Cubs is the biggest fish in the sea. He would be a tremendous addition for any contender’s bullpen, but it’s unlikely that the White Sox will be paying the price for the veteran closer. The 35-year-old righty has been worth 1.9 fWAR already, while posting a 0.53 ERA with a 1.09 FIP. His stuff is completely back after floundering with the Cubs prior to this season, and he’s averaging 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings while walking not even three in the same span. Kimbrel has a very affordable contract ($16 million in 2022) and he’ll bring the Cubs back something very nice over the next 10 days.

Richard Rodriguez and Kendall Graveman are both available as well, and their teams have them under contractual control for more than just the 2021 season. Rodriguez is the Pirates closer, and while the 31-year-old has trended down a bit lately he is still having a terrific year. The 6´4´´, 218-pounder has posted a 2.65 ERA while accumulating 1.2 fWAR. The righty throws his fastball in the mid-nineties and possesses a wipeout slider, but his spin rates have steadily decreased. Rodriguez only averages 7.47 K/9, but walks less than one hitter per nine.

Pittsburgh has Rodriguez under control for three more seasons, and he should bring back quite a bit at the deadline. Graveman is a 30-year-old righty pitching well for the Seattle Mariners in 2021. They might not sell while on the fringes of the wild card race, but Graveman has been mentioned in trade rumors to this point. The righthander has posted a 0.93 ERA with a 3.03 FIP while averaging 8.38 K/9 in 29 innings. The White Sox may not be interested in playing at the top of the relief market with controllable pitchers.

Daniel Hudson is a former White Sox, and the 34-year-old righthander could be available if the Washington Nationals decide to sell at the deadline. The 6´3´´, 215-pounder has struck out 13.27 per nine and posted a 2.63 ERA on the season. In 27 innings, Hudson has compiled 0.7 fWAR with a FIP of 2.92. It appears unlikely that Hudson will become available, as Mike Rizzo doesn’t sell often, but he’d be a solid addition if it became possible.

The most realistic of the higher-end possibilities on the trade market reside in the American League West. Ian Kennedy is wasting away with the Texas Rangers and will almost assuredly be dealt this month. Raisel Iglesias is a different situation entirely, as the Angels may just hold out, in an attempt to get back into the wild card race.

The 36-year-old closer in Texas has posted a 2.59 ERA on the season with a 3.81 FIP, averaging 9.48 K/9 with 2.01 BB/9 in 31 13 innings. Kennedy has bounced back and thrived in a relief role for the Rangers, and he would represent an upgrade for the White Sox as a bridge to close out games. Kennedy won’t command a heavy prospect cost, so he’s a name to keep an eye on before the month concludes.

Iglesias has averaged 13.82 K/9 with only 1.70 BB/9 in 42 13 innings with the Angels in 2021. The 31-year-old has been finishing games in Anaheim, but would likely be used in multiple roles if the White Sox were to acquire him. The 6´2´´, 190-pounder has posted a 3.40 ERA, but his xFIP is 2.21. Whether or not the Angels hold out in dealing the righthander, he should be a primary target of Rick Hahn and his staff.

The White Sox will certainly acquire relief help, because they are legitimate contenders and that’s the modus operandi in these situations. Kimbrel would be a significant addition and Rodriguez would fit in long-term. The fits appear unlikely due to prospect cost, while lesser options coming to fruition could be nearly as helpful.

There are plenty of relievers available, including some arms that haven’t been mentioned. The White Sox like to operate in a stealth fashion, and their secretive talks are occurring daily. While bullpen depth is a necessity, certainty in the seventh and eighth innings is the top priority. Kennedy and Iglesias should be the names to watch leading up to July 30.

Mortgaging some of the future to win now has been a goal of the front office at the culmination of the rebuild. It’s time to trade prospect capital in order to hold up a trophy in October. The bullpen is an area of concern, and the organization must step up to the plate soon.