Jace Fry

After White Sox bullpen shuts down Twins, who's in and who's out for 2020?


After White Sox bullpen shuts down Twins, who's in and who's out for 2020?

The White Sox bullpen did a splendid job Wednesday night.

A “bullpen day” against the Minnesota Twins’ high-powered offense had potential disaster written all over it. Instead, Ivan Nova and a parade of relievers held those Twins hitless through five innings and to just one run in a sweep-avoiding win.

It’s actually the second time a “bullpen day” went better than expected against one of the best teams in baseball, Wednesday’s effort joining the one back in May against the Houston Astros. The White Sox lost that night but gave up just three runs to the kings of the AL West.

While nearly every pitcher that trotted out from the visitors’ bullpen Wednesday night in Minnesota pitched well, it doesn’t mean that the White Sox will carry this exact unit into a 2020 season that could be one in which they make the long awaited transition from rebuilding to contending.

Certainly Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer have been among the many bright spots for the White Sox this season, and the retention of both at the trade deadline provides confidence in what the back end of the bullpen can be in a potentially contending season. But while the eighth- and ninth-inning jobs are easily projected, what does the rest of the White Sox bullpen look like heading into 2020?

While starting pitcher is definitely on the winter wish list for Rick Hahn’s front office, it would be no shock to see relief pitching get addressed, too. It’s hard to predict which of the tons of relievers could wind up in a White Sox uniform before the team heads to Arizona for spring training. But we can try to guess at the fortunes of the relief arms currently on the roster, many of whom appeared in Wednesday night’s game.

Late-inning arms for 2020

Even if the White Sox make no additions to their bullpen this winter, the back end is pretty easy to project.

Colome has one more year of team control after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners last winter. He’s been allowing more base runners as the season has wound down — including a walk-off homer to Omar Narvaez, the guy he was traded for, last weekend in Seattle — but he’ll finish the campaign with excellent numbers, still having blown only one save. That’s the best save percentage in baseball. He’s got 124 saves over the last four seasons.

Bummer, meanwhile, has emerged from a host of internal candidates to grab a pretty tight hold on the eighth-inning job. He has a 2.31 ERA on the season with a week and a half to play, and he’s a guy who could be a back-end reliever and a potential closer for years to come.

As for other late-inning guys, Jimmy Cordero seems to be a diamond in the rough uncovered in season. He’s got a 3.34 ERA since joining the White Sox and has been an oft-used arm by Rick Renteria. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the White Sox put even more high-leverage situations on his plate next season.

Evan Marshall, too, figures to be back next season. He was another quality addition to the ‘pen, and he’s actually been better in the second half, with a 2.59 ERA since the All-Star break compared to the still-very-good 2.86 ERA before it.

Is that a fearsome foursome at the back end of a contending bullpen? Certainly all four of those guys have been good to very good this season. The White Sox would probably express a great deal of confidence in that quartet, but adding another late-inning arm to that mix in free agency would make that confidence level even higher.

What do you do with these guys?

If those four are very likely to be in key spots in the 2020 bullpen, what about some of the guys’ whose futures aren’t so obvious?

Jace Fry threw 1.2 innings without giving up a run Wednesday, dropping his season ERA to 4.96. That’s not a very pretty number, and there have been stretches this season that haven’t been very pretty, either. In a five-outing span in late May and early June, he walked six of the 19 batters he faced and gave up four earned runs in just 3.1 innings. Over a 13-outing span in August and September, Fry gave up 12 runs in 10.2 innings, walking nine and giving up 13 hits to the 53 batters he faced. But the White Sox love Fry’s potential. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see him a part of the Opening Day relief corps. But if the White Sox are in contention mode, how long could they afford his inconsistencies?

Kelvin Herrera is almost certain to be back in 2020, considering the White Sox inked him to a two-year deal last offseason. But he’s going to need to improve dramatically from what he did in his first campaign on the South Side. He’s got a 6.51 ERA right now in 53 appearances. That’s obviously not good enough, and the White Sox will be hoping for something close to the kind of guy who mowed them down when he was a key piece on those back-to-back World Series teams for the Kansas City Royals. Another season removed from the foot injury that ended his 2018 season early ought to help.

