Rick Hahn is at it again.
After trading away a large chunk of the bullpen in midseason deals last summer, the White Sox general manager continued to reshape his relief corps for the 2018 season, acquiring veteran relievers Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan in a three-team trade Thursday night.
Like most of the other moves Hahn has made over the past year-plus, this trade keeps the White Sox flexible and gives them options, helping to bolster the bullpen for the upcoming campaign and to keep the door open for rebuild-advancing moves later on this year.
Adding Soria and Avila — coming over from the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively — brings some veteran experience to a bullpen short on it following last year's trades that shipped David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings away from the South Side. It will help a 'pen that by last season's end boasted Juan Minaya as its closer and saw perhaps its best closing option, Nate Jones, on the disabled list. There's a lot of youth in the returning names — Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Gregory Infante — and the two guys added earlier this offseason, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira.
While the relief unit found its footing by season's end with a 3.96 ERA over the final month of the campaign, it posted a 6.03 ERA in August, the month following those midseason trades, which ranked as the worst in baseball.
So Soria and Avilan provide track records of success. The 33-year-old Soria's been pitching in the big leagues since 2007, a two-time All Star and a familiar face to White Sox fans who saw him star with the division-rival Royals for many years. Last season, Soria posted a 3.70 ERA in 56 innings. With his 64 strikeouts, his 10.3 K/9 was his highest in a single season since 2013. Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Avilan was real good for the Dodgers, turning in a 2.93 ERA and a 10.2 K/9 in 46 innings.
But it's what these two guys could provide as the calendar turns to July and August that might end up being of more value in a season where the rebuilding White Sox aren't expected to compete. Should Soria and Avilan continue the solid performances they had in 2017, Hahn could go down the same road he did last summer and deal his relievers away for pieces that could help deepen the farm system and further the rebuild.
Hahn acquired three prospects, including Blake Rutherford and Ian Clarkin, in the trade that sent Robertson and Kahnle — along with third baseman Todd Frazier — to the New York Yankees. He acquired outfield prospect Ryan Cordell in the trade that sent Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers. He acquired first base prospect Casey Gillaspie in the trade that sent Jennings to the Tampa Bay Rays. That's a lot of talent added to the farm system midseason, even if it isn't quite the highly rated, uber-flashy kind acquired in deals featuring Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana.
Who knows what those kinds of players could end up being? No one would assume that the likes of Soria or Avilan would command a huge return package at any time of year. But acquiring any sort of talent that could pay off down the road is a big deal for a rebuilding team, and Hahn is keeping his options open — chiefly the option to improve his club for the long haul — by acquiring a pair of relievers who will also help his bullpen right now.