5 Relievers the Chicago White Sox Should Pursue This Winter
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Twitter timelines erupted in support, praise, admonishment and utter anger over Abreu’s signing. Like it or love it, though, Hahn and the White Sox signaled to everyone who is paying attention that they would like their return to relevance to be as quick as possible.
An unfortunate reality exists, however. As MLB.com’s Scott Merkin tweeted after the Abreu signing was announced, the power-hitting first baseman may be the only high-profile move the White Sox make this offseason. That could mean that Sox fans are in for another fun-filled year of Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo in the outfield.
One area that Hahn will be able to address without committing to the mammoth contracts Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Robinson Cano will demand is the bullpen. With Hector Santiago’s future role uncertain—and David Purcey’s outright assignment to Triple-A Charlotte—the Sox have as many as three open spots in the ‘pen.
Here are five options to round out the White Sox relief corps presented in alphabetical order.
1. Matt Albers, RHP
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Matt Albers had a very good year pitching in middle relief for the Cleveland Indians, and that is what would make him so valuable to the White Sox. Simply put, middle relief was a trouble spot for the Sox after Hector Santiago made the full-time transition into the starting rotation.
What would make him exceedingly valuable is that the sinker is his best pitch. Out of the 933 pitches he threw last season, 607 of them were sinkers. Of those, only 23.72 percent were put in play and 16.15 percent were hit on the ground.
Albers appeared in 56 games for the Indians, and while he only struck out 35 batters, he finished the 2013 season with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.270 WHIP. He did walk 23 batters and uncorked six wild pitches, but was able to pitch around those mistakes because he keeps the ball on the ground and induced nine double plays.
Those are splits the White Sox should be looking for at U.S. Cellular Field.
2. Grant Balfour, RHP
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For good reason, Grant Balfour has the highest profile among the relievers presented here.
Since signing what ended up being a three-year, $12.25 million contract with the Oakland A’s prior to the 2011 season; Balfour has gone 9-7 with a cumulative 2.53 ERA, 1.043 WHIP and 64 saves. Oh, he converted on 44 consecutive save opportunities before blowing one on July 23, against the Houston Astros.
Balfour is somewhat limited in the types of pitches he throws and primarily relies upon a 94 mph four-seam fastball and an 87 mph slider. He will occasionally toss a curveball, but is more comfortable—and quite effective—keeping hitters off-balance with movement and velocity differential.
While he is sure to demand a fairly high contract, the number of proven save specialists could help the White Sox in any attempt to sign him to a free agent contract. Jon Heyman from CBS Sports noted as much when he wrote that “a strong closer market could hurt him.”
Balfour would be a nice addition if Hahn can sign him to a two- or three-year contract.
3. Jesse Crain, RHP
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Jesse Crain should have a locker waiting for him on the South Side. He was that valuable to the White Sox.
By far, the curveball is his best pitch. To that end, 56.25 percent of his hooks stayed on the ground, and he had a 33.3 percent swing-and-miss rate in 2013. He did throw far more fastballs (316) and sliders (206) in 2013 than he did curves (106), so it is not his primary pitch, but it is most certainly nasty.
Since Crain is coming off a shoulder injury, he will likely be offered only a one-year contract to prove that he is up for the challenge of pitching a full season. With some incentives and an option built into his contract—along with the familiarity he has with the organization—there is a good chance that he can be brought back into the fold with the Sox.
4. Boone Logan, LHP
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Boone Logan has been a model of consistency with the New York Yankees over the past four seasons. Over that span, he has gone 19-7 with a cumulative 3.38 ERA, 202 strikeouts, 1.318 WHIP and 74 walks in 176 innings pitched.
Some of his peripherals are quite good. In high-leverage situations this past season, for example, Logan has a 4.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .243 BAA. Even better, from 2010 through 2012, he had an overall .224 BAA with RISP and a .185 BAA in those same situations when there were two outs, according to ESPN.com.
One concern is that he is something of a left-handed specialist, but with the group of righties the Sox currently have on the 25-man roster, that may actually be a benefit, rather than a hindrance. He has averaged 53 appearances per season over his eight-year career, and pitched on the South Side from 2006 to 2008.
5. Manny Parra, LHP
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In 57 games for the Reds, he posted a 3.33 ERA, struck out 56 and finished with a 1.196 WHIP in only 46.0 innings pitched. His splitter is above average, but Parra primarily throws a combination of fastballs and sliders.
One red flag for the left-hander is the inordinate number of sliders he throws. Last year, for example, he threw it 321 times while only throwing 290 fastballs. It is his best pitch, but at some point, he could run into elbow or control problems given the number of times he is called upon as a reliever.
Parra is third-year arbitration eligible, so his contract status with the Reds must be resolved, but if he hits free agency, the White Sox should make a serious push to sign him. While he is in line for a substantial raise, it must be taken into consideration that he only made $1 million last year.