White Sox Relief Pitching Needs: Offseason Free-Agent Edition
The White Sox have the ability to make a mark on the league in 2021 and can do so by shoring up the strengths of their bullpen.
The White Sox have been masterful at finding “diamonds in the rough” to bolster their bullpen in recent years. In fact, most Sox fans would probably say this was their strong suit throughout the rebuild from 2016-2019. The White Sox sported a 3.76 bullpen ERA (seventh in the MLB) and 3.98 FIP (eighth in the MLB) during the shortened 2020 season.
However, the few shortcomings they had rose to the forefront during the Wild Card Series against the Oakland A’s. The White Sox ranked 12th in the MLB in K-BB% at 15.1% and tenth in SIERA at 4.01 (Skilled-Interactive Earned Run Average). Like FIP, SIERA eliminates factors the pitchers cannot control but adjusts for the type of batted ball (flyballs, groundballs, etc.).
Middle relief options seem to be scarce on the free-agent market this offseason, but there are plenty of closers and setup men available. With Alex Colomé becoming a free agent, the White Sox will either have to re-sign him or decide who will replace him.
Alex Colomé put together an excellent 2020 season, as his 0.81 ERA and 52.4% GB % were fantastic. Additionally, his peripherals (Exit Velocity, Hard Hit Percentage, and Barrel Percentage) were close to elite.
In order to sign Colomé again, the White Sox will have to consider the MLB qualifying offer, which rose to $18.9 million this season. Since Colomé turns 32 years old this offseason, this decision will loom in the coming months. Is he worth the $18.9 million for the 2021 season? Well, with a possible short budget, the White Sox may decide no, and other positions of need (starting pitching, right field, and designated hitter) more than likely take precedence.
However, if the Sox believe Colomé can continue his success from this past season, it would make more sense for the team to give him a two- or three-year deal to stretch the money to other positions. Colomé has performed admirably during his White Sox tenure, but there are other options out there if they cannot land a deal with him.
Yates has been a fantastic reliever for a few years now, but not too many people paid attention to him until this past season with the up-and-coming San Diego Padres. For reference, Yates was probably the best reliever in all of baseball in 2019 but was sidelined in 2020 after doctors found loose bone chips in his throwing arm. He should be fine now because the surgery required no ligament or tendon repair, but one drawback is that Yates is 33 years old.
Looking at the positives, he finished in the 100th percentile in xERA, the 99th percentile in Strikeout Percentage, and the 94th percentile in Barrel Percentage. Pair those with a 1.19 ERA and 1.30 2019 FIP in 2019, and that is an elite closer. Yates might re-sign with the Padres, but if he is available, the White Sox should be giving him a call immediately.
Here is the overlay of Yates’ fastball versus offspeed:
Here is a familiar name for the South Side faithful: Joakim Soria. The righty reliever appeared in 40 games for the 2018 White Sox before the club traded to the Brewers in exchange for Kodi Medeiros and Wilber Perez. The White Sox eventually designated Medeiros for assignment, so that trade worked out well.
The club can fortify the back end of their bullpen by signing Soria this winter, however. Soria was excellent at limiting hard contact, as evidenced by ranking in the 94th percentile in Barrel Percentage. The White Sox like that quality in their pitchers (i.e. Dallas Keuchel and Dane Dunning), so it would make sense to bring back Soria. Soria is 36, but he has been consistent his entire career. More than likely, the White Sox would not even have to break the bank to sign Soria again, either.
Hendriks was the best closer during the truncated 2020 season. His elite 1.78 ERA and 1.14 FIP propelled him to the top of the pitching free-agent market this offseason. Like his teammate, Joakim Soria, he does not let up home runs (0.36/9 IP). This is something to keep in mind when considering the pitchers the White Sox prefer in free agency after being linked to Marcus Stroman in the past.
However, Hendriks will probably fetch the largest contract of any closer on the open market. If the White Sox have limited funds allocated to pitching, it would make more sense to utilize that money for a starting pitcher. But if they are somehow able to land Hendriks at a decent price, every fan should be excited. He is a fantastic pitcher.
Treinen is elite at inducing weak contact, ranking in the 92nd percentile in Exit Velocity. His strikeout percentage dropped from 2019 to 2020, but so did his walk percentage. At the end of the day, Treinen throws some missiles, as his average fastball clocks in at 97 MPH. If a pitcher touts the duality of inducing weak contact and throwing hard, he is doing something correctly. 2019 was more of an outlier in Treinen’s career after a career year in 2018 when he sported a 0.78 ERA. He would be a welcome addition to any team’s bullpen.
Here’s a glimpse of Treinen’s deception:
Petit will enter the 2021 season at the age of 37. He has been a consistent bullpen option across four teams over the past eight seasons, spending time with the Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Athletics. His average 88 MPH fastball in 2020 at least shows some longevity in his career. His Barrel Percentage spiked to 10.6% in 2021, but that could have been to smaller sample size. In fact, he tended to hover around 7-8% in prior years. Petit is a reliable bullpen option the Sox could get on a cheaper deal. Given his age, it would be smart to avoid signing him to a larger deal.
Kela was sidelined due to COVID-19 and forearm issues through 2020 but will be available in 2021 via free agency. Now, these are two significant hurdles to overcome as not even doctors are sure of the long-term effects of COVID-19. However, Kela was fantastic when he saw the field in 2019, recording a 2.12 ERA and 3.52 FIP over 29.2 innings.
Kela has experienced suspension issues in the past, so that is something to keep an eye on as well. He also dealt with shoulder ailments in 2019. This could very well be a buy-low option for the White Sox on a 28-year-old reliever. If the price is right, the White Sox should take the leap on the right-handed hurler.
McGee is the first southpaw on this list. The White Sox bullpen was solid throughout the 2020 campaign, but Aaron Bummer’s midseason stint on the injured list left them ailing for pitchers they could throw in a matchup advantage against a lefty. Gio González was basically non-existent all season, so Jace Fry was essentially the only prominent lefty for most of the regular season until rookie flamethrower Garrett Crochet got the call to the show.
McGee nearly threw all fastballs in 2020, which did him the service of ranking in the 99th percentile in Strikeout Percentage. His stats may have been a tad inflated, however, because he was absolutely abysmal at inducing poor contact (1st percentile in Exit Velocity at 92.3 MPH). Unfortunately, McGee pitches better in his career against righties, so the fit may not be ideal as one of the lone lefties in the White Sox bullpen.
Loup, another southpaw bullpen option, touts a career slash line of .233/.302/.320 against lefties. He’s almost the antithesis of McGee because he only throws 92 MPH with primarily sinkers and cutters. Loup also allows fewer hard-hit balls than average, evidenced by an Exit Velocity of 86.9 MPH in 2020. He fits the mold of the White Sox bullpen much better than McGee. Loup’s 3.50 career FIP displays an even consistency across all years of his career. If the White Sox target a lefty reliever, keep an eye out for Aaron Loup.
The White Sox have the ability to make a mark on the league in 2021 and can do so by shoring up the strengths of their bullpen. They could theoretically add a left-handed arm and a closer, but one is more likely than both since they have to allocate resources to starting pitching and the right field void. After the top-end bullpen arms sign, the rest of free agency is relatively sparse so the Sox will need to pounce on their opportunities sooner rather than later.