David Robertson. Tommy Kahnle. Anthony Swarzak. Joakim Soria. Xavier Cedeno.
The White Sox haven’t been short on good relievers during their rebuilding seasons. And because of it, there have back-to-back mass exoduses out of the bullpen at the trade deadline.
The 2019 ‘pen has settled in nicely, with manager Rick Renteria repeatedly turning to the trio of Aaron Bummer, Evan Marshall and Alex Colome late in games and doing so with great success.
Bummer’s given up just one earned run in 14.1 innings since coming up in late April. Marshall’s given up nothing in 11.1 innings since coming up in early May. And Colome has been as advertised, a dominant closer with a 1.59 ERA and a perfect 11-for-11 mark in save tries. Only twice in his 23 appearances has Colome had to face more than four batters.
Bummer has suddenly flipped a switch, shutting down opposing bats after posting a 4.36 ERA in his first two big league seasons.
“I think, honestly, just some confidence,” Bummer said of the key to his success. “End of spring training, I had a little problem with my oblique, and I think I was able to slow a lot of things down and, honestly, just kind of take it day by day. And it’s working right now, just being able to build confidence every time I go out there on the mound.
“Instant success is obviously a great confidence booster. It makes life a lot easier when the first couple times you go out there you get the job done. So it’s just trying to build off that. I’m happy with where I am, but I know that there’s still a lot of work to do. It’s a good time, I’m happy to be here, happy to be working with the guys and getting my opportunity.”
Colome, meanwhile, has been excellent, to the point of already sparking trade speculation. There are contenders without closers, reliable ones anyway, and Colome is one of the best closers among those pitching for teams not expected to make the postseason.
“He’s been really, really good,” Renteria said of his closer earlier this week. “I think Alex has done a great job. We’ve called (on him) a few times and quite a few over the last couple days. So he’s been really, really good and we’ve been happy the he’s been performing the way he is. And I think that we expected for him to be able to do what he’s doing for us.
“I didn’t take umbrage to (trade speculation). The fact he performs the way he performs, he’s been touted over the years, and he’s probably sought after by many. I am certainly glad that we have him in our bullpen. Many people will raise that question. I don’t think about it.”
In 2017 and 2018 — when the rebuilding White Sox lost a combined 195 games — the plan from here would have been clear: to trade these guys. Rick Hahn’s front office dealt five relievers in 2017 and traded three more last summer.
Flipping relievers hasn’t necessarily been an overly rewarding practice for these White Sox. It’s not like those trades netted the kinds of returns the Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana deals did, nor were they ever expected to. But it was a reliable way, with contenders always searching for relief help, to squeeze something positive out of those losing campaigns.
So with the rebuild still chugging along, will Hahn’s front office try something similar this time around?
Well, the differences are pretty clear this season. As of this writing, the White Sox are a second-place team riding a five-game winning streak. No one should be blocking out hotel rooms for October quite yet, but the bright spots are much brighter than they’ve been at any other point during this process, at least at the major league level. A host of players are playing at All-Star levels, and no matter your feeling on where the White Sox will go from here, they’re currently in the thick of the race for the second wild-card spot in the American League.
While Hahn has talked multiple times about not wanting to jump up and make a push for one wild-card berth if that proves detrimental to the quest for perennial championship contention, hanging on to a trio of relievers under team control beyond 2019 likely wouldn’t do that. And so the thought becomes: Should the White Sox keep these guys to build a potentially contending bullpen for the 2020 season?
Relief pitching is volatile, as Hahn will tell you, and so good 2019s out of Bummer and Marshall don’t guarantee good 2020s. Colome, of course, is a bit more proven, an established closer who’s been racking up saves for years. All three could be back with the White Sox in 2020, when they figure to be even closer to making the transition from rebuilding to contending.
Michael Kopech will be back from Tommy John surgery, and Dylan Cease and Luis Robert — the organization’s top two prospects who haven’t yet reached the big league level — could both be a part of the Opening Day roster. Not to mention the obvious returns of this year’s stars: Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, as well as Jose Abreu and James McCann, who seem to be in the team’s plans past the end of this season.
If the White Sox feel they’re ready to start contending next year, why wouldn’t they want to keep Colome, Bummer and Marshall? Certainly any proposed return packages would have a lot to do with that, and teams sure to get desperate for closers as the summer wears on.
There’s a lot of baseball to be played before this season’s trade deadline. Two months of it, to be exact, and things can obviously change. But the White Sox plan with their relievers should perhaps be the same whether they’re in the race or not. The future has always been the most important thing in this rebuilding effort, and if that future is due to arrive next season, keeping some of the most effective arms in the relief corps, as opposed to dealing them for a third straight summer, would help usher it in.