Threets out, and no backup in sight

Erick Threets was the latest member of the bullpen to hit the DL, but he hit it hard. Tommy John surgery will end his season, and it deals a surprisingly large blow to his team's chances as well.

I don’t want to say the White Sox are desperate for bullpen help, but I couldn’t help noticing the communications department updated its recent press release regarding community efforts:

Erick Threets was the latest member of the bullpen to hit the DL, but he hit it hard. He tore his ulnar collateral ligament on this 3-1 pitch to Mark Teixeira, which will require Tommy John Surgery.

“This is going to be the last major setback I think,” said Threets, who could be out as long as 12-18 months. “I’m going to work real hard to make this is the last one and if that doesn’t work then I’m going to find another occupation. But I know for a fact I can get outs and I know for a fact I can be effective when we have leads. The timing of this is unfortunate. I feel a little embarrassed, actually.” […] “[A] very, very sad moment,” manager Ozzie Guillen said. “This kid had some injuries in the past and now he’s throwing the ball much better. I got the feeling when that happened, he knew because when I went out there and he didn’t know what to say. I got the bad feeling that ‘Wow, I think this kid know what he’s got.'”

This one feels like more of a punch to the stomach than Matt Thornton’s forearm or J.J. Putz’s knee. On a personal level, Threets’ emergence was another one of those classic journeyman tales of perseverance. He had been injured in the past, bounced between a few organizations, and seemed to finally find a foothold with the White Sox. I don’t know if he had the goods to be more than a second lefty, but he showed the ability to locate his fastball in the very small sample size he provided.
Taking a step back, it certainly feels like the last straw. Teams of destiny usually have a guy who steps up when the stars get misaligned. The Sox offense got its boost from Omar Vizquel, whom nobody expected to bring sustained value with his bat. I thought Threets might be the guy to keep the ‘pen together with a strong two weeks, buying time until Thornton returned.
Alas. Alack.
Now, the White Sox bullpen is effectively the Breakfast Club. In order from most reliable to least reliable, you have:

  • A guy whose velocity, back and calf muscles abandon him occasionally.
  • A guy who just started pitching last year.
  • A guy who was just drafted two months ago (as of this moment, Guillen’s only lefty).
  • A guy who cost a solid prospect only to be completely unpredictable, not just from outing to outing, but pitch to pitch. (He looked awesome striking out Marcus Thames on Saturday night, and then…)
  • A guy who is stealing $5.5 million, and recoils at every instance of contact like he’s dodging sniper fire.
  • A guy who talked to himself in his batting helmet before his at-bats when in high school.
  • A guy who is so non-descript, I was originally going to write “Carlos Torres.”

