The last time the White Sox gave a four-year contract to a free-agent closer, one could make the case that it was necessary.
In 2014, a fairly entertaining 73-win White Sox team was hampered a bullpen that struggled to hold late-inning leads. They went a league-worst 61-7 in games they led in the ninth inning, so they made a point to land David Robertson, the only top-of-market acquisition over the first winter Rick Hahn won.
The Sox signed Robertson away from the Yankees for four years and $46 million, and Robertson helped where they’d hurt. The Sox improved to 63-3 with ninth-inning leads the following year. That doesn’t mean Robertson was worth three wins by himself, but the closer situation felt like a three-win improvement over the one that Jake Petricka won by attrition the previous season.
The bigger problem was the number in the win column. Thanks to the league’s worst offense, the White Sox entered the next season with fewer ninth-inning leads than the season before, which is a number Robertson can only indirectly impact. They went from winning the winter to winning only three more games. Robertson, Jeff Samardzija and Zach Duke all offered some assistance on the pitching side, even if all failed to individually electrify. It’s just that none could bail out an offense that scored only 622 runs on the season.
Meanwhile, the Yankees looked no worse for the wear, even though Robertston helped them go 69-2 with ninth-inning leads in 2014. They let him go and received a draft pick for the loss, signed Andrew Miller for a slightly less onerous four-year deal ($36 million), then went 81-0 with ninth-inning leads the following year.
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That’s where my thinking starts when ruminating the idea of the White Sox signing Liam Hendriks, who is also the top-of-market closer this year, and whose representation is also working hard for a four-year deal. The White Sox have been tied to Hendriks throughout the month by rumormongers both of the established and anonymous varieties.
Here’s Bob Nightengale last week:
They still need to find a closer if they don’t re-sign Alex Colome, and have their sight set on Liam Hendriks. He would be an ideal fit for the White Sox, yielding a 1.79 ERA the past two seasons, striking out 161 batters over 110.1 innings.
And here’s Jeff Passan with an update on Monday:
The Chicago White Sox have been linked to Hendriks as his primary suitor, but a number of other teams in search of a closer — or simply more bullpen help — are prepared to pounce.
Among the teams that have pursued the 32-year-old: the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.
Robertson ultimately made no difference for the White Sox, because the quality of closer only matters on a team that wins more games than it loses, and the White Sox were on the wrong side of .500 for each of Robertson’s four teams. His trade value also didn’t help, because Blake Rutherford is the last man standing from the four-player package the White Sox received from the Yankees for Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle, the last of whom had the most future value.
The 2015 White Sox have limited use as a comparison to the 2021 team in the sense of overall quality. Hahn is building on a team that went 35-25, not 73-89. His offense scored the second-most runs in the American League, rather than the median total. Hahn’s correct when he said about the Lance Lynn trade that “marginal wins matter” now, and protecting the highest number of late-inning leads is a good place to capture wasted efforts. The bulletproof bullpen is how the Royals peaked with consecutive AL pennants, and how the Orioles beat projections during the best of the Buck Showalter era.
The problem is that late-inning leads were not an issue for the White Sox of the last two seasons. There’s no doubt that Hendriks is a better pitcher than Alex Colomé when looking at their work over that time:
But in terms of their jobs, there’s no difference. Colomé converted 42 of 46 save opportunities over his two years with the White Sox. In two of the saves he blew, he recorded more than three outs and picked up a win for the troubles. It’s hard for any closer to fare better with the chief task at hand.
Even Hendriks didn’t. After taking over as Oakland’s closer during the second half of the 2019 season, he went 39-for-46 in save situations.
That’s still not to say that Colomé is a better closer than Hendriks. That is to say that the White Sox have done a better job with ninth-inning leads than any team in the American League over the last two seasons, so Hendriks will be hard-pressed to maintain the recent standards no matter his dominance.
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For anybody wanting to make a case for Hendriks, you have to set aside the ninth inning. The chart above shows there’s little variance among most teams with ninth-inning leads, and that was especially the case in the shortened 2020 season, where only two teams lost more than one game. The Blue Jays went 24-2, and the Astros botched four in just 25 opportunities, which is why Jeff Passan is linking them to Hendriks.
The better case for Hendriks is what he can do for the bullpen’s big picture in high leverage situations. Both the White Sox (32-0) and A’s (24-0) were undefeated with ninth-inning leads in 2020. Hell, the Indians were in between them at 28-0, but that didn’t stop them from releasing Brad Hand, rather than paying their closer a previously reasonable net amount of $9 million for his option (he was in line for a $10 million salary, but Cleveland had to pay his $1 million buyout).
