Kendall Graveman did what the Chicago White Sox wanted to do, but couldn't, in 2021:
He made a deep postseason run.
Graveman, pitching for the Houston Astros team that eliminated the White Sox from the playoffs, reached the season's ultimate game. And though he didn't walk away with a ring, he's now got a reported three-year deal to help bring a trophy to the South Side.
While Graveman is aboard to buoy a depleted bullpen following a wave of departures — those that have both already happened and are still expected to come this winter — he joins the White Sox' relief corps with a helpful amount of the playoff experience team leaders like Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks recently argued will be wildly beneficial in the wake of the quick October exit.
"Last year, we had the ups and downs of a season, we had injuries, and I think that we saw that we're capable of winning the games we're supposed to," Lynn said. "Now moving forward, we know what's expected, ... and we know what kind of quality baseball we have to play to get to the ultimate goal, that being a World Series championship. I think a lot of guys learned a lot this year, and I think that there's a lot that's going to be learned over the course of this offseason to be able to help improve everyone (moving) forward, not only (during) the regular season ... but also being able to make sure the playoff-caliber teams we play, that we're able to match their intensity, especially in those tight games."
"We tried to do too much in the playoffs,” Hendriks said. “We were trying to hit a three-run homer with no one on. We were trying to strike out the side with the first pitch of an at-bat. We were pushing ourselves to do too much in a certain situation that didn't call for that. That's something that you gain with experience, you gain with being able to be around some guys and let those cooler heads prevail. You don't win a playoff game with the first pitch of the game."
Graveman was a playoff first-timer this year, but his Astros teammates were anything but. Houston has made a habit of not only reaching October but winning there, with appearances in each of the last five American League Championship Series. A core of star infielders — José Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel — have been together for a long time, a streak only broken up by Correa's current free agency.
The White Sox would like to think they've got something similar on their hands, that Tim Anderson, Yoán Moncada, Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez could act as their version of the last half decade of dominance in Houston. Certainly that's not a full accounting of the talent on the South Side, the reason there's so much promise for a lengthy, Astros-style contention window.
That could make back-to-back postseasons for the White Sox, disappointing appearances that saw a combined two wins, just the beginning.
"(The Astros) have the playoff experience, the core of their middle infield had been together for five years, and they have all been to the playoffs. It's remarkable that they've kept that group together for so long," Hendriks said. "But that's really where experience comes in. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit early by trying to do too much and then not doing enough. We're trying to find that happy medium. It's a learning experience, it's something that we can gain on."
Graveman, though, is here to do more than just regale the White Sox about the Astro way. Heck, Dallas Keuchel could already do that. He's here to turn in the types of performances he just did on the game's biggest stage.
He pitched in three World Series games, the last Astros pitcher on the mound in all three. He finished the postseason with a 1.64 ERA and put behind him the uptick his numbers saw after arriving in Houston in a midseason trade.
That's the kind of pitching the White Sox were surprisingly lacking in their four October games against the Astros. While Graveman's recent career renaissance as a reliever won't do much to prevent the unusually short outings turned in by White Sox starters in the AL Division Series, don't forget that Michael Kopech, Craig Kimbrel, Garrett Crochet and Ryan Tepera all had their stumbles out of the bullpen in that series, too.
And considering there's a world where all four will be missing from the White Sox' bullpen in 2022, Rick Hahn was wise to jump at the opportunity to sign Graveman and increase the likelihood of more shutdown relief efforts the next time the postseason rolls around.
Playoff experience is not always as coveted an attribute for fans who would rather see the cold hard numbers in a player's favor than something so intangible. But after a 2021 season where the cold hard numbers showed the White Sox running away with the AL Central and plenty of core guys turning in strong campaigns, playoff experience has been quite the talking point after a brief October stay.
Graveman, fortunately for the White Sox and their fans, brings both a season of objective success and the harder-to-quantify benefit of being a part of a trip deep into the playoffs.
Who knows if that will be true of the rest of Hahn's offseason additions. But consider Graveman someone whose addition has addressed multiple needs already.
"I think we had the talent on our team to be a world-championship team last year. I think we definitely had the talent on paper, personality, everything like that. But the only thing we were lacking was experience. That is something that is invaluable," Hendriks said. "Not trying to say what (the front office should) do, but if they are able to add some experience, some guys who have been around — other than Lance and Dallas and Craig and guys like that — and bring guys in that have been to the playoffs multiple years, that have won championships, that have been through the ins and outs of the heartbreak of losing or the joy of winning, I think that's something that can only add to this team's dynamic.
"As an organization, it's something that where the more we're successful, the more they are in the playoffs, the organization is going to get that vibe and we're going to learn as an organization how to win. That's something that's huge, as well."