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Today in White Sox History: February 3

A value signing that turned ugly

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Brett Ballantini started at South Side Sox in 2018 after 20 years of writing on basketball, baseball and hockey, including time on the Blackhawks and White Sox beats. Follow him on Twitter @BrettBallantini and email your site feedback to brettballantini@yahoo.com

1996

To help fortify a comically-thin rotation (of the four core starters in 1995, just Wilson Alvarez and Alex Fernandez would remain with the team/stay healthy through 1996) the White Sox signed righthander Kevin Tapani to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

After seven years in Minnesota compiling 19.1 WAR, Tapani was dealt to the Dodgers to help a playoff run. However, Tapani was horrible in the stretch for L.A., culminating in an NLDS that saw him appear in two games with just one-third of an inning pitched, scarred by three earned runs and four walks.

With Tapani’s value at low ebb, the White Sox struck with an extreme value signing — and it paid off wonderfully, as the righty put up a 13-10 record and a 3.2 WAR (tied for second-best of his career) in spite of some sloppy peripherals (4.59 ERA, 4.85 FIP, 1.385 WHIP).

Tapani’s relative success as a White Sox reclamation made the path forward even more curious. Despite not missing a start (he had 34, while No. 1 and 2 starters Fernandez and Alvarez finished with 35) and once pitching on three days’ rest, Tapani was accused of faking a hand injury by GM Ron Schueler, assuring the starter would not return.

Driving away Tapani and even the higher-profile hit of losing Fernandez to the Florida Marlins in free agency forced what would become the worst free agent pitcher signing in White Sox history: Jaime Navarro for four years and $20 million.

Tapani ended up signing a five-year, $23.5 million deal with the Cubs and put up a modest 7.2 WAR over the contract. Navarro would last just three years with the White Sox, compiling a catastrophic -3.7 WAR.