The separation comes innings earlier:
|Leading after||White Sox||Indians||Athletics|
Perhaps the White Sox could promote Codi Heuer to the closer role, and he could be just as successful as a more proven option for a fraction of the price. Were that to happen, I wouldn’t question whether Heuer has the mettle for the last three outs, but whether the Sox have the depth to compensate for his absence in earlier innings.
And they might! When healthy, Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet are as tough as it gets from the left side, and it’d be hard to ask for more from Evan Marshall the last two years, or Matt Foster in his rookie season. If Tyler Johnson or Zack Burdi can finish the development on their sliders at the highest level, depth shouldn’t be a problem. It’d be nice to add a right-hander with a track record, but he wouldn’t necessarily have to come at Hendriks’ cost.
Health just happens to be a sizable caveat. Four of those six players spent time on the injured list the last two years, and Game 3 of the wild card series pivoted toward disaster on Crochet departing with forearm issues. That adds a little more urgency to the idea of reinforcing the bullpen.
So what about cost? Again, Hendriks seems like overkill at a four-year commitment, but here’s where Hahn’s ugly free agent track record looms over the proceedings. In each of the last two winters, Hahn has tried to introduce one of those proven righties to add bulk to Rick Renteria’s medium- and high-leverage options, and both were disasters. Kelvin Herrera came to the White Sox on a two-year, $18 million deal after the 2018 season. He posted a 6.54 ERA over his White Sox career, which ended early in the 2020 season when every appearance only made him come closer to his vesting option.
The White Sox made a similar, less costly move in signing Steve Cishek for one year and $6 million, but he too was designated for assignment before the end of his contract after delivering the exact opposite of his profile.
The Sox’s issues with the bullpen are the same as the rest of the roster, in that they struggle solving problems with free agents unless they spend a problem-solving amount of money on free agents. Hendriks would require that kind of investment, which at least gives increased assurance that he’d give the White Sox something over his time on the South Side.
I still don’t think Hendriks is necessary, at least at the expense of upgrades at DH or starter depth. The White Sox aren’t a year away from contending, but they are a year away from being rock-solid in their projectability, so I’d rather see those kind of resources directed to their most acute pain points. Lynn is great because he addresses the issues with rotation depth and innings. Adam Eaton doesn’t quite do the same for right field, or their issues hitting right-handed pitching, due to his injury history.
If the White Sox’s problem-solving money is limited, I’d rather use it to solve the active problems, rather than speculative sore spots. Just like clutch-hitting woes can be offset by increasing the number of scoring chances, any potential issues stemming from the lack of a name-brand closer can be first softened by generating more leads, then revisited at the trade deadline.
(Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire)
I would rather they got an above-average hitter than Hendriks. I would also rather they sign an above-average starter than Hendriks. But if they’re not willing to do either of those things, I want them to sign Hendriks.
The “Michael Brantley’s too expensive” line doesn’t give me hope that they’re willing to focus their resources anywhere else, and to some degree, trading for Lynn rather than signing a good starter signals where they’re at with paying market rates for a good starter.
I was surprised by this poll result
I would not have guessed those results, but I would rather sign Archie Bradley for 1-2 years than Hendriks for 4. Or Oliver Drake for 1. Can the Sox just hire whichever Rays’ front office person makes the recommendation for picking up castoff relievers? Hiring that front office person for $10 million would go a long way towards resolving Hahn’s poor track record on free agents.
That poll results is nuts.
Yes, totally nuts!
Risk aversion is a well known strategic blunder.
Everyone remembers the blown late lead but the mediocrity against righthanded pitching through the first 8 innings just isn’t as salient.
To be fair the last time most people saw the Sox was the endless inning of every member of the bullpen walking everybody on the A’s
Which was followed by the Sox failing to score a run in innings 6-9 against right-handed relievers despite having RISP in 3 of them.
Hendricks doesn’t have to be (i.e. shouldn’t) just risk aversion. If TLR uses him well, he’ll be in high leverage situations be it the 5th or 9th inning. That’s very valuable and something that a pitcher like Colome hasn’t/probably can’t provide.
Brantley probably adds a bit more over 162, but in a 3 or 5 or 7 game playoff I’d prefer Hendricks. And if I’m Rick Hahn, that’s what I’m building this team for.
Building for the playoffs is what the trade deadline should be used for. Right now we should be building the team with an eye for increasing playoff odds as much as possible. Brantley does that moreso than Hendriks.
Normally I would agree with you, but in the expanded playoff format the Sox should be a virtual lock.
