Joakim Soria

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.

Three questions answered — and three questions unanswered — through a couple weeks of White Sox spring training


Three questions answered — and three questions unanswered — through a couple weeks of White Sox spring training

March is almost here, and the White Sox are in the thick of spring training down in Glendale, with Cactus League games getting going over the weekend.

After watching workouts and hearing from players and manager Rick Renteria for two weeks, some of the offseason's biggest questions seem to have answers, while others still remain.

Here are three questions that have been answered and three that still need solving.


1. Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are something to get excited about

There are no guarantees in player development, but the White Sox top two outfield prospects seem to be legit. The highly touted pair, along with fellow prospect Micker Adolfo, generated a ton of buzz whenever they stepped into the batting cages at Camelback Ranch, and after watching them smoke baseballs over the practice-field fences, it’s easy to see why.

All three guys shared that they’re dreaming of playing together in the team’s championship outfield of the future, and if the White Sox can develop that talent, then watch out.

Of course there’s a long way to go. Jimenez has only played a handful of games above the Class A level. Adolfo has played none. And Robert hasn’t even played a minor league baseball game in the United States. General manager Rick Hahn keeps talking about how baseball has a cruel way of reminding that not all prospects pan out. Look no further than Adolfo, who now has a pair of arm injuries after being rated as the best thrower in the White Sox farm system.

But hearing the cracks of the bats and watching the baseballs fly, it’s easy to get excited about these guys’ futures.

2. Carlos Rodon won’t be ready for Opening Day

This one wasn’t that difficult to predict, but after having shoulder surgery last fall, Carlos Rodon won’t be a member of the White Sox starting rotation on Opening Day.

That was actually made relatively clear when the team brought back Miguel Gonzalez, seemingly locking the starting rotation into place alongside James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer. But now there’s confirmation that Rodon will not pitch during the Cactus League schedule and will stay at extended spring training after the White Sox leave Glendale for Kansas City.

There’s still no knowing, of course, when Rodon will be back. The White Sox are happy with his progress, and he was throwing during the early parts of the spring, cleared to throw right before SoxFest at the end of January.

Who knows if it will be as late as June this time around after he didn't make his 2017 debut until June 28 after suffering a separate injury last spring. But when he returns, he’ll have to prove that he’s healthy and capable of being the same pitcher who was envisioned as an ace of the future.

3. Hector Santiago gives the White Sox a long man — and starting depth

There didn’t seem to be a member of the White Sox bullpen who could serve in the long-relief role. Then the team brought Hector Santiago back on a minor league deal.

Even though it’s a minor league deal, the former and now current White Sox hurler seems likely to make the bullpen as the long relief man. That role was needed regularly last season, and it’s an important one for a bullpen filled with guys looking to prove themselves as either long-term pieces or midseason trade chips.

But Santiago also gives the White Sox starting pitching depth, providing a one-time All-Star starter as a backup in case any of the five guys in the rotation go down with an injury. Rick Hahn already said he wouldn’t rush Michael Kopech or any of the team’s other pitching prospects to the majors just because someone was hurt at the big league level. And now he won’t have to thanks in part to Santiago’s presence.


1. Who will be the closer?

While there might not be as many open spots in the White Sox bullpen as initially believed, there is a huge question mark at closer. Who will throw in the ninth inning for the White Sox this season?

Juan Minaya had closing duties at the end of last season and fared pretty well after much of the bullpen was traded away in summer deals. But do the White Sox see Minaya as a closer of the future?

If not, they might be more likely to go with one of the new acquisitions in order to try and establish a deadline trade chip. Maybe someone like Joakim Soria, who has tons of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. Of course those days are getting longer and longer ago.

But if the White Sox go with Soria and he does well, they could try to fetch the same kind of return they got last season when they shipped David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and other relievers away from the South Side.

2. Who will be the starting center fielder?

The White Sox are not short on options in center field. But there aren’t necessarily any slam-dunk ones, hence why the job is still up for grabs.

Adam Engel started 91 games in center last season and hit just .166. While his glove is terrific, his offensive production is not that of a starting position player in the major leagues. Leury Garcia was far better with the bat but might be more valuable as a versatile infielder who can spell the four guys around the diamond. Charlie Tilson has high hopes but has struggled mightily to just get on the baseball field and stay there, much of his White Sox career wiped out so far due to injuries. Further down the list is Ryan Cordell, the guy acquired in the Anthony Swarzak trade last summer who has a good Triple-A track record and got some love from Rick Hahn at SoxFest.

Garcia seems to be the best option if the White Sox are looking for the most consistent bat. But for a rebuilding team not expected to contend in 2018, maybe giving guys like Engel and Tilson more chances to prove themselves makes more sense.

3. Do the White Sox have another move left in them?

For a rebuilding team like the White Sox, this perplexing offseason might be a really rare opportunity.

In the last week, the White Sox were mentioned as a potential landing spot for a pair of All-Star position players: Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez. Considering the slowness of the market, guys who were once pegged for multi-year deals could now be bargains one one-year contracts. That could allow a team like the White Sox to swoop in and sign these guys at very low risk. If they produce, they could become long-term options or midseason trade chips. If they don’t, it was a one-year flier and did no harm for a team not expected to contend — and it does not negatively impact the rebuild in any way.

The White Sox already pulled the trigger on a springtime addition with Hector Santiago. There are still tons of free agents out there, and even if it’s not someone the caliber of Moustakas or Gonzalez, the White Sox could still ink someone who could really benefit the short- and long-term success of the team at a bargain.