And watching Boone Logan struggle in his first game against the Sox, it’s a reminder of how pitching is harder than it looks. Logan has a major-league fastball and, at times, a major-league slider. He has an advantage in handedness and delivery, and yet he’s never been able to keep it together for more than a couple of months.
It feels an awful lot like 2000, when Mike Sirotka and Jim Parque’s labrums began calling it quits, Cal Eldred’s elbow had a gigantic screw in it and no help was ready on the farm. The Sox were forced to try Ken Hill, that’s how dire the situation became. This year, it’s the same phenomenon, except it’s in the bullpen, and the Sox actually have a quality divisional rival to contend with.
When the Sox went three-and-out against Seattle in the ALDS, I can’t say I was surprised. There was a reason why new GM Kenny Williams thought David Wells and Todd Ritchie would be gamechangers over the next two years.
Likewise, this roster situation seems shrugworthy. The bullpen was this team’s best side until late July, and those struggles looked like a blip, or a minor correction. When a team loses the league’s best lefty and an ace setup man nee All-Star closer, and then a good flash-in-the-pan candidate who replaced the league’s best lefty, what can be done? There’s waiver-wire fodder, but the Sox need a guy who can record four outs, and there aren’t many of those floating around — especially if Toronto ain’t in a trading mood.
There is a lesson to be learned here, but it’s a long-term one — drafting and development. This current situation isn’t a crisis because the Sox didn’t add enough a day, a week, a month ago. It goes back five years, with their draft philosophy of picking “safe” pitchers.  High-round picks like Lance Broadway, Kyle McCulloch, Matt Long, Ricky Brooks and Justin Edwards are back-of-the-rotation or bust. They don’t have one great pitch to power past three batters at a time, so if they can’t cut it for six innings at a time, they — and the Sox — are screwed.
Doug Laumann’s doing a better job of picking guys who could fail into a relieving role if starting doesn’t work out. Selecting power arms like Aaron Poreda, Daniel Hudson, Dexter Carter, Chris Sale, Jacob Petricka, and others is a start, but now they actually have to start finishing them. It would also help if they would get their Dominican ducks in a row and start adding international players to the system, but that seems even further off.
Sergio Santos might be a start, but those circumstances aren’t exactly common. The Sox need to start graduating their Petrickas and their Addison Reeds, so they don’t have to go outside to overpay for generally unimpressive relievers (Tony Pena, Scott Linebrink), or trading for other systems’ vaguely interesting arms (Jhonny Nunez, Jon Link, Michael Dubee, etc.), all because they look better than the options the Sox hold.
It’s a shame, because relief shouldn’t have been the (or an) undoing of this team. Williams did his job in the offseason in terms of the 25-man roster. A team can only pay so much for relief before it’s throwing money away; the lack of year-to-year consistency and truly important innings render large investments unwise, in most cases. Adding Putz for a relative pittance was absolutely the right move, and getting Santos ready for the majors so quickly was icing on the cake.
The Sox just don’t have anything to throw against the wall when mass injuries hit, and that’s not something that can be solved in one year.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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chisoxt

“There is a lesson to be learned here, but it’s a long-term one — drafting and development”….
Thank you..thank you…thank you…This is the mesaage I have been preaching for several years now, though many of the meatheads disagree. I am amazed how otherwise good (and smart) baseball fans approve of Kenny Williams’ approach of trading prospects for veterans, even mediocre, injury proned ones. Throwing a lot of money to sign similiar types of vets is almost as bad. At some point, three things will happen: you run out of prospects to trade, you run out of money to pay the players, or you have no organizational depth for reinforcements later in the season. This, I repeat, is NOT a sustainable approach to winning.
Oh and by the way…please spare me the crying in the off season how nobody could have have predicted the injuries to the pitchers this year…when you have a staff where many of the key guys are older and have injury history, it is to be expected that at some point they will break down. And just like in 2007, there was no back-up plan.
Kenny Williams is going to have to do his best job of general managing ever in the next year or so to prevent a drop-off a epic proportions. I think that it will involve trading some pieces that were considered long term building blocks to get younger. I frankly, do not think he has it in him to do this.
My take on things is this: there are a number of GM jobs that will open up in the off season, and I would bet that Rick Hahn will be a fit for one of them. So if indeed Rick Hahn is the ‘GM in Waiting’, and instead of losing him, why not hand him the job now, and give Kenny his John Paxonesque title? The Sox have to do this because the direction that this organization is heading is unacceptable.

fustercluck

I’ll give Sox relievers two fingers. As hard as I possibly can.

cushinglee

I’ll be at the game today, but I don’t think I can pitch.
Excellent post today, Jim. When it comes to the farm system and player development for the White Sox, there is a lot lacking. Kenny’s “I don’t rebuild” philosophy has caught up to this team. The reason KW has had to make so many trades and signings over the past couple years is because there is not enough talent to fill the holes on the major league roster. I’m not talking about Gordon Beckham talent–I’m talking about players like the Yankees can plug in–the Cervellis, the Penas, etc.
There needs to be a major change in the running of the White Sox minor league system, but I don’t see it happening.

