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.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.