Kendall Graveman: the Chicago White Sox' new eighth-inning man.
Is it that easy to describe Graveman's role with his new team?
We'll have to wait and see what Tony La Russa has in mind when it comes to deploying the White Sox' biggest offseason acquisition to date. For now, it's easy to land on Graveman slotting into the role Craig Kimbrel was supposed to fill when he arrived in that splashy deadline deal last summer.
Things didn't work out with Kimbrel, who struggled in the transition from Hall-of-Fame closer to South Side setup man. Combine those results with Graveman's arrival following his terrific 2021 season filling multiple roles for the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros, and it points to Rick Hahn delivering on his open talk of Kimbrel as a trade candidate.
But the back end of the White Sox' bullpen might not be so rigid, outside of Liam Hendriks as the team's lockdown closer, pleasing fans who'd like to see the best pitchers used in the biggest moments, regardless of what inning they come in. By the end of the 2021 season, La Russa was calling on a host of late-inning options to bridge the work of his starting pitchers to Hendriks, and a similar approach could be used, even with Graveman aboard, in 2022.
With Kimbrel potentially on the move, Ryan Tepera a free agent and Michael Kopech moving to the rotation, those options have undoubtedly decreased, meaning that Graveman's chief partner in crime in any setup brigade will likely be Aaron Bummer, who looked much more like himself in the second half after getting off to a rough start. And of course, it's always possible the White Sox hold on to Kimbrel and hope a full offseason can help him adjust better than he did on the fly last summer.
Certainly sharing the workload, and being deployed in any number of spots, is OK with Graveman.
"I told the White Sox when they were taking to me — and I told Houston and I told Seattle — that I am trying to get three outs, or four outs or five outs, whenever my name is called," Graveman said last month. "I have no ego in this game. I couldn't care less about personal stats. I want to help a baseball team win.
"Honestly, that's who I am. If I throw the eighth, if I throw the seventh, if there's a big situation in the sixth and Tony needs me, I'll be available. I'll be ready. ... I have no ego. You're not going to offend me one way or the other. When you put the ball in my hand, my job is to go get outs."
That should be music to fans' ears, and it should perhaps be expected from a pitcher whose midseason trade from the Mariners sparked anger, tears and feelings of betrayal in the Seattle clubhouse, where Graveman was described as a team leader.
"From a makeup standpoint, he's a fantastic fit," general manager Rick Hahn said earlier this month. "From afar, we all saw the stories when he left Seattle and the reaction in that clubhouse to losing him. And in terms of our due diligence on him over the last several weeks and getting to know him personally better, everything lined up perfectly in terms of this guy's competitiveness, desire to win and how good of a teammate he is."
But Graveman's ego-free comments should also sound familiar to South Side fans. It's very much the same chorus we heard from Hendriks after the Kimbrel trade at the end of July. And that was an attitude held long before the midsummer splash; you'll remember Hendriks bristling at being referred to as the team's closer before he officially won the job in spring training — no matter what his big-money free-agent contract said.
"Whatever the way it's called down there, I'm just waiting for the phone to ring, and whenever they call my name, I'll be ready to go," Hendriks said the day after the trade for Kimbrel. "And that's what it takes. We have no egos out there. There's no one who's going to be pissed off on a diminished role or stuff like that. I don't think any of us care. We just want to win. That's what we're going for now."
Kimbrel, too, said all the right things when it came to that discussion, it should be noted. Just because he didn't fare well pitching as a setup man doesn't mean he wasn't willing to do the job.
Graveman, though, has very recent experience and had very recent success pitching in that type of role. He was stellar pitching in multiple roles with the Mariners, posting a 0.82 ERA there before being dealt to the Astros, who he helped make it to the World Series as a setup man, with a 1.64 ERA in nine postseason outings, including three against the White Sox in the American League Division Series.
No matter how the specifics get ironed out, that's how Graveman sees his role with the White Sox, not as an eighth-inning man or anything like that, but as someone who contributes to the kind of winning he just experienced with the Astros.
"I felt wanted here the most," Graveman said. "I wanted to go to a team that was winning and trying to win. That's ultimately what I want to do is to win baseball games. So coming to the White Sox was not an easy choice at first, but at the end of the day, it's the right choice."
So obviously, expect to see Graveman pitching in some kind of setup role in the wake of his three-year free-agent deal. But as for when and how he's deployed, don't expect him to care much. Expect him to pitch the same way, regardless of what inning it is.
Because if he pitches the same way he did in 2021, he'll find himself in one big spot after another.