White Sox

Projecting the White Sox 2020 bullpen, now including Steve Cishek

Projecting the White Sox 2020 bullpen, now including Steve Cishek

Declaring after the Dallas Keuchel signing became official that his front office's focus would be on improving the bullpen in the new year, Rick Hahn got right to work on that front, reportedly adding Steve Cishek on a free-agent deal Tuesday.

He might not yet be done adding to a relief corps that was surprisingly solid in 2019. You might not have realized it by watching them, but White Sox relievers ranked seventh in the American League with a 4.31 ERA, behind only the five teams that made the postseason and a team that almost did, the Cleveland Indians.

With a lot of those pieces back for 2020, the White Sox bullpen isn't terribly difficult to project for the upcoming campaign. Let's take a look.

Late-inning locks: Alex Colome, Aaron Bummer, Steve Cishek

Here are your high-leverage, late-inning guys. They number a closer who has racked up 126 saves since the start of the 2016 season, a 26-year-old with tons of team control who logged a 2.13 ERA during a breakout 2019 season and a guy who posted a 2.55 ERA in a whopping 150 appearances over the last two years on the North Side. It's not hard to be confident about that group, though there are some alarmed by Colome's first- and second-half splits in 2019: a 2.02 ERA before the All-Star break and a 3.91 ERA after it. As Hahn will tell you, the performance of relief pitchers is volatile and can swing wildly from one year to the next. But this is a very strong trio.

Guys who earned a spot in 2019: Evan Marshall, Jimmy Cordero

The need for Cishek stems from that volatility, and it's hard to say what exactly Marshall and Cordero will do in 2020. They don't have the veteran track records of guys like Colome and Cishek, so you can't bank on repeat performances from these two buy-low finds — Marshall was signed as a minor league free agent, while Cordero was an in-season waiver claim — despite strong stints with the 2019 White Sox. Marshall finished with a 2.49 ERA in 55 appearances, while Cordero had a 2.75 ERA in his 30 appearances after joining the team. Rick Renteria leaned on both of them last year, and they performed. Now there's some insurance in the form of Cishek in case they can't recapture the magic. And if they can, then this is a very deep back end of the bullpen.

Guys who weren't great in 2019 but aren't going anywhere: Kelvin Herrera, Jace Fry

Herrera and Fry struggled in 2019. Big time. Herrera, in the first year of what at the time looked like a great two-year, free-agent deal, had a 6.14 ERA. But there's reason to believe this season could go quite differently if he's unencumbered by the effects of his 2018 foot injury that lingered well into last year. A fully healthy spring ought to be beneficial, and perhaps he can return to some semblance of the guy who dominated the White Sox when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals. There was a positive showing in September, as Herrera gave up just two runs in his 10 appearances. Fry, meanwhile, struggled to find the zone, walking 43 opposing hitters in 55 innings. That's too many, obviously, but the White Sox still believe in Fry as a potential lights-out hurler, meaning he'll likely get a chance to prove it out of the gate.

One more guy (or two?)

There's a new 26th spot on big league rosters starting in 2020, and given the growing trend toward increased bullpen usage in recent years, you might assume that would be filled, in many cases, by another relief arm. That's not a bad assumption. But it can obviously be used elsewhere on the roster, too. The White Sox seemingly have a five-man rotation set with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez. But then there's Michael Kopech, who will be limited in some fashion, but does that fashion involve him on or off the Opening Day roster? We don't know yet, and obviously that could impact how many pitchers the White Sox end up carrying in their bullpen.

Hahn, as mentioned, could also make another addition of note to the bullpen that would fill this spot. Interesting, too, that there's no long-relief option among this bunch, the best internal candidate for that role being someone like Dylan Covey or Ross Detwiler, guys the White Sox might need to have starting in the minors in the event of an injury in the big league rotation.

Basically, there are a lot of ways the White Sox could go with this final piece or two of the bullpen puzzle. Right now, how about we say it will be Jose Ruiz, who the team still values for his hard-throwing ways. He didn't fare so well in 2019, with a 5.63 ERA in 40 appearances. But with Zack Burdi probably not yet ready for a jump to the majors, Carson Fulmer unable to show he can get consistent outs and Ian Hamilton coming off a lost 2019 season, Ruiz might be the most likely of the guys currently on the 40-man roster to fill a final spot.