Even so, Brantley over Hendricks doesn’t represent much (if at all) of a bump in playoff odds. Their fWAR, for instance, has been identical over the two years. If Brantley does raise the playoff odds more than Hendricks, it’s an ever so slight raise and I’d wager the gap between Hendricks over Brantley in the playoffs in larger.
We don’t even know what the playoff format will be in 2021 (or in 2020 and beyond). Until an agreement is reached otherwise, we’re back to the 10-team postseason with a single-elimination wild card game. Regardless, we should be building a team to win the division.
If we’re comparing Brantley and Hendriks, I think you should look not so much at wins above generic replacement, but wins above who the White Sox would end up playing instead. If we don’t add a quality bat who can DH, unless Vaughn is brought up early and produces immediately, we’re looking at more at bats for Collins, Leury, and Mendick (and Engel/Eaton without the platoon advantage). I’m fine with those guys as back-ups/role players, but I’m not excited about giving them a lot of at bats.
I feel more comfortable with the in-house bullpen options that would pitch innings if a closer were not added. Bummer, Marshall, Heuer, Foster, Fry, Crochet, Cordero, Burdi, Johnson, and potentially one or two of Lopez/Cease/Kopech all could provide decent or better innings.
So if the choice is Brantley or Hendriks or nothing, I think Brantley makes a bigger difference.
For some reason I thought the expanded playoffs had already been decided for 2021, too. I was wrong (though I suspect they still will have expanded playoffs).
Even so, it’s unclear to me that Brantley is the better option. If the only other option is Leury/Collins DH, then sure: I’ll take Brantley over Hendricks. But supposing Vaughn isn’t the starter, they’ll surely sign a DH. Suppose they sign Brad Miller (outside of MLBTR top 50; likely on 1 year deal). Over the last two years, Miller (126/121 wRC+; .894/.807 OPS) hasn’t been as good as Brantley (133/134 wRC+; .875/.840 OPS), but the gap isn’t enormous. I’m less confident in the options below Hendricks in the bullpen.
I’m certainly not opposed to Brantley. I see no reason why they can’t sign both. But if forced to choose, I lean Hendricks. The Sox have a solid bullpen already, but they don’t (and haven’t) had a guy like Hendricks. If he’s deployed correctly, he’ll make an enormous impact.
The whole conversation is dumb because the Sox can afford both without breaking a sweat. Their signalling an unwillingness to spend is bull.
Kark’s answer is the correct one.
And now baseball is talking about playing a shortened season next year…Feels like another excuse Jerry will use not to spend.
Seems like it’s an excuse TO spend, at least if salaries are prorated again.
Only if there will be fans on the stands
In a sport where the biggest profit is in brand/franchise value, IDGAF if they lost money investing in the team for a year when it would result in launching the team’s value into the stratosphere.
I’m trying to be optimistic. I never thought the Sox would pony up for Bauer. His market is far too robust and they need an experienced “work horse” more than they need a second (or third “ace”). In Lynn they have a proven “innings eater” who has garnered Cy Young votes for the past two seasons. That move makes baseball sense as much as financial sense.
I’m not buying Nightengale’s claim that the Sox pivoted to Eaton because acquiring Brantley was “cost prohibitive”. No way Hahn and company view Brantley as a full-time right-fielder. He’s played fewer than 60 innings at the position. At his age, he’s primarily a DH and he is an ideal DH for the Sox in terms of production, experience, approach and clubhouse impact. If the NL isn’t going to have the DH, Brantley’s market won’t be that large. The Sox may fail to sign Brantley but I’d be shocked if they’ve dropped their pursuit.
I don’t see why you would view Adam “310 games in the last 4 seasons” Eaton as a full-time right fielder any more than Brantley.
I like the idea of Hendricks more than Brantley. I say idea because I haven’t looked at the data enough to know if his work in 2019-2020 is real or flukey.
Hendricks seems like he’d have a greater impact in the playoffs than, say, Brantley. At this point, that’s the lens I’m looking through since the Sox should be a lock in expanded playoffs.
And I say this under the assumption that TLR is willing to be creative in his deployment of Hendricks. If he’s a 9th only guy, I’m less interested.
I am going to guess that one of the other teams with interest in Hendriks will offer him more money than the White Sox. I am growing more curious why Tony LaRussa wanted to come out of retirement to manage again given that there is no evidence Jerry is willing to spend.
TLR is feeling more and more like an attempt to distract fans from Jerry’s intent to cheap out on the latest core just like he did the last one.
I think they should sign a closer. But I’m never too keen on spending a ton on closers (Jim’s points notwithstanding re Rick Hahn’s lack of success with non top-of-the-market relievers) because of how inconsistent their results can be year to year. This would argue against Hendriks in favor of a less expensive closer like Hand, Rosenthal, Yates, or even bringing back Colome.
On the other hand, the main reason to not spend too much on closers is because that money can instead be spent elsewhere to improve the team. If they are not going to redirect any savings at closer to getting a better DH or a better backup catcher or a better back-end starter for pitching depth, then might as well spend it to get the best closer on the market.
One caveat is that if a 4-year contract is required, you have to consider the impact the contract will have not only on spending this year but also for the remainer of the contract. I don’t want signing Hendriks this year to be an excuse for not pursuing Conforto next year (even if I know that the White Sox signing Conforto is a pipe dream).
Let’s be honest here, they don’t need to sign a high-priced reliever to come up with excuses not to make a big FA splash next offseason.
Colome was exceptional for 2 seasons and one can only imagine where we would have been without him, especially in 2020. He didn’t have the peripherals like a Hendricks. Very rarely was it easy to watch him get it done, but he did his job.
Closer is such a complex role as one never knows how someone with the “stuff” will actually perform with the pressure and mentality it takes. Sure, Heuer has lights out stuff and projects as a closer, but we’ve seen better pitchers fail in that role. This is a very important decision that Hahn needs to nail if he wants to win a competitive division make a deep run in the playoffs.
I just don’t think this is true. As the chart in the article shows, teams just don’t really blow 9th inning leads very often. I don’t buy the idea that you need a guy with a special something for the 9th inning. You’re not going to make it to the Major league level if you can’t handle pressure.
The very worst team in the AL won 90% of the games it led in the 9th inning. There’s no reason to allocate a significant amount of money to a guy specifically hired to pitch the 9th inning.
As the team gets more competitive, you have to start winning in the margins. I wouldn’t allocate a huge amount of money for a closer if we were rebuilding or even on the fringe. Not even saying Hendricks is the answer (not at 4 years at 32 years of age anyway), but it’s a valuable role that we may have taken for granted for the last couple seasons.
You accepting a 10% failure rate on 9th inning leads could lead to an extra 7-8 losses over the course of the season. That could easily swing a division or keep the Sox out of the playoffs.
Front line starter and RF were two positions that the contention window needed 4 year type guys…. Closer and DH were where the sox would of been just fine with 1 year stop gaps, guess what route they went……
I’ll gladly take Hand at 1 for 8 or 2 for 15. Id throw that on the table along with 3 for 27-30ish for Hendricks and sign whoever says yes first. Then move on to Brantley or Pederson.
You have now entered: bargaining.
In my opinion, we do not need to spend that kinda money and time on a closer (any closer). We could bring back Colome on a 1 or 2 year. He works just fine even though many people prefers Hendriks. Swap Hendriks for Colome in 2020, and the White Sox would have won the same amount of games.
What Hahn needs to do is to focus in other areas of greater need: DH and another starting pitcher.
Let’s just do it all!
bring Colome back is my vote
What’s wild is that finding inexpensive decent-to-great relievers has been a strength for this team. Yet that’s where they want to spend the money.
N.B. Weems was possibly going to be the next one. Yet another example of the long tail costs of choosing to trade for Lynn now instead of signing him either time he was available in free agency.
“If the White Sox’s problem-solving money is limited, I’d rather use it to solve the active problems, rather than speculative sore spots.”
I agree with what you’ve said here and your description of possible bullpen solutions. But couldn’t the same be said about the starting rotation?
They have two open spots and three internal options that could fill them:
– Kopech, if he stays healthy and picks up where he left off
– Lopez if he can bounce back to the average starter that he was before last year
– Cease if his somewhat inexplicable Steamer and ZiPS projections turnout to be right
Is the difference that a hole in the rotation would be a bigger problem? Or is it that we have more certainty in Lopez and Cease not being particularly good? Or is it simply that we’d need to fill two spots with these three players where as we only need a few of the handful of bullpen options to pan out to have a reliable bullpen?
I fell that the rotation is a bigger issue too, but haven’t quite been able to nail down why I feel that way.
All of the above. Those are significant ifs, especially when figuring that a team needs six to eight starters to get through a season.
6 to 8 is actually optimistic. When I was digging into the state of MLB pitching in ’19, teams were looking at 10 minimum for their off-season planning it wasn’t uncommon even for contenders to need more than that.
For the most part, teams that used fewer starters didn’t get more from their starters like the ’05 Sox did, either. Rather, they handed more starts to openers and then ran through more bulk relievers.
