Anthony Swarzak

In adding relievers to 2018 bullpen, White Sox likely to try to 'find the next Anthony Swarzak'

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USA TODAY

In adding relievers to 2018 bullpen, White Sox likely to try to 'find the next Anthony Swarzak'

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."

White Sox surprised that nobody has acquired Miguel Gonzalez

White Sox surprised that nobody has acquired Miguel Gonzalez

MINNEAPOLIS -- The White Sox remain in let’s-make-a-deal-mode, Miguel Gonzalez has pitched well for six weeks and yet he’s still here.

If you’re surprised by that development, you’re not alone.

Even the White Sox starting pitcher’s manager reflected his astonishment about the status of Gonzalez roughly 90 minutes before he took the mound on Thursday. Gonzalez pitched well yet again, though the White Sox ultimately lost to the Minnesota Twins 5-4 at Target Field. It was the eighth quality start produced by the free-agent-to be in nine outings since he returned from the disabled list on July 18. The waiver trade deadline for Major League Baseball falls at 11 p.m. CST on Thursday night.

“A little bit (surprised),” Renteria said. “He’s pitched against some of the top clubs in the big leagues in his last four or five starts and has done a nice job keeping us in ballgames and minimizing damage, to a run or two in some or most of the starts. But I am surprised. He has done a great job. I wouldn’t be surprised (if he’s traded). It’s still not midnight yet so if today is the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if something would happen.”

The market for Gonzalez has been relatively quiet with few exceptions. Given that Gonzalez has a 3.27 ERA since he returned from a shoulder injury in mid-July and is affordable (he’s owed a little more than $1 million), the White Sox had to believe their asset would drum up more interest.  

Though he doesn’t overpower hitters with the fastball, Gonzalez has a nice mix of pitches and has proven to be consistent and likes attacking the strike zone. Gonzalez posted a 3.45 ERA between 2012-2014 for the Baltimore Orioles. He struggled in 2015 and did so again earlier this season after a shoulder injury limited his ability. Prior to the injury, however, Gonzalez pitched well for the White Sox in 2017, posting a 3.18 ERA in his first six starts after he finished 2016 on a good run. Gonzalez posted a 2.72 ERA over his final 13 starts of 2016 (79 1/3 innings).

But for now at least, a run of seven poor starts from mid-May to mid-June in which Gonzalez had a 7.15 ERA and eventually landed on the disabled list has tempered the interest. Since returning, Gonzalez has only had on rough outing on Aug. 3 at Boston as he got chased after 1 2/3 innings.

“I saw him throw in Boston and he didn’t throw well, but he still has good stuff,” one American League scout said. “I’d like to have him. He could at least pitch out of the bullpen.”

Gonzalez said he has tried to avoid thinking about the potential for a trade even as the White Sox traded a boatload of players over the past six weeks.

Anything that isn’t nailed down has been on alert to the possibility of a trade since the White Sox began to offload players last December with the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. The process included a series of trades in July that saw the departures of Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Dan Jennings, Anthony Swarzak and later Tyler Clippard.

But Gonzalez, who was stunned to be released by the Baltimore Orioles at the end of spring training in 2016, has enjoyed his time with the White Sox. He’s 12-18 with a 4.01 ERA in 45 games (44 starts) since coming over and credits the White Sox for giving him a chance after a rough 2015 season.

Gonzalez has been one of the team’s steadiest pitchers since he returned in July. On Thursday, the right-hander said he wasn’t as crisp as normal but got by in the early innings because the Twins had an aggressive approach. The Twins doubled three times off Gonzalez in the fifth inning to score twice and tie the game. But Gonzalez stranded the go-ahead run with a strikeout of Eduardo Escobar and retired four straight to get through the sixth. Gonzalez allowed three earned runs, seven hits and walked two while striking out five in a 110-pitch effort over six innings.

“Not thinking about it, honestly,” Gonzalez said. “If something happens then it’s meant to be. But if it doesn’t than I’m here all the way with the White Sox.

“It is what it is. Nothing that we can control. We’ve got to keep pitching, keep going out there every fifth day and try to make things happen.

“I’m happy (with my recent performances). A lot of positives. Been able to go out there until the sixth, seventh inning, even to the eighth. That’s a blessing in disguise. Struggling for a lot of months and to be able to come back and do that has been great.”

White Sox players grateful for quiet trade deadline: 'Kind of nice that it's over'

White Sox players grateful for quiet trade deadline: 'Kind of nice that it's over'

The trade deadline passed on Monday and all was quiet in the White Sox clubhouse.

While nearly every other team in baseball furiously attempted to make last-minute deals before the 3 p.m. (CST) nonwaiver trade deadline, the White Sox remained silent. Though there had been a few rumblings of possible moves the past few days, none surfaced involving White Sox players on Monday.

And for the first time since the All-Star break there was a relative sense of calm within the clubhouse. Monday’s tranquility was not the byproduct of a decision by the White Sox front office to stand pat but rather because of the flurry of trades Rick Hahn completed the previous 17 days. Those five deals removed involved seven members of the White Sox 25-man roster and has had players living with their heads on a swivel for almost a month. After one final trade sent Melky Cabrera’s trade to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, the remaining group was admittedly happy to see the deadline pass.

“It was tough,” third baseman Matt Davidson said. “Just everybody. You didn’t know what was going to happen any day. It was so random.

“It’s kind of nice that it’s over and for the most part this is going to be the clubhouse for the rest of the year.”

In all likelihood, this will be the White Sox roster the rest of the season.

There could be a few additions in the way of Triple-A players who are promoted. Rick Renteria reiterated on Monday that some of the club’s top pitching prospects are close to arriving in the majors. There also could be a few more subtractions if a contending club found one of the team’s veteran pitchers to their liking.

But the bulk of the White Sox roster has already been systematically ripped apart through a series of trades.

“It always happens so fast,” infielder Tyler Saladino said. “(Sunday) Melky was just walking through giving people hugs. Blink of an eye, something else happens. But you’re five minutes away from team stretch so you don’t really have time to think about it. You just say your goodbyes and your well-wishes and move forward.”

“You process it, but it’s not a lengthy process.

“Everything happens pretty fast around here.”

The upheaval of the 25-man roster began July 13 with a five-player deal that sent Jose Quintana to the Cubs. Five days later, the White Sox packaged Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson in a deal to the New York Yankees. Anthony Swarzak followed them on Wednesday when he was traded to Milwaukee. Dan Jennings was traded on Thursday to the Tampa Bay Rays and finally Cabrera was dealt to Kansas City on Sunday.

Now the White Sox are left with a roster full of inexperienced parts, including a bullpen that includes only one pitch from the Opening Day roster (Jake Petricka). The loss of so many key players will unquestionably lead to some trying times over the final two months of the regular season.

“It’s a good chance for those guys to get some experience,” Saladino said. “But it can be challenging because we’re very young at a level of game that requires a lot of experience.”

Once surrounded by a veteran crew, Petricka and newcomer Tyler Clippard are the only relievers with more than one year of service time. Petricka likened the massive turnover as something similar to when a series of moves is in made concurrently in the minor leagues. But, he also contends that the last two weeks has been different.

“I haven’t been a part of something like this,” Petricka said. “We’ve just got to prove it. It is a great opportunity for everyone. We’ve just got to go out and do our job and show we all belong and we all know we do.”