Relievers won’t be any cheaper when White Sox resume paying for them

Former White Sox reliever Reynaldo López
(Photo by David Richard/USA TODAY Sports)

The Aaron Bummer trade eliminated the last remaining trace of the White Sox’s grand bullpen plans.

Only two of the eight relievers the White Sox broke camp with were destined to hit the open market, as Jake Diekman and Reynaldo López were free agents after the season. The Sox had right of first refusal for everybody else. For one reason or another, by one method or another, the White Sox have spent the last four months refusing.

The White Sox designated José Ruiz for assignment a week into the season. The White Sox traded Kendall Graveman halfway into his deal, and dealt Joe Kelly before they had to decide on a $9.5 million club option (the Dodgers declined it). They bought out Liam Hendriks due to Tommy John surgery, and now Bummer is in Atlanta in a monster swap of depreciated assets.

Jimmy Lambert and Gregory Santos are the only members of the Opening Day bullpen left, and while Garrett Crochet should be around to help from the onset this time, none of them are particularly proven to hold up over a six-month haul.

This is fine — welcome, even — if the White Sox have no grander ambition for the 2024 season. The White Sox limited their ability to solve problems with the rotation or lineup because they overinvested in Hawk Harrelson’s “battle of the bullpens” strategy, not realizing that Kansas City’s 2014-15 plan only worked because Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland all worked for relatively cheap. The Sox can’t paint themselves into a corner in the same way, so a full-season or multi-year commitment to reliever auditions is one way to rewire themselves to avoid that urge.

Besides, if the contract Reynaldo López just signed with the Braves is any indication, the price of decent relievers continues to rise.

López will be reunited with Bummer in the Atlanta bullpen, as he signed a three-year, $30 million deal. If that sounds steep, the structure of the deal agrees with you a little bit.

  • 2024: $4M
  • 2025: $11M
  • 2016: $11M
  • 2017: $8M club option ($4M buyout)

That said, I don’t entirely buy Kiley McDaniel’s framing:

There’s some protection, but there’s also some risk. As we saw with Mike Clevinger’s chunky buyout, the combination of an $11 million salary and a $4 million obligation afterward makes him considerably harder to move in a scenario where López is merely OK, whereas a straight three-year, $30 million obligation lowers that hurdle.

And while a $30 million commitment seems steep for a guy who only made $3.63 million in his final year of arbitration, it’s appropriate when you consider that he’s been an effective, durable reliever with some high-leverage capability since making the transition from the rotation two years. Graveman got three years and $24 million with a similar track record.

Pedro Grifol’s early management of López probably clouds the picture. Grifol frequently had López facing the toughest part of the order over any of the final three innings, which you usually don’t see before October. He wasn’t good enough to face the toughest assignment game after game, but most relievers would probably be in the same boat, because even highly paid closers don’t see that kind of consistent opponent quality (the average amount of batters faced in an MLB game was 37.8 in 2023, which means that the ninth inning often opens up with the bottom of the order).

From the middle of May through the end of season, when López was seen more as a guy instead of The Man, he looked like one of the better relievers in baseball. He allowed a 1.63 ERA and a 3.03 FIP, with 59 strikeouts against 57 baserunners over 49⅔ innings, and he finished the year with a scoreless September. That’s good enough to earn a Graveman-like contract, and $30 million is the new $24 million.

If the price of setup guys continues to rise in step with inflation, then Getz needs to prepare for those prices as he builds the next contender-grade White Sox bullpen. The idea will be to require only one reliever contract with that kind of heft, because an expensive bullpen doesn’t work if its construction prevented a fully formed rotation or lineup.

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Right Size Wrong Shape

I had a feeling that Lopez was going to go where he would have a chance to start. We’ll see.


Interesting. I don’t really remember him getting hurt ever, unless I’m forgetting. If he has the ability to start here