Nate Jones

Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: Who will be the White Sox closer?


Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: Who will be the White Sox closer?

White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.

Who's going to be the White Sox closer? The most likely answer to that question is that it won't be just one guy.

That might not be a satisfying response to many fans. An old sports adage reminds us that if you have multiple closers, you probably don't have one.

But the White Sox seem ready to embrace a different way of thinking, one that says your so-called closer should be the guy that pitches in the highest-leverage situations, regardless of whether that's in the ninth inning or not. And different guys might be more suited to different situations if those situations present themselves as the most important in the game — be they in the sixth, seventh, eight or ninth innings.

So we'll see how that works out. The White Sox, though, do have a few options when it comes to picking their "best" reliever, or the guy who would fit into a traditional closer's role.

Juan Minaya finished last season as the team's closer, stepping into the job after Rick Hahn's front office traded away a large chunk of the bullpen. David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle got sent to the New York Yankees, Anthony Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers, even Dan Jennings to the Tampa Bay Rays. Heck, Tyler Clippard, who came over in that trade with the Yankees, got flipped to the Houston Astros. But Minaya fared pretty well, ending up with nine saves over the final month and a half of the year and not allowing a run in his final eight outings.

This spring, Minaya has been all right. He started the spring with a scoreless inning against the Cincinnati Reds. But he's allowed a run in each of his three appearances since, all lasting one inning. Spring stats don't mean much, and Rick Renteria said they don't mean much to him, personally. After the way Minaya finished 2017, he's likely still in very good favor with his manager.

Nate Jones is healthy, which has been a rarity in the recent past. He threw just 11.2 innings last season and a combined 19 in 2014 and 2015. But he showed how good he can be when he stays healthy, finishing the 2016 season with a 2.29 ERA. He's got strikeout stuff, and he would figure to be a good option in a traditional closer's role. He hasn't allowed a run in five spring innings, with six strikeouts in those five outings.

Both Minaya and Jones are under team control for plenty longer, and they could be options for the closer's job stretching into the future, not just in 2018.

A guy who doesn't fit that bill is Joakim Soria, the 33-year-old former All-Star closer for the Kansas City Royals who the White Sox acquired in a three-team trade this offseason. He could be a candidate for high-pressure situations if for no other reason that to advertise his services to potential contenders looking for bullpen upgrades. Soria's the kind of guy who could serve a sign-and-flip purpose for Hahn's front office and help the rebuild by bringing in another young piece.

And just because Renteria talks about a closer-by-committee type of situation during spring training doesn't mean that will be the strategy for the entirety of the 2018 season. It might be a way to simply continue the battle for the closer's job into the regular season. It might be a way for one guy to separate himself from the others. It's very possible that Minaya, Jones, Soria or someone else is the go-to ninth-inning man at some point during the season.

"Someone else," you say? Gregory Infante had a 3.13 ERA last season. Luis Avilan's was lower, at 2.93. Aaron Bummer is ranked as one of the White Sox top 20 prospects. As the great philosopher Kevin Garnett once said, anything is possible.

Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: How many members of the bullpen are long-term pieces?


Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: How many members of the bullpen are long-term pieces?

White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.

White Sox fans playing the 2020 projection game likely aren't spending too much time on the relief corps.

It might be fun to pick out five names for a potentially elite starting rotation. It might be fun to go around the diamond and place the name of a top prospect at each position. It's probably far less enjoyable to predict which pitchers won't make it as starters and which middle relievers might hit the free-agent market after the 2019 season.

But the bullpen will be a valuable part of any contending White Sox team of the future. And just like everywhere else on the roster, its construction starts now.

The question is, though, after selling off most of the bullpen last summer, how many members of the White Sox bullpen in 2018 will be a part of it in 2020?

Rick Hahn's front office could use a similar strategy this season as it did last season, when Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Dan Jennings were all traded away to acquire prospects that might or might not end up helping the team's rebuilding efforts. This offseason has seen a lot of additions to the relief corps. Luis Avilan and Joakim Soria were acquired in a three-team trade, and there were a bunch of veterans signed to minor league deals that could end up on the team. Those older relievers fit the bill of trade bait, potential sign-and-flip guys that could be used to acquire more minor league talent.

But at the same time, there are young guys who will be a part of this 'pen, guys who could show they belong for the foreseeable future. Juan Minaya, just 27, was the White Sox closer at the end of last season and could very well start this season with that job. He picked up nine saves over the season's last month and a half and didn't give up a run in his final eight outings. The 24-year-old Aaron Bummer pitched in 30 games with the White Sox last season and is still ranked as one of the organization's top 20 prospects. Gregory Infante is 30 but put up good numbers in 52 big league games, finishing the year with a 3.13 ERA.

And then there's Nate Jones. He's pitched in parts of six seasons with the White Sox and just turned 32 years old, but the key word there is "parts." Jones hasn't been able to stay healthy, pitching in just 11 games last year and only 21 combined games in 2014 and 2015. But when he has stayed on the field, he's been very good. Look at 2016, when he turned in a 2.29 ERA and struck out 80 batters in 70.2 innings. Jones is under contract through as long as the 2021 season and has the stuff to contend for the closer's job at some point this season.

While Soria and Avilan look like guys who could be moved should they pitch well enough to draw midseason interest — a reason Soria could potentially get a look at closer at some point, that and his wealth of experience in the role — there are a few names that could be pitching for their long-term futures with the team. Outside of Zack Burdi, there isn't a highly touted prospect that currently projects to be a bullpen guy. That leaves opportunity for some of the guys on this year's roster.

Five bold White Sox predictions for 2018


Five bold White Sox predictions for 2018

Time to get bold!

There are plenty of predictions going around for the White Sox in 2018. But are any as bold as these?

1. Matt Davidson will lead the White Sox in homers

2. Lucas Giolito will be an American League All Star

3. Yoan Moncada will finish in the top 10 in baseball in walks

4. Avisail Garcia's OPS won't be higher than .750

5. Nate Jones will lead the team in saves — but won't start the season with the job

If you need an explanation, we've got it for you. Check out our #WhiteSoxWhiteboard broadcast from Thursday to hear why we think all this will come true. And also hear five bold predictions from the other side of town, too.

Give it a watch: