Joakim Soria

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

shields-617.jpg
USA TODAY

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

Another day, another quality start for James Shields.

The White Sox once more didn’t win a Shields start. Despite an increasingly good-looking season stat line, Shields can’t seem to rack up many wins, with just two to his name on the season. But of course, wins are not exactly the most important barometer in this rebuilding campaign.

Speaking of the rebuild, the White Sox are getting closer to the trade deadline, it’s about a month and a half away. And Shields’ continued success could have Rick Hahn’s phone ringing as July 31 creeps closer. After six innings and three runs in Sunday’s loss to the visiting Detroit Tigers, Shields has seven quality starts in his last 10 outings,

After last season’s struggles that ended in a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs surrendered, getting anything for Shields might’ve seemed a bit of a fantasy. But Shields has delivered, especially since the end of a rocky April.

“It’s very important to try to eat as many innings as you possibly can,” Shields said of his consistent efforts of late. “Early on in the season, we were ruining our bullpen by not going deep into games. My main focus is to go as deep as I possibly can. … Consistency’s the name of the game.”

Does it make him one of the most attractive names on the market? No, probably not. Is it going to fetch a highly ranked prospect? No, probably not. But it might fetch something, and in a season where guys believed to be afterthoughts like Dylan Covey and Daniel Palka are working their way into the conversation about the White Sox future, who wouldn’t want something added to this rebuilding effort?

And Shields isn’t the only White Sox player who could bring something back.

The bullpen was stocked with potential sign-and-flip guys over the offseason, and a few of those veteran arms have had good runs that could earn them a similar fate to the bulk of last year’s relief corps. Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard were all dealt away last summer. Could Hahn employ a similar strategy this season?

The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good as it was last year, which made all of those players attractive additions for contending teams around the league. But veterans like Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Bruce Rondon, Xavier Cedeno — guys who hoped to rediscover some old magic — could still draw interest.

Soria owns a 3.12 ERA. Avilan’s is at 3.10. Cedeno hasn’t given up a run in his six relief appearances. Rondon has shown blow-em-away stuff at times. It’s been a nice recovery for some of these sign-and-flip veterans.

“They’ve had an opportunity to get their chances to work on different things and become really effective performers,” manager Rick Renteria said of some of his veteran relievers prior to Sunday’s game. “I think Joakim has risen his level of game back what he was pre last couple years, I think he’s reinvented himself a little bit. He has an up-down breaking ball now, he’s continuing to attack the strike zone, he’s throwing 93 miles an hour with his fastball, he’s commanding the zone. He’s doing everything he can to be as good a closer as he was in the past. His history and his experience also allow him some confidence to be put in situations to close out ballgames.”

Soria could perhaps draw the most interest because closers are often in demand in July. But last year’s trade-a-thon showed that teams are willing to trade prospects away for relief help of any kind. Many of the return pieces in those deals might not get rebuild-loving prospect followers thrilled. Casey Gillaspie and Ryan Cordell haven’t exactly put their names at the forefront of the discussion about 2020 and beyond. But remember that Blake Rutherford came over in the deal that sent Robertson and Kahnle out of town (Todd Frazier went to the New York Yankees in that trade, too). So an acquisition that could improve the rebuild can most definitely happen, even with middle relievers.

There’s no guarantee that any of these guys, be it Shields in the rotation or any of the arms out in the bullpen, will get traded or even draw significant interest. But for a team in the White Sox position, you’d have to assume they’d be open to making a deal and getting something to add to this rebuilding process.

Jace Fry emerging as bright spot in an otherwise unreliable White Sox bullpen

0516_jace_fry.jpg
USA TODAY

Jace Fry emerging as bright spot in an otherwise unreliable White Sox bullpen

The White Sox came into the season with a bullpen stocked with potential flip candidates and guys trying to carve out a spot in this organization's bright future.

Neither party has fared too well.

Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan haven't done much to convince a contender to cough up a prospect or two in a midseason trade. Juan Minaya and Gregory Infante, who both showed promise at the end of last season, were both quickly demoted to the minor leagues. Nate Jones and Aaron Bummer have had their stumbles. Hector Santiago and Chris Volstad have taken turns plugging holes in the White Sox leaky starting rotation to varying degrees of effectiveness.

But at least one guy is showing signs that he could maybe become something out there in the 'pen and be part of the relief corps when the White Sox open up their contention window in the next couple years.

Jace Fry hasn't allowed a hit this season, his most recent appearance coming in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fry has faced 20 batters over six innings of work, and the only men he's put on have reached via a pair of walks. He's struck out eight of those 20 hitters.

Fry, a third-round pick of the White Sox back in the 2014 draft, got his first taste of the majors last season, and things did not go well. He logged 6.2 big league innings over 11 appearances and finished 2017 with a gargantuan 10.80 ERA. He was promoted right from Double-A Birmingham, where things did go well, with Fry posting a 2.78 ERA in 45.1 relief innings there. This season, he started at Triple-A Charlotte, and he gave up just one run in 6.2 innings before getting the call to come back to the bigs.