Have the White Sox seen enough of Jose Ruiz and Carson Fulmer? Again, these guys have upside the team is excited about. Ruiz can throw the ball pretty hard, and Fulmer is a former top-10 draft pick. But the results have not been good, to say the least. Ruiz has a 5.87 ERA in 39 games. Fulmer, who threw 2.1 scoreless innings Wednesday, has a 5.33 ERA in 18 big league appearances. If there are free-agent additions to be had, these two could be squeezed out of the picture. But for right now, the White Sox aren’t done with them just yet.

Where art thou, minor leaguers?

If you cast your mind back to last season, you’ll remember a bunch of young arms that looked like candidates for the bullpen of the future. For various reasons, those guys didn’t do much impressing in 2019.

Injuries are to blame in certain cases. Ryan Burr was one of the many White Sox pitchers to have Tommy John surgery this season, wiping out an audition of a 2019 season for him. Ian Hamilton was similarly knocked out for the year with a pair of freak injuries. He was hurt in a car accident during spring training and then suffered a number of grisly facial injuries when he was struck with a foul ball while sitting in the dugout at Triple-A Charlotte.

Under-performance struck, too. Caleb Frare only made 31 combined appearances between the majors and Charlotte, but he posted a 10.13 ERA at the big league level and a 7.66 ERA with the Knights. Thyago Vieira had a 10.29 ERA in six major league games and a 6.27 ERA in 39 games at Triple-A.

But all four remain on the 40-man roster, for now.

Then there are three other guys who were highly thought of a year ago who didn’t help their cases for a major league promotion. Zack Burdi, the former first-round pick, was routinely rocked pitching in only 20 games at Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, with a 6.75 ERA in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Tyler Johnson had good numbers but only pitched 31.1 innings in 22 games. Zach Thompson had a 5.23 ERA in his 45 appearances with Brimingham and Charlotte.

None of that screams must-include pieces of the 2020 major league bullpen. A lot can change between now and Opening Day, as well as now and any later point in the season when reinforcements to the relief corps could still make a big difference. But as we stand here right now, it’s hard to say any of these guys will be in the Opening Day ‘pen.

Unlikely bullpen arms?

The other internal options for relief arms in 2020 might come from an unlikely spot: the starting rotation.

There are only five spots on the 2020 starting staff, and Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease figure to have three of them spoken for. The White Sox will make at least one offseason addition, speaking for a fourth spot. And despite a bumpy 2019 season, it would not be surprising to see Reynaldo Lopez in that rotation, too, come Opening Day.

That doesn’t mean he’ll stay there all season, though. A contending White Sox team might not be able to put up with the kind of inconsistent results Lopez has delivered in 2019. Similarly, there’s a possibility Kopech could have to start the season in the minor leagues if the White Sox think he needs more time to work himself into game shape following a long layoff while recovering from his Tommy John surgery. Whether it’s multiple offseason acquisitions or simply Kopech returning and claiming a spot, Lopez might be squeezed out, in which case the bullpen would be a possible destination for him. The White Sox see him as a starter now, but there’s no reason that a squeezed-out Lopez, should it happen, couldn’t still help the team from the ‘pen.

Also, what becomes of other Tommy John recoverers when they return to full health? What happens if Carlos Rodon or Dane Dunning or Jimmy Lambert is available late in the year? Could they help in the bullpen even if they’re destined to be long-term starters? Maybe. It’s just speculation, but time will tell.

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Rumor roundup: White Sox mentioned in various reports as trade deadline nears

Rumor roundup: White Sox mentioned in various reports as trade deadline nears

The trade deadline is coming. And with it comes a flood of rumors involving nearly every team in Major League Baseball.

The White Sox are not immune to those figurative waters, and they've popped up as the subject of various reports regarding possible deals.

As discussed numerous times in recent days, this year's deadline is a little different than those of years past for Rick Hahn's front office. The White Sox, thanks in no small part to their 3-11 start to the second half, are not going to be "buying" in the traditional sense in an attempt to chase down a wild-card spot. Of course, they were never going to do that, as Hahn's rebuilding plans don't involve making moves solely for one postseason appearance but rather to set his team up for perennial contention in the years to come.

But because the roster is not rife with players on expiring contracts, the White Sox don't figure to be traditional "sellers" either. While Hahn made a habit of selling off his back-end bullpen pieces in 2017 and 2018, pitchers like Alex Colome, Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry are all under team control for the 2020 season. And while the team isn't playing well right now, a positive-filled first half made it look rather realistic that the White Sox could make their transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode as soon as next season. If they plan on being contenders, a back end of the 'pen featuring Colome, Bummer and Fry would be a valuable asset to have on the South Side, making it seemingly unlikely that those hurlers would be dealt in the coming days.

