Bullpen Candidates for 2013


We were promised a slider, Mr. Reed. (Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

In 2012, the White Sox managed to churn out a lot of relievers from their high minors. Nate Jones made the team out of camp as a rookie and quickly became a solid set up man.  Addison Reed often made you hold your breath and blew a few saves — but his K/BB was 3.00 and that was without his vaunted slider working for most of the season. Guys like Hector Santiago, Donald Veal, and even Brian Omogrosso also provided valuable innings in relief. Leyson Septimo is dead to me. But this all came on the heels of an offseason where the White Sox traded away Sergio Santos, moved Chris Sale to the rotation, and had to use potential relief depth like Jose Quintana as a starter for the bulk of the season.

On a roster where the White Sox are overpaying for a lot of assets, they have been very efficient with their bullpen costs.  The White Sox only  paid real money to Matt Thornton ($5.5 million) and Jesse Crain ($4.5 million), and frankly that’s under the market price for relievers of their caliber. Brett Myers and Will Ohman were also paid above the minimum, but Myers was a midseason rental for a playoff push and Ohman received only $2.5 million.

Compare that to what some teams have signed up for this offseason:  Jeremy Affeldt at age 33 just got 3 years $18 million.  Rafael Soriano was owed $14 million for next year and he opted out in the belief that he would get more value in longer years.  Jonathan Broxton got 3 years and $21 million. I mean, sure it’s 2013 Dodger Monopoly Money, but even Brandon League just parlayed a 4.1 BB/9 season into 3 years $22.5 million.  One of the reasons the Red Sox have struggled so much lately is that they gave up major league regulars in Josh Reddick and Marco Scutaro for relievers.  I have criticized the White Sox a lot over the past few years, but the bullpen is an area of the roster where they have been very cost effective.

Here’s a rough sketch of what I think the White Sox pitching staff looks like next year:

So, who are the candidates to step into the mystery box and contribute cheaply in the coming season?

The odds are that Andre Rienzo is going to wind up in the bullpen eventually, although the White Sox will try to exhaust the possibility that he can make it as a back-end starter before he winds up there.  Rienzo was ranked the #7 prospect in the White Sox organization by Baseball America following the 2012 season – despite losing 50 games to a suspension for performance enhancing drugs. It looks like the lanky Brazilian is going to make up for that lost time next spring by pitching for his home country in the World Baseball Classic. Rienzo managed to make one good start for Charlotte by the end of the season after a good year in AA.  He struck out over a batter an inning, held opponents to a .206 average, and induced 2.5 grounders for every fly ball he gave up. Rienzo has always thrown hard, having good low to mid 90s velocity, but his big curveball in the 70s improved dramatically this year.  One reason the White Sox think that he can stick in the rotation is that he has also added an effective low-80s cutter to his arsenal. That theoretically could mean the biggest difference between a starter and a reliever: a third pitch that help him survive against opposite-handed hitters. Rienzo’s reviews coming out of the Arizona Fall League were also generally positive.

Rienzo doesn’t have a change up to speak of, has a very thin frame, and walks way too many batters – but, he also has a live arm, interesting secondary stuff, and will only be 24 next year. Barring incident, Rienzo will also be the first Brazilian to make it to the majors.  He will likely be ready as a midseason call-up and a fallback for injuries. However, the White Sox will try to slot him into the rotation at Charlotte with an eye for him to compete for a rotation spot in 2014.

Deunte Heath is on the older side and certainly isn’t a “prospect”, but really, relievers are usually failed prospects in some way anyway. Heath is a bit more colorful than most, as he initially washed out with the Braves in 2009 after being caught in a prostitution sting. Heath’s fastball sits 91-95 and he can reach back for a little more if he has to, and pairs it with a hard, but middling slider. Heath has always posted good strike out totals, mostly overpowering minor leaguers with his velocity, and has had trouble with his control. Still, he cut his walk rate to a career low last year – 2.7 per 9 instead of his career minor league mark of 4.3. If Heath attacks the zone he is certainly a candidate to grab appearances in the bullpen this season.

I started writing about Charlie Shirek, but as soon as I did, the White Sox approved his release so that he could go pitch in Korea. He was a fringe guy as is, so that’s probably a good opportunity for him. I mean, I’d let people pay me to play baseball in Asia.

We got a look at Brian Omogrosso as a September call-up and it was a mixed bag. He missed some bats, walked too many, and was homer prone.  The walks are real, but Omogrosso had done a very good job in the minors of keeping the ball on the ground and  although the big leagues are obviously tougher, I think his proclivity to surrender dingers was just a tiny sample size issue.  Omogrosso, despite his advanced age, injury history, and control problems, also has big velocity. And with these fringe guys with big fastballs there’s the hope that they put it together and become, say, Kyle Farnsworth. Well, I mean, the hope is that they all become Craig Kimbrel for you, but that’s not really being realistic. Omogrosso is likely the guy who will fill in that “???” box come Spring Training, due to his experience, and velocity. However, I’m sure the White Sox would be happy to find somebody better. Rienzo, Heath, and Omogrosso are all right-handed, which is fine for the White Sox seeing as they already have plenty of lefties who look safe for jobs in 2013.

GMs have been handing out huge deals to relievers this offseason, so part of me thinks the White Sox could get good value in a trade for someone like Thornton or Crain.  The problem is, while the White Sox have a lot of depth as far as relievers go, they are all more of the middle to back-end variety, and it would be a significant drop-off from either of the departing veterans. Still, for a team that is trying to make a playoff push, a cheap bullpen and pitching depth are good things to have.