Tommy Kahnle

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


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."

How Rick Hahn and the White Sox could end up the biggest difference-makers in the MLB playoffs


How Rick Hahn and the White Sox could end up the biggest difference-makers in the MLB playoffs

Without the White Sox, this year's MLB postseason would look a lot different.

Already, just one game in, former White Sox players are starring, and with all the talent traded away from the South Side in the past year, it's not unreasonable to suggest that one of the biggest difference-makers in the 2017 playoffs could be Rick Hahn.

Tuesday night's AL wild card game was a good one, the New York Yankees topping the Minnesota Twins by an 8-4 score to advance to the ALDS. And while the Yankees' trio of homers — smacked by Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner — had nothing to do with the White Sox, former South Side relief pitchers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle combined to throw 5.2 innings of scoreless ball. Those innings were crucial after Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino was lifted after recording just one out in the first inning. Severino coughed up three first-inning runs and earned a quick hook in the winner-take-all game. Fortunately for the Yankees, the offense responded with three runs of its own in the bottom of the first and the bullpen stopped the bleeding. Robertson and Kahnle did the majority of that work.

That deadline deal involving the White Sox and Yankees, which also included third baseman Todd Frazier, was tremendously beneficial for both sides as the two franchises are at vastly different places when it comes to competing for a championship. The Yankees made that deal for exactly this kind of scenario, and without it, maybe the Twins would have advanced on Tuesday night.

But the AL wild card game won't be the only place the White Sox recent flurry of deals will be felt this postseason. Obviously the Yankees now move on to face off against the Cleveland Indians, and Robertson, Kahnle and Frazier figure to all continue to play big roles for the Bronx Bombers. But look elsewhere on the bracket, too. The two guys who just a year ago topped the White Sox rotation are now pitching in the playoffs with new teams.

Chris Sale will get the ball in Game 1 of the ALDS between his Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros. Sale, who struck out 308 hitters this season and is a candidate to win the AL Cy Young, could have a monumental impact on the playoffs for as long as the Red Sox stay alive. He's the kind of top-of-the-line starting pitcher who the Red Sox could throw twice in a best-of-five series and three times, perhaps, in a best-of-seven series. As we've seen in recent years with pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Corey Kluber and Cole Hamels and further back with guys like Josh Beckett, one starting pitcher can dominate a postseason. Is Sale that guy this year? That would be some instant gratification for the Red Sox after the offseason trade that sent Sale to Boston and brought back Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to the White Sox.

Jose Quintana, meanwhile, might not be the ace of the Cubs' starting staff, but he'll make his first career postseason start in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. Quintana was one of the Cubs' most reliable starting pitchers down the stretch, posting a 2.52 ERA in five September starts, and he figures to make a big difference every time he grabs the ball. Obviously, the longer the Cubs remain in the playoffs, the greater an impact he will make.

It's well known the prospects that Hahn acquired in the deals that sent these impact guys out of town, and that's gone a long way toward building what he hopes is a championship team of the future. Don't be surprised, though, if one of these deals ends up making a big difference on whatever team is the championship squad of the present.

Just for fun, here are all the former White Sox (and some former White Sox farmhands) on the 40-man rosters of this year's playoff teams:

— Cleveland Indians: Austin Jackson

— Houston Astros: Tyler Clippard, Chris Devenski, Francisco Liriano

— Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale, Addison Reed, Chris Young

— New York Yankees: Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Todd Frazier

— Minnesota Twins: Eduardo Escobar

— Los Angeles Dodgers: Brandon McCarthy, Trayce Thompson

— Washington Nationals: Matt Albers, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Alejandro De Aza, Adam Eaton

— Chicago Cubs: Jose Quintana, Alex Avila

Why the White Sox are willing to gamble on prospects like Ti'Quan Forbes and Casey Gillaspie

Why the White Sox are willing to gamble on prospects like Ti'Quan Forbes and Casey Gillaspie

The record Powerball prize may have been given away last month, but Rick Hahn and the White Sox are still buying lottery tickets.

While the prized prospects have received the bulk of the headlines during the rebuild, the White Sox have recently quietly collected many low-risk, high-reward players.

Ti’quan Forbes is the latest lottery ticket-type prospect to be acquired by the White Sox. A 2014 second-round draft pick turned struggling minor leaguer, Forbes was obtained from the Texas Rangers on Thursday night in exchange for starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez. During the 2017 season, the White Sox also traded for first-rounder Casey Gillaspie and claimed first-rounder D.J. Peterson and former touted prospect Alen Hanson off waivers. Given their success with similar moves in the past and the opportunity for playing time they have readily available, the White Sox aren’t afraid to gamble again.

“You’re not always going to be able to acquire the guy who’s got the fantastic, loud tools as well as the outstanding track record of performance,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “That’s the ideal. You want to be able to check all the boxes. There are going to be times where we’re betting on a performance that out-straps the tools to continue, and there’s going to be times where you need to bet on the tools that haven’t quite translated in the performance that ultimately, through repetition and improvement, translate into a good performance.”

[MORE: White Sox trade Miguel Gonzalez for minor league infielder] 

A free agent after this season, Gonzalez wasn’t going to bring back a heavy return. Not only does Gonzalez not have the shiny qualities of some of the higher-end assets moved ahead of him, but he’s a rental player to boot. While Gonzalez still possesses value, the White Sox could either take a less-talented player who has performed in the minors or a more toolsy prospect who just hasn’t panned out.

Forbes, who turned 21 on Saturday, is the latter. He was ranked as the No. 50 overall prospect in the 2014 draft by but has struggled to perform since he turned pro. Forbes has a .634 OPS in his minor league career, a figure that dropped to .588 at Advanced-A this season. But that won’t prevent the White Sox from taking the shot.

The White Sox did the same when they took Gillaspie back for Dan Jennings from the Tampa Bay Rays in July. Coming off a 2016 campaign in which he was the organization’s minor league player of the year, Gillaspie struggled at Triple-A Durham with a .671 OPS entering Friday, down from .869 last season.

“(Forbes) was the one of the youngest kids in the 2014 draft,” Hahn said. “We knew he was extremely raw and was going to take some time. He has second-round pedigree.

“Peterson and Gillaspie were first-round guys, but it’s the same kind of element. There’s a reason these guys had that draft stock that they did at the time, and that’s because of their tools. The reason they’re available now perhaps is because they haven’t lived up quite yet from a performance standpoint, and we’ve got an opportunity here for our player development staff and a change of scene to perhaps hopefully unlock a little bit of that potential.”

The White Sox have had some success with similar moves in the past.

Most recently Tommy Kahnle developed from a hard-throwing pitcher who couldn’t find the plate into an unstoppable force and was the key to the deal that brought Blake Rutherford back from the New York Yankees.

Hahn also cited previous success with Gavin Floyd and Matt Thornton. It’s not as if the White Sox are the only team willing to take these risks -- they’re quite commonplace. But one advantage they do have is an abundance of opportunity.

“It’s not a unique play necessarily that we’re doing,” Hahn said. “But certainly in some of the major deals that we did, the goal was to get that well-rounded player, the well-rounded prospect, the one where the tools and the subjective analysis matched with performance and the objective side of evaluating a player. As we’ve moved toward some of these later deals, we knew you weren’t going to get that perfect mix coming back, you were going to have to take some bets either on the tools or the performance translating to the big-league level.”