Of course, there's always the possibility that Hahn could receive an offer that would tip the scales toward moving any of those players or others. Plus, there's the item Hahn has yet to cross off his rebuilding to-do list, acquiring a big-time talent from outside the organization to add to a growing and impressive young core. He tried to land Manny Machado in the offseason, but Machado chose to take his talents to San Diego. The trade deadline presents another opportunity to make such an addition, though it all depends on the players available. Hahn described those in-season opportunities as far less likely to present themselves as ones during the offseason, when free agents are available in addition to trade targets.

With all that, here's a look at some of the recent reports mentioning the White Sox.

Will someone pry a reliever away from the South Side?

Whether because relief pitching is always in high demand at this time of year, because Hahn traded so many relievers during the last two summers or simply because the White Sox have some very good pitchers at the back end of their bullpen, there's been a focus on whether they'll deal Colome, Bummer or Fry.

The Score's Bruce Levine tweeted earlier this week that multiple teams are thinking about being interested in or are interested in Colome and Bummer, specifically mentioning the Atlanta Braves as an interested party.

MLB Network's Jon Morosi added another NL East club to the mix Friday, saying the Washington Nationals are "showing active interest" in Colome.

So will the White Sox deal Colome? It is 100-percent based on what they can get for him. That might sound obvious, but in years past you've seen the White Sox trade away their closers — David Robertson in 2017 and Joakim Soria in 2018 — in attempt to get something. Robertson was part of the seven-player deal with the New York Yankees that most notably returned Blake Rutherford, still trying to work his way into the team's crowded outfield of the future, and Soria was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for pitching prospect Kodi Medeiros, who's been moved to the bullpen after posting a 6.80 ERA as a starter at Double-A Birmingham.

Those were fine pieces to acquire at the time, but neither Robertson nor Soria were lining up to serve as the closer for a contending White Sox team. That could be Colome's job in 2020 if the White Sox hang onto him now. So the question becomes whether the White Sox can get something in return that would prove equally valuable or more valuable than a dominant, All-Star caliber closer on a contending team a year from now. And given how often contenders are shopping for closers at the trade deadline every year, it would seem that would be a valuable asset indeed.

Now, contending teams have been known to part with highly rated prospects on the verge of the majors in acquiring All-Star type closers in the past. The Cubs traded Gleyber Torres, now a two-time All-Star infielder for the Yankees, to get Aroldis Chapman in 2016. The Cleveland Indians dealt highly touted catching prospect Francisco Mejia in acquiring Brad Hand from the Padres last summer. So there is precedent, and a team could call Hahn up and offer up a potential cornerstone for Colome.

Just remember that Colome could potentially have an awful lot of value to the White Sox, so they might not be eager to part with him.

The other two arms discussed, Bummer and Fry, are younger guys who could be part of this bullpen for multiple seasons to come. Bummer, in particular, has been phenomenal this season and earns high praise from the White Sox. He's a guy that could one day be given a shot at the closer's job, whether that's after Colome departs as a free agent or in the event that the White Sox are offered something big for Colome in the next few days. Either way, constructing a bullpen is not easy, even for contenders, and keeping guys like Bummer and Fry might end up being the better decision.

But, it all comes down to what Hahn could get in any such deal.

Do the White Sox want Nomar Mazara?

With the prospect of being a contending group in 2020, the possibility exists that the White Sox could add at this year's deadline. It would have to be someone who has value to them into the future because they obviously wouldn't be buying for a postseason run in 2019.

When discussing that possibility in the past, ideas centered around finding a big-time player who could be added to the core and have the kind of impact Machado might have had he decided to come to the South Side.

Or maybe it could be Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara? According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the White Sox have been one of a couple teams "watching" Mazara, the 24-year-old outfielder in his fourth major league season.

While Mazara has upside, he's hardly of the big-time class you'd put players like Machado or Charlie Blackmon or Zack Greinke in. He'd be an addition to provide outfield depth, you'd have to assume. Mazara isn't exactly blowing the doors off the 2019 season, either, slashing .255/.307/.438 with 14 homers. Those numbers aren't the type that would excite a fan base.

