White Sox

Could Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera give White Sox the best bullpen in AL Central?

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USA TODAY

Could Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera give White Sox the best bullpen in AL Central?

There's a long way to go this offseason, if the lengthy list of unsigned free agents is any indication. But the White Sox have made some significant improvements in one area: the bullpen.

Monday's reported signing of free-agent reliever Kelvin Herrera, paired with the trade for Alex Colome earlier in the winter, gives the White Sox two late-inning arms that they desperately needed, otherwise heading into the 2019 season with Nate Jones and/or Jace Fry as the closer.

Instead, Colome becomes the likely new closer, Herrera, a two-time All Star, can slide into the eighth-inning spot, and Jones, Fry and the host of other young hurlers in that 'pen take over lower-leverage spots that can help them grow into the potential bullpen of the future. That's great news for the White Sox, who of course can also use great half seasons from Colome or Herrera to get better in the long term with a deadline deal should the opportunity present itself.

And while the South Siders are constantly looking toward the future, here's a thought, one I must credit to a commenter on NBC Sports Chicago's Facebook page (thanks, Julian Rosales): Do these two additions give the White Sox the best bullpen in the AL Central right now?

That might seem a bit of a stretch at first blush considering the White Sox had a bullpen ERA that ranked 23rd in baseball last season. But the rest of the division was just as bad and in most cases worse. Only the Minnesota Twins ranked higher than the White Sox, one spot better at 22. The Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians stacked up right behind the White Sox at 24 and 25. The Kansas City Royals were where they were in the standings: second worst in baseball, one of just two teams with a relief ERA over 5.00.

Going from that starting point, there's a fine case to be made that the White Sox — who for the second straight season shed a good chunk of their positive bullpen production in midyear trades — didn't have long to go to be the best in the Central. But they went an awfully long way with just two moves, bringing in two All-Star type relievers. Meanwhile, the Indians lost two longtime pieces of what used to be a dominant 'pen to free agency this winter: Andrew Miller, now a St. Louis Cardinal, and Cody Allen, still on the market.

The Indians still have an All-Star reliever in Brad Hand. The Twins have a couple guys who had tremendous second halves in Taylor Rogers and Trevor May. But beyond that, Colome and Herrera can claim to being two of the division's best relievers. Stack that on top of what the White Sox already had, mostly a collection of young guys who first dipped their toes into major league waters at the end of last season, and it's a unit with far more promise than originally anticipated.

And it's a unit that could be better than any other in the division.

Obviously there's plenty of time and plenty of free agents left for upgrades to be made by any number of these five teams. But as things stand right now, Rick Hahn has delivered on his goal to improve the White Sox bullpen. And he's done it to the point that could give his team the most reliable relief corps in the Central.

As folks continue to look toward the Indians as a team with a rapidly closing contention window, this could be an interesting factor in how soon the White Sox are ready to contend. Should all go to plan, with Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease reaching the majors in 2019 and Michael Kopech returning from Tommy John recovery in 2020 and a big free-agent or trade addition on the way as a "finishing piece," it's possible that the White Sox own window could creep open as soon as 2020. And having a bullpen featuring Colome and Herrera, one strong enough to overpower hitters in the late innings of battles for the division crown, could make a big difference.

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White Sox plan for right field seems to include more than just Nomar Mazara

White Sox plan for right field seems to include more than just Nomar Mazara

SAN DIEGO — The White Sox traded for a new right fielder Tuesday night, but it doesn’t seem like they’re done finding right-field solutions just yet.

The need in right was perhaps the team’s most pressing entering the offseason, with no internal solutions to speak of after White Sox right fielders posted the worst OPS in baseball in 2019. Nomar Mazara, who the team got in a deal with the Texas Rangers, isn’t the jazzy name fans were hoping for, especially with Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna still on the free-agent market and rumors of a Joc Pederson trade wafting across the internet.

But general manager Rick Hahn admitted Wednesday that Mazara might end up just being part of the fix, asking judgment be reserved until his front office completes its work this winter.

“I wouldn't judge this move necessarily in isolation. I'd wait to see how the entire roster pans out and what we have, ultimately, on a day-to-day basis come this summer,” Hahn said. “Fortunately I don't need to make out the lineup on Dec. 11. We like how this piece fits, and we'll see what we continue to add over the coming months.

“Certainly as you look at our roster today, of course he's the everyday right fielder, based on today's roster. But Opening Day's still a few days away.”

That’s not to undersell how the White Sox feel about their new acquisition. They parted with Steele Walker, the organization’s No. 6 prospect, in order to bring Mazara to the South Side. Hahn used the phrase “untapped potential” in his statement when the deal was announced late Tuesday night. A day later, he was committed to that description and that the White Sox can hopefully get something out of Mazara much greater than what he showed in his four years with the Rangers.

“We view him, our scouts view him, as someone who has some untapped potential and some upside,” Hahn said. “This is a kid who, as you all are aware, has been viewed as having a very high ceiling. We continue to think he has a chance to reach that ceiling and are optimistic about where he goes once he's with us.”

But Hahn was quick to point out that a change-of-scenery style turnaround isn’t the only possible outcome, touting how Mazara improves the White Sox lineup even if his production stays at the same level it was during his time in Texas. And certainly that is true. Mazara had a .786 OPS in 2019. White Sox right fielders had a .565 OPS.

Of course, Castellanos was much better, offensively, and that’s why White Sox fans might be looking at this move with a furrowed brow.

But it doesn’t seem as if Hahn is ready to plug Mazara in at the top of the depth chart and walk away from the situation. In a recurring descriptor of the White Sox offseason, there’s more work to be done.

Does that mean a platoon? Maybe. Mazara has produced well against right-handed pitching, and his left-handed bat was one of his more attractive attributes to the White Sox, who can further balance their lineup. Against righties in 2019, Mazara hit .288/.344/.500. Against lefties, not so good: .220/.252/.394.

“The player that he has been over the last couple years has had some issues with lefties. So the question is: Will those continue? Can we get him better against left-handed pitching? How much was the thumb injury or the oblique that he fought with over the last couple years factoring into those issues? And make an assessment whether we need to complement him,” Hahn said. “If we need to complement him, that's just fine.

“That's a valuable bat against right-handed pitching. Let's see how the rest of the roster comes together before fully assessing how we addressed right field.”

There’s plenty remaining on the White Sox offseason to-do list, chiefly adding a pair of pitchers to the starting rotation. But there are also a lot of “maybe” items, too. Maybe they’ll try to find an everyday-type DH. Maybe they’ll try to add more to the bullpen. And maybe they’ll try to add another right fielder to team with Mazara.

One thing’s certain: Hahn’s not done yet.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: You gotta be bleepin' me???? Hawk Harrelson is in the Hall of Fame??? YES!!!!

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: You gotta be bleepin' me???? Hawk Harrelson is in the Hall of Fame??? YES!!!!

Chuck Garfien, Ryan McGuffey and Vinnie Duber react to legendary White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson receiving the Ford C. Frick award (2:01).

Plus, MLB Network's Matt Vasgersian joins the guys to celebrate Hawk going to the Hall and share their best Hawk stories (4:03).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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