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Watch Luis Robert rope a triple for his first hit of spring training

Watch Luis Robert rope a triple for his first hit of spring training

Of all the excitement surrounding the White Sox entering 2020, Luis Robert might have the most juice right now.

After dominating three levels of the minors last season and fresh off signing a lucrative contract extension before even playing in a big league game, Robert has plenty of buzz around him. On Tuesday, he showed off a little bit of why in Cactus League action.

Robert roped a ball into the right-center field gap and raced to third for a triple.

Robert is known for his power and speed combination, which led to a 30-30 season in the minors last year. This is a good example of it. 

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Any Yoan Moncada extension would be in line with White Sox strategy


Any Yoan Moncada extension would be in line with White Sox strategy

Is a Yoan Moncada extension in the works?

Moncada's not aware of anything, or so he told reporters Tuesday in Arizona.

"Honestly, I don’t pay too much attention to that," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "My focus is just in the game and preparing myself to be in the best position that I can be for the season. Just work hard. That’s my goal right now. That’s where my focus is right now.

"If my agent calls me and tells me there is something ... then we’ll consider it. For now, I’m just focusing on my game and my preparation."

Whether winds blowing throughout the Twittersphere are onto something or not, indeed it is extension season. The White Sox just announced a long-term commitment to reliever Aaron Bummer over the weekend. It was in the run-up to Opening Day last spring that Eloy Jimenez signed his big-money deal that assured he broke camp with the big league club and could keep him on the South Side for as long as seven more seasons.

The big-money deal for Luis Robert — the second for a player yet to play a major league game in as many years — came well before the first full-squad workout at Camelback Ranch. But it shows the continued commitment by the White Sox to keep this core together as long as possible.

Seeing that kind of commitment to Moncada, who emerged as the team's best all-around hitter last season, after struggling through his first full year in the majors in 2018, would not be surprising.

"This tends to be the most productive time of year in terms of getting extensions done," general manager Rick Hahn said the day pitchers and catchers reported to Glendale. "Doesn’t mean anything is going to happen. But especially early in camp when things are a little quieter, it’s a little easier to have those conversations and certainly not distract the player from their in-season games or their late-camp preparation.

"In terms of whether any of those will materialize, we’ll see."

One already has, with Bummer. Could Moncada be next?

Though purely speculation, the White Sox third baseman would perhaps be less inclined than others to jump at big dollars now. After all, he received a record $31 million signing bonus when he signed with the Boston Red Sox as an international free agent. Since coming over to the White Sox in the Chris Sale trade, he's shown why the other color of Sox invested that much in him in the first place. While dancing around some injury issues in 2019, he slashed .315/.367/.548 with 25 home runs and 79 RBIs. He was considered an All-Star snub by many in the home clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Whether Moncada and his representation want to cash in now or hold off for a bigger payday in free agency — scheduled to arrive after the 2023 season — is up to them.

The White Sox have shown their dedication to extending a contention window by keeping these youngsters on the South Side for a good, long while. Certainly they would be happy to employ Moncada for as long as possible, particularly if his 2019 breakout was merely a sign of things to come.

Take a look at how long the White Sox have their core under club control:

— Through the 2021 season: Nomar Mazara, Carlos Rodon

— Through the 2022 season: Jose Abreu

— Through the 2023 season: Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez

— Through the 2024 season: Tim Anderson, Michael Kopech

— Through the 2025 season: Dylan Cease

— Through the 2026 season: Eloy Jimenez, Aaron Bummer

— Through the 2027 season: Luis Robert

That's a lot of club control, and moving Moncada down on that list a few spots would only make the long-term future look all the better.

"I feel comfortable on this team," he said. "I have been feeling comfortable on this team since the moment I came here. I actually see myself on this team for a very long time."

We'll see, to borrow a Hahn term, if anything materializes before Opening Day. But if something does, that would be right in line with the front office's strategy as they look to open that contention window.

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