And now he's perhaps the most reliable option Rick Renteria has to go to in that bullpen. Four of Fry's five outings have last at least an inning, and he's struck out multiple hitters in three of his five appearances.

Compare that to the rest of the White Sox relief corps, which has struggled. Soria coughed up the game-winning run in the seventh inning Wednesday and now has a 4.72 ERA. Jones, who White Sox fans are likely still associating with that four-run ninth last week against these same Pirates, got his ERA down under 4.00 (it's 3.86) with back-to-back scoreless eight innings Sunday against the Cubs and Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Chris Beck is the third pitcher in the 'pen whose ERA is under 4.00, at 3.94 after 3.2 innings of relief in Tuesday's loss.

Bruce Rondon has arguably joined Fry as another bright spot, though that's pretty relative considering his ERA is all the way up at 4.15, even after he picked up the save in Sunday's win at Wrigley Field. He's got strikeout stuff but also has a four-run appearance to his name this season.

In other words, Renteria's options aren't numerous.

Fry, though, because of his age (24) and his status as a homegrown member of the White Sox organization, could find a way to stick around not just in 2018 but beyond. The sample size is small, but he's been impressive out of a bullpen that's been mostly the opposite so far this season.

Perhaps Rick Hahn was again trying to execute the same strategy he did a season ago, when he traded away much of the relief corps in midsummer deals. That doesn't seem likely to happen unless this group radically changes its performance. But in Fry, he might have a arm to stick in that future bullpen.

Did Rick Renteria just pick a new closer, or is this how White Sox bullpen was always supposed to work?

0513-bruce-rondon.jpg
USA TODAY

Did Rick Renteria just pick a new closer, or is this how White Sox bullpen was always supposed to work?

Bruce Rondon threw a scoreless ninth inning Sunday and locked down a 5-3 win for the White Sox.

So he’s the new closer, right?

It’s no secret that the ninth inning hasn’t been the strongest for White Sox relievers this season, and after Nate Jones’ four-run implosion last week against the Pittsburgh Pirates, maybe it was time for Rick Renteria to turn to a new option at closer.

But look what happened the inning prior to Rondon’s shutdown ninth, and you might see that Sunday was just an example of how Rick Renteria has wanted to use this White Sox bullpen all along.

Jones was the man on for the eighth inning, and he went 1-2-3 to keep the Cubs offense down. But while the ninth inning gets all the glory, it’s very easy to argue that the three outs in the eighth were more difficult to get than the three in the ninth. After all, Jones faced the middle of the Cubs’ order: Willson Contreras (he of the monster weekend against White Sox pitching), Javy Baez (the National League RBI leader) and Kyle Schwarber (kid’s got some pop). Jones got those three to go strikeout, fly out, groundout.

A nice bounce back for Jones, perhaps once more being used in a “closer’s” role, albeit a less traditional one than most folks are used to.

Rondon fared well and was pumped up after he struck out Addison Russell and Ian Happ, then got Ben Zobrist to fly out to end the game after Tommy La Stella’s pinch-hit single.

For Rondon, the one-time “closer of the future” for the Detroit Tigers, he treated it like he was getting the game’s three biggest outs.

“Every time that I go out, my mindset is the closer mindset, and I like it,” Rondon said with the help of a translator.

But Rondon’s manager wasn’t keen to hand out a role to any of his relievers after the game. Instead, he talked about a plan he’s discussed since spring training, one that has multiple guys as “high-leverage” relievers, no matter which inning they happen to pitch in.

“I think in terms of outs, it just happened to be the ninth inning and he got us the outs he needed to get,” Renteria said. “I don't talk to our relievers about innings situations, I talk to them more about getting outs.”

And the bullpen guys get that, too.

“Ricky just tells us to be ready after the seventh because when the situation arises we need to perform there and that's what we have been doing,” Rondon said.

Unmentioned to this point is Joakim Soria, who was added this offseason as a potential closer and a guy who could potentially be flipped for a rebuild-aiding piece this summer. But he hasn’t fared especially well, either, with a 4.38 ERA on the year. Jones has been used in big situations throughout the season to varying degrees of effectiveness. After Sunday’s great eighth inning, he’s got a 4.11 ERA. Rondon’s 4.15 ERA doesn’t exactly scream “new closer,” but he’s had flashes of brilliance, including Sunday, when he blew away a couple Cubs hitters.

But there’s a strong case to be made that Jones got the three biggest outs recorded by a White Sox relief pitcher Sunday, and that might make him as much of a “closer” as the White Sox have.

Maybe Rondon does become the team’s new ninth-inning man. Or maybe this was exactly how Renteria wanted things to play out from Day 1.