ricksch

Great article Jim. But I can’t help but believe that so many of these issues began at the start of the season. Sox had a DH problem and a second lefty problem from the jump. What’s the point in carrying seven pitchers if one of them is a flat-out jokes like Randy Williams? Ron Mahay was available back then and I pushed for him (but like a tree in the forest, no one heard) Of course, Mahay’s hurt now, but he would have given us a few good innings and a bit more real depth. Point being, if you’re going to go with seven pitchers, make sure they are ALL pitchers and not running gags.
But when you look at how things evolved during the season, you can see how Williams screwed up and how, to some minor extent, the problems were beyond him.
Jenks was having problems well before the AS break and the huge loss he coughed up to the Twins in game four of the series in Minnesota set the tone for the second half. Williams may have thought about addressing the pen before the deadline, but he had Dunn on his mind and then when Peavy went down, he suddenly had to deal with the starting five.
Now I would have rolled the dice with Hudson. It may not have worked out, but I really wanted to keep that kid long term and he would have benefitted greatly from the pennant race experience. Who knows? He may have even shined? At that point, with Peavy down, I believed, the Sox were a huge longshot to do much in the post-season and it wasn’t worth selling the farm (what little of it we had) for a shot that looks as though it won’t ever materialize.
So now Kenny’s still chasing a DH, unable to deal on the fly as key guys like Putz and Thornton go down. You don’t like Fuentes but I would have grabbed him for his experience. We’d have been able to “afford it” easily had we not acquried Jackson. It’s a damn shame about Threets and he could have helped, but isn’t that expecting a lot from a guy who’s only track record is a string of injuries?
Now that the Twins have a triple digit payrool and a new stadium that sells out every night, the Sox must retool their approach to compete. Kenny’s “never rebuild” philosophy simply doesn’t work when at the same time you’re crying poor. The Sox are in danger of falling well out of contention in their division for years to come. Already they can’t seem to beat anyone but the Tigers.
That may mean a rebuilding year or two, but I think it means getting better people to scout and make trades. I’m extremely worn out by the Ozzie circus and Kenny’s put-on “brash arrogance”. Williams makes far too many mistakes to justify his current approach and the idea of developing talent appears to be so foreign to him that a new GM is essential.

soxexile

The lack of guys coming up from the farm system may be KW’s fault, but not in the way that people seem to think. Because they have had 20 years of reasonably sustained success, the White Sox have had only one top-ten draft pick since 1990 (Gordon Beckham 2008). The last time they had several such picks in a row was 1987-1990, and they picked Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, and Alex Fernandez. Part of the problem is that we don’t get a shot at the “predictably” better players.
For all our frustration that KW trades away our best prospects, how many of those have become impact players elsewhere? Maybe Gio Gonzales will be the real thing, but there’s no Lou Brock giveaways on KW’s record so far. The problem with our farm system isn’t that KW gave away our good prospects, it’s that we didn’t have any to begin with.
So is it the fault of poor amateur scouting and drafting? I went looking for the guys the Sox could have drafted but took a lesser player instead. I found these: 2000 Joe Borchard over Chase Utley; 2001 Kris Honel over Jeremy Bonderman; 2002 Royce Ring over Denard Span or Matt Cain; 2003 BA over TCQ; 2005 Lance Broadway over Jacoby Ellsbury; 2006 Kyle McCullouch over Joba Chamberlin; 2007 Aaron Poreda over Rick Porcello. What really surprised me was how FEW clearly better players the Sox passed up, and how many good players were overlooked by multiple teams.
I like power arms as much as the next guy, but Washington just paid $15M for Stephen Strasburg, and we all saw what happened there. See also Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, etc. etc.
So, is everybody up for trading away our remaining valuable players for prospects, getting some high draft picks while the team stinks for a few years, then spending a few more years developing all the promising youngsters into MLB ready players? I DO think the team needs to get younger, but let’s be honest about what the price of that will be, at least in the short run.

soxexile

Mostly I was responding to Ricksch’s comment about the need for better scouting, etc. I see your point about drafting pitchers with a fastball, and the flexibility that may bring you.