White Sox

The White Sox and closer turnover

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The White Sox and closer turnover

Only four closers in baseball -- Brian Wilson, Carlos Marmol, Joakim Soria and Mariano Rivera -- have finished off games for two years or more with the same team. Half of baseball will open 2012 with a new ninth-inning guy, including the White Sox.

That may seem startling, but there are two perfectly good explanations for that kind of turnover: The up-and-down nature of closer performance and the high cost of paying for premium talent.

A typical closer will throw 60-70 innings per season, which is a number that is quite prone to luck-fueled fluctuations. One bad stretch can cast a pall on an entire season, and it's rare to find a pitcher who is good enough to sustain a high level of success closing games over a three or four-year span.

The White Sox had that in Bobby Jenks. From the back end of 2005 through 2009, Jenks was reliable as a game-finisher, although he began to slip in 2009 after putting up elite seasons in 2006 and 2007. Even when he saved 27 of 31 games in 2010, his season was deemed a failure.

Before Jenks, the Sox didn't have much stability in the ninth inning. And it didn't matter. Shingo Takatsu was marvelous in 2004, saving 19 of 20 games after Billy Koch failed to rebound after a miserable 2003.

When Takatsu fell apart in 2005, Dustin Hermanson stepped in and saved 34 games for the eventual World Champions. And then when Hermanson ran into some injury issues, Jenks -- a former top prospect who had a high-profile flameout with the Angels -- stepped in and saved the game that won the Sox their first title in 88 years.

Not everyone can be a closer -- there's a certain ability to forget a bad game, a loss that seemingly falls directly on your shoulders, that isn't found in every pitcher. That being said, serviceable closers have proven to be fairly easy to find. It's just that if your team doesn't have one, all of a sudden it becomes your most glaring weakness.

But going into a season without certainty in the ninth inning -- as the Sox have done the last two years now -- is something that quite a few teams are doing. Despite the availability of cheap, young power arms with the ability to close, plenty of teams still pay out the nose for closers.

Philadelphia didn't need to pay Jonathan Papelbon 50 million. Miami probably didn't need to include Heath Bell in their spending spree. Both those guys may work out, but both teams probably could've found options who could produce similar results for a fraction of the cost.

Kenny Williams hasn't sought out a high-priced closer since Koch bombed in 2003 and 2004. He and the White Sox have handled the ninth inning perfectly, seeking options on the cheap and spending their money elsewhere.

If Matt Thornton struggles as the team's closer, the Sox have Addison Reed waiting in the wings. If Reed struggles, Jesse Crain is there. And down the road, power arms like Jacob Petricka, Simon Castro or even Jeff Soptic could be in line for a ninth-inning role.

Of course, even a short stretch of blown saves might be enough to lead some to call for the Sox to sign someone to a Jonathan Papelbon-type contract. They'd be smart to avoid that, and if recent history is an indication, they won't go that route.

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.