White Sox Bullpen Woes, and the Incoming Roster Crunch
Rick Hahn is going to be a busy man over the next few weeks.
The Chicago White Sox entered Saturday’s contest with the Milwaukee Brewers a whopping 19 games above .500 (58-39) and a cushy 9.0 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central. Yet, still, there’s a feeling of uneasiness on the Southside as we approach the end of July.
Rick Hahn will be perhaps the busiest man in baseball over the next few weeks. His team is having a magical season on the field through the first four months of the 2021 season, yet there are still many questions to be answered before the team prepares for what they hope will be a deep run into October.
Friday night was evidence of such. Lucas Giolito, who battled a lack of control for much of his start against the Milwaukee Brewers, turned in six innings of one-run baseball despite walking five Brewers in the series opener. That should be enough to get the job done, but it wasn’t.
Aaron Bummer walked a pair and surrendered three runs on three hits in just 0.2 innings of work. Ryan Burr followed Bummer up with a pair of walks and three earned runs of his own in just 0.1 innings of work as the Brewers stretched a one-run lead to a seven-run lead late in the ballgame at American Family Field.
According to FanGraphs, the White Sox rank 16th in baseball in ERA (4.22). It’s no secret by now that the bullpen has been less-than-advertised this season. Liam Hendriks is an All-Star, and Michael Kopech has been nothing short of dominant this season when healthy, but the rest of the bullpen has been a mixed bag of results that sometimes borders downright bad.
Listening to the radio call last night in the bottom of the sixth inning, I recall feeling like Aaron Bummer was going to implode when Len Kasper and Darrin Jackson pointed out that he was warming up in the visitor’s bullpen in what was at the time just a one-run game. Having absolutely zero confidence in a reliever who is supposed to be a lock-down guy responsible for high-leverage situations isn’t where you want to be in late July if you’re speaking about a club that has World Series aspirations.
The obvious is that the bullpen needs help and quickly. The less obvious is the “who” and “when” when it comes to that help.
We’re less than a week from the July 30 trade deadline, and the radio silence from the White Sox side of things has been deafening. Likewise, it’s been largely quiet across baseball in regards to potential trades, and many believe that most — if not all — of the action that eventually transpires will transpire in the eleventh hour of next Friday’s deadline.
I’ll save the speculation about who would be a fit since that’s largely an exercise in futility, but if you want to peruse some potential fits, check out this story by James Fox over at Southside Sox.
I will say that I’m a fan of the idea of Ian Kennedy of the Rangers being a potential fit. Kennedy would help solidify the middle-to-back of the bullpen, and the White Sox and Rangers have a track record of working out deals over Rick Hahn’s tenure as GM.
Kennedy, 36, has posted a 2.59 ERA on the season with a 3.81 FIP, averaging 9.48 K/9 with 2.01 BB/9 in 31.1 innings for the Rangers and would likely come at a cost that would allow the Sox to add a second arm to the bullpen mix, or acquire an affordable everyday second-baseman like Eduardo Escobar, or maybe even Jonathan Schoop.
Despite the radio silence on the trade talks going on in the White Sox camp, I’m confident that they will — at the minimum — acquire some help for a bullpen that has highlighted what we already knew, that bullpens are the most volatile position group in baseball.
Whomever they acquire in the end will become a part of the next big task for Rick Hahn in the coming weeks — a major roster crunch.
With Eloy Jiménez likely re-joining the White Sox next week — buy your tickets to the Cleveland series next weekend if you haven’t already (hint, hint) — and Luis Robert on track to join Jiménez in Chicago in the coming weeks, the White Sox will have some callous decisions to make when it comes to the 26-man roster.
Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Adam Engel, Andrew Vaughn, and Zack Collins are locks to stay on the roster. Add Seby Zavala to that group until Yasmani Grandal returns to the club along with the aforementioned Jiménez and Robert, and we’re left with four spots on the offensive side of things for a group of six current active position players on the bubble.
Billy Hamilton, Brian Goodwin, Gavin Sheets, Leury Garcia, Danny Mendick, and Jake Burger comprise the group of players currently on the active roster, but most definitely on the bubble when Jiménez and Robert return.
Two have to go, and Danny Mendick seems like a no-brainer at this point when you look at just the numbers. Mendick has played just once — as a defensive replacement after Tim Anderson was ejected from Friday night’s game in Milwaukee — in the last five days, and when he does play, he hasn’t been good at all. Mendick has a .577 OPS and a 69 wRC+ in 54 games this season, and he’s the third option on the left side of the infield and unless another second-baseman is acquired, Leury Garcia is likely the guy at second.
On the flipside, and probably the most logical route, for now, Mendick probably stays with the club if Garcia remains the starter at second beyond the deadline, simply because Jake Burger doesn’t play up the middle, and Mendick does.
Leury Garcia is a streaky presence at the dish, but he plays six positions with competence, and he will likely be the starting second-baseman if the team doesn’t acquire one in the next six days.
That leaves us with Jake Burger, Gavin Sheets, Billy Hamilton, and Brian Goodwin, with one needing to go.
Billy Hamilton isn’t going anywhere. The fans adore him, and he’s the primary late-innings glove in the outfield and the same for late-game pinch-running duties. However, with the outfield corps consisting of Jiménez, Robert, Engel, Vaughn, and Engel, Brian Goodwin seems to be the odd-man.
Gavin Sheets can play right field, first base, and DH for the Sox, and he provides them with left-handed pop at the dish they desperately need, so Sheets is probably safe in a crowded group of outfielder/designated hitter-types.
Brian Goodwin has served a much-needed purpose since being promoted shortly after the Luis Robert injury. Still, he’s not really better than anyone than anything when it comes to that crowded group just discussed.
So, it’s more than likely Jake Burger and Brian Goodwin heading to Charlotte when Jiménez and Robert make their prospective returns in the coming weeks. Then, of course, Seby Zavala will be gone when Yasmani Grandal returns at some point this season.
Speaking of Grandal, he told reporters on Saturday that his target date is “three weeks,” at this point, but that’s — as he cautioned — probably a best-case scenario and maybe even a little overzealous at this point. Regardless, Grandal is progressing far ahead of schedule at this point and seems very confident that he will be back in late August or early September.
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