The White Sox have some work to do in reconstructing their bullpen for the 2018 season.
Last year saw an incredible amount of turnover in the relief corps, with David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard all shipped out of town in midseason trades.
That means a lot of arms to replace this offseason for Rick Hahn and his front office.
So where do the rebuilding White Sox go for relief help? Don't expect any big-name relievers to land on the South Side. Not only have a lot of them already been snapped up in one of the few areas of activity this winter, but it makes little sense for the White Sox to invest significant money in relief pitching while waiting for their prospects to develop and turn the team into a perennial contender.
Instead, look to the guys the White Sox traded away for a template of the plan of attack when it comes to rebuilding the 'pen: find a diamond in the rough and turn that into pieces for the future.
Swarzak officially signed with the New York Mets at the end of last week, getting a two-year deal to play in Queens after a strong and somewhat out-of-nowhere 2017 performance. The White Sox picked him up last offseason after he had posted a 4.52 ERA in his first six big league seasons, and in 41 appearances with the White Sox he turned in a 2.23 ERA and struck out 52 hitters in 48.1 innings of work. That allowed them to trade Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers for minor league outfielder Ryan Cordell, who could become a part of the team's future.
The White Sox worked similar magic with Kahnle, who was added ahead of the 2016 season. He had a 4.41 ERA in two seasons with the Colorado Rockies to start his career, and after joining the White Sox put up a 2.63 ERA in 2016 and a 2.50 ERA in 37 appearances in 2017, allowing the White Sox to include him in the seven-player swap with the New York Yankees that added three minor leaguers to the White Sox highly rated farm system.
It's templates like those that the White Sox will likely try to follow again this winter.
The White Sox have had a positive recent history in helping veteran pitchers find their stuff, a trend largely credited to longtime pitching coach Don Cooper. And with the proven capability to flip strong performers at the deadline in exchange for more rebuild-bolstering talent, there's no reason they shouldn't try to go to that well again.
"Anthony Swarzak is a great example, got himself a richly deserved, lucrative contract even though 10 months ago he was a non-roster invite with us," Hahn said last week during the Winter Meetings. "You see a couple of those in this market. If I'm not mistaken I think (new Phillies pitcher Tommy) Hunter was a non-roster invite, I think (new Cubs pitcher Brandon) Morrow might have been a non-roster invite. It shows you that guys can re-establish their value if they're quality contributors, it can really have a big impact on their original team and then it pays off for them in the next free-agent market.
"For us we're probably in a position as an organization right now to do our best to find the next Anthony Swarzak as opposed to going out and paying retail in the free-agent market for one right now, but we also know we've talked about once we get to the position where we're ready to contend, we too are going to have to be out in that market. It's becoming an expensive place to be but we know that's a good problem to have when you're looking to add those finishing touches to a competitive club."
Of course, the White Sox are capable of rebuilding their bullpen with what they've currently got on the roster. Bullpen options include the likes of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones and Juan Minaya. And the team traded for Thyago Vieira earlier this offseason.
But it would be kind of surprising to see them head into the 2018 campaign with that group exclusively. Even with strong performances for half a season from Swarzak, Kahnle and Robertson, the White Sox ranked just 11th in the American League in bullpen ERA in 2017.
"We've got no biases in favor of any player type, whether we drafted them or signed them as a minor league free agent," Hahn said when asked if he would go internally or externally to rebuild the bullpen. "We look for a certain type from our scouts, and certain players we feel we can get better through our player development system, but in the end we're going to break Glendale — well if Coop has his way, with the best 14. If sense prevails, the best 12 or 13 pitchers we can to help ourselves win a ballgame."