I think internally, longshot considerations should include Crochet, Vargas, Stiever, Lambert, et al
Which pushes them into the bare minimum of depth territory. They shouldn’t settle for that.
They should also acquire more certainty for their 4 or 5 spot which would have the knock-on benefit of improving their depth.
Another thought is that if another good starter is added so that there are too many decent SP options, the “extra” pitchers could help out in the bullpen. It rarely works the other way.
That’s a good point. So upgrading at SP can also mean upgrading at RP (or at least getting another plausible option)
If you can get Hendricks on a 3-year deal, do it. Elite pitchers are better equipped to face elite hitters in the postseason, so there may be an effect that can’t be measured with regular season stats.
That said, a 4th year seems too risky for a mid-30’s reliever. There’s no way he’ll be worth the money at age 35 and there’s a fair chance he’ll flame out even earlier. Just re-sign Colomé for less money and fewer years and keep the team’s current bullpen mojo intact.
He only has 1 season of closer experience, a career high of 25 with 40 total. He was very good but really only covers one full season since he started closing mid season of 2019. His career ERA is over 4, so his success has been very short lived. That says heck no on a multi year deal, to me. Brad Hand has a much longer track record, if they want to go that route.
Good point on track record, but I disagree on Hand as an option. Maybe because I only saw him vs the Sox who murder lefties, but I thought he looked awful each time out against this past year. I’m sure I’m an outlier, but didn’t surprise me when he was released. That said, wouldn’t surprise me if we get Hand so we can maintain all-important financial fexibility.
Ignoring for a second that career ERA probably isn’t the best measure of a pitcher, his ERA is even more misleading that normal considering he made 44 starts early in his career with a 5.80 ERA. He’s a career 3.17 ERA as a reliever.
We are gonna miss this guy, aren’t we?
I don’t remember the Robertson years fondly. Didn’t he lead the league in blown saves his first two years with the Sox? He pitched very well during his final few months with the Sox, however.
84 saves to 16 blown saves in his White Sox career. Not great, not terrible. From 2015-16 he was second in blown saves and seventh in total saves. He was not dominant in the way we hoped he would be, but he wasn’t exactly a disaster.
It’s really hard to know how to deploy whatever dollars might be left when we don’t know how many dollars there are and whether or not this will be a 162 game season. If it’s a shortened season I believe Kopechs time in the minors might be just a couple of tune-ups. If its a full season they may want to control his innings and keep him down longer. My guess is its a shortened season and Kopech is available. Lopez/Stiever then become our 6th & 7th starters. Should I spend on another starter or hold back some money if an in season acquisition might be needed somewhere else. I’m perfectly OK with Liam if we have the money for another SP (Quintana?) and back-up catcher. I’m not as concerned with DH. In fact, with our track record let’s just plug and play our bench reserves.
I’d be cool with Wainwright, Rosenthal and Colome. Pitching done! But my gut tells me Soria will return because ……White Sox
While he wouldn’t be my first choice, I wouldn’t mind signing Soria (especially if it means investing more in the rotation and lineup). He’s still quite good.
I don’t think it is a good idea to overlook the fact that Hendricks has just 1 season of closing experience, starting mid season in 2019. So 1/2 a season in 2019, and then 60 games in 2020. He was obviously very good, but does not have a long, proven track record to justify a 4 year deal, in my opinion. His career ERA is over 4, that says a big no on a multi year deal. 40 career saves, a career high of 25.
He may very well be successful, if not great. The Sox did knock him out of the game in the 2nd game of the playoffs, and honestly I was not impressed with his poise. I was thinking “hey, we can get to this guy”, not “I hope he is our future closer”. To be fair he did well in game 3, but I would prefer Hand if they insist on a multi year deal for someone. I say re-sign Colome for 1 year with a club option or something. I don’t like the idea of a 4 year deal for a closer, given the salary constraints this team chooses to operate under. Get Brantley or preferably, if one can dream, Rosario.
I vote we split the difference and sign Archie Bradley. Good ERA, good FIP, lots of strikeouts, maybe a few too many walks, and more importantly, versatile.
I think Hendriks was over used by the A’s and will have the Steve Cishek issue. I would not trust Hendriks next year. I would not sign him for 4 years! I would rather trade for someone who is getting the job done 1/2 way through the year. There are a lot of power arms in the White Sox system. See if one of them can handle it. Spend the money on the DH or better defense in the outfield.
I would not use a shortened season as a excuse not to spend. The games that would be eliminated are Mar-April, maybe May which typically are very poorly attended in Chicago. After which paid attendance will likely be allowed. Prorated(reduced) salaries for games that are not likely profitable could be a net positive for owners.