That being said, right field looks like a definite need for the White Sox at the moment. Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert figure to have left field and center field spoken for for years to come. But what looked like a crowded group of prospects vying for the long-term job in right has since been dotted with question marks. The White Sox have a ton of outfield prospects, but almost all of them have had disappointing 2019 seasons due to underperformance or injury. Micker Adolfo is out for the season. Luis Basabe has a .235 batting average in only 47 games this season. Rutherford has a .656 OPS. Steele Walker's batting average is .100 points lower at Class A Winston-Salem than it was at Class A Kannapolis. Luis Gonzalez is slashing .234/.295/.334.

All those players could turn things around, sure, but it's enough to make you wonder how high acquiring a right fielder is on Hahn's to-do list ahead of the 2020 season. Depending on what he'd have to give up to get Mazara, it's possible that the current Ranger would be worth a flier for a two-month audition. We'll see.

Is there a surprise trade candidate on the White Sox roster?

Colome and the relievers have been mentioned a bunch for the various reasons described above. But what about elsewhere on the roster? The White Sox might not be particularly motivated to break up a group that manager Rick Renteria described thusly: "This group in particular, it's a pretty good group. I think they respect each other, love each other. I think they play alongside of each other very, very well."

MLB Trade Rumors took a look at whether Ivan Nova could be dealt before the deadline, mentioning an MLB.com report that teams have been "looking" at Nova. Contending teams often look to give themselves starting-rotation depth, and they've only got one shot to do it this season with the elimination of waiver deals in August. So maybe Nova could be of use to a team or two out there. The numbers would say otherwise, as Nova owns a 5.49 ERA even after his complete-game effort against the Miami Marlins on Monday night. But he's a veteran and has a track record and could be worth a flier for a contending team.

And so the same calculus pops up should a team come calling looking for a Nova trade. Nova, unlike Colome and Bummer and Fry, does not figure to be a part of the White Sox plans past the 2019 season, which could make a "get something for him" deal more likely. That being said, however, he was brought in to eat up innings and help mentor young pitchers, specifically Reynaldo Lopez. He's certainly done the latter, as he chronicled during an interview Thursday. And though his production has not been what the White Sox hoped it would be, the starting rotation has been thin all season and taking another pitcher out of it leaves a lot of innings to soak up in the remainder of the season, something that could overly tax the bullpen. So maybe Nova isn't a "trade him just to get anything" type of veteran.

Jon Jay is in a similar situation, leading to similar speculation. He's not expected to be a part of things past the end of this season. Unlike Nova, Jay has been productive in the short time since his return from a months-long stay on the injured list. Jay would figure to have value to contending teams, and perhaps it makes him the most likely to be dealt. But as for how much the White Sox could get in return, it wouldn't figure to be much.

Leury Garcia is someone who could attract the interest of clubs. But he's also under team control for next season, and his combination of defensive versatility and offensive production would figure to be mighty valuable coming off the bench for a contending White Sox team in 2020.

And then there's Jose Abreu, who I only bring up because of a seemingly constant stream of Twitter suggestions that the White Sox should exploit Abreu's love for the South Side by trading him away for a prospect package this summer only to re-sign him to a free-agent contract this winter. I bring it up also to point out it is a silly suggestion.

Abreu loves playing for the White Sox, and the White Sox love having Abreu play for them. In addition to his consistent production — he's on pace to set new career highs in homers and RBIs in this, his age-32 season — he is remarkably valuable inside the clubhouse, where he's been a guiding force to young core pieces like Yoan Moncada and Jimenez. He figures to play a similar role for his countryman Robert once the latter is called up to the big leagues. Why would the White Sox want to rob those young players of Abreu's mentorship during critical developmental time for them at the major league level?

The White Sox seem to hold Abreu in a similar esteem to the players with retired numbers and statues at Guaranteed Rate Field. Would fans make this same suggestion about Paul Konerko or Mark Buehrle?

You can hardly ever say "never" in baseball, and perhaps it's risky to do so here, too, but it seems there's a near zero-percent chance of the White Sox parting with Abreu in the coming days, particularly as he's constantly talking about how much he wants to stick around past the end of the 2019 season, which seems like something that is likely to happen.

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This is how the White Sox bullpen is supposed to look


This is how the White Sox bullpen is supposed to look

This is how the White Sox bullpen is supposed to look.

