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.