Through the first few series of the 2019 campaign, the South Side relief corps appeared to be a mess. The two big additions, Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera, weren't getting a chance to pitch very often as the team's starting pitchers weren't lasting very long into games. They gave up a lot of runs, had the bullpen pitching from behind. And, as manager Rick Renteria explained Wednesday, guys who were supposed to be getting tastes of specific situations were instead pitching multiple innings at a time because the starting pitchers were coming out well before they were supposed to.

Well, the last few games have featured the kind of bullpen Renteria hoped to have when the season began. Starting pitchers have held up their end of the bargain, and the offense is scoring runs. Combine those two things, and Renteria has been able to deploy his relievers just like he drew it up back in the spring. The White Sox entered Wednesday's series finale with the Kansas City Royals winners of three straight and four of their last five. Colome has pitched in each of the last three games, picking up saves in two of them.

There was a lot of preseason excitement over this aspect of the roster, Rick Hahn adding Colome and Herrera to give his team what might have been, on paper, the best bullpen in the division. Two All-Star caliber pitchers at the back end allowed Renteria to have more late-inning options, with Nate Jones and Jace Fry moving into sixth- and seventh-inning roles. And all the young guys who might one day make up the White Sox bullpen of the future wouldn't have to be thrown into the fire in high-leverage situations. They could learn and develop without the game necessarily being on the line. That was the plan, anyway.

Things didn't go that way at the start of the season, and the numbers still aren't too pretty for many of the arms in the 'pen. Fry's ERA is still 11.12. Jose Ruiz owns a 21.60 ERA. Ryan Burr is at 6.48, and Jones is just getting his down, currently at 4.05. Colome and Herrera have lived up to the preseason hype, with 2.25 and 1.13 ERAs, respectively. And Manny Banuelos has excelled as a long man, with a 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings so far.

But as the starters have settled down and lasted five, six, seven innings, the bullpen is starting to look like the one that was envisioned after the acquisitions of Colome and Herrera this winter.

"Being able to rely on those guys on the back end certainly is helpful," Renteria said Wednesday. "Scoring runs helps. Then when you get your starting pitching to give you some length, it makes the decisions that you have to make a little easier. And I think that, as we continue to move forward, you still want to find out about some of the other guys, too. You want to be able to find out how Ruiz handles certain situations. You let them have opportunities to be able to close out games, as well. ... Certainly, I think everybody's happy with us being able to get some quality starts out of our starting rotation and getting us deeper into the game to allow us to get to the back end.

"It's still exciting to be able to get to them because that means there's good things happening for us. Everybody should be excited. Those two guys on the back end have experience and know the needs and the wants of that particular type of situation, and they do it very, very well."

Carlos Rodon pitched six innings in Sunday's win in The Bronx, with Fry, Jones, Herrera and Colome combining for three scoreless innings. Ervin Santana went five on Monday night, Banuelos allowing just one run over his three innings of relief, giving the offense time to stage a comeback and giving Renteria the ability to bring Colome in to slam the door. Reynaldo Lopez threw six innings of one-run ball Tuesday night, with that same combo of Fry, Jones, Herrera and Colome shutting the Royals down over their three innings.

That's how this thing is supposed to look. That's what should allow the White Sox to avoid the numerous bullpen blow-ups that occurred during the 2018 season and win some more games in 2019.

And if those four guys can lock down the ends of games, Renteria can figure out what he has in the rest of his relief corps in lower-leverage situations.

"We ended up breaking camp with rookies, five guys in the 'pen who broke camp for the first time," Renteria said. "Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time in the beginning to be able to fit some of those younger guys in certain situations to give them a taste and then pull them out. We actually had to take them and use them for an inning-plus, two innings. So being able to allow them to get the experience in a positive way as much as we possibly could, it didn't quite develop that way in the beginning.

"But right now it's starting to unfold a little bit better. Hopefully we'll be able to manage their usage and get them the taste of what it's going to be like, give them positive outcomes, get them in and out and by the same token, continue to use the guys on the back end that we have, comfortably manage their usage and be able to still win some ballgames."

That's the plan. And things have gone according to plan these last few games. It's a delicate ecosystem, as you can see, and if the starting pitchers face more bumps in the road, this whole thing can be thrown back out of whack.

But a few rocky results early in the season shouldn't do away with that preseason excitement over what this bullpen is capable of doing. That's what we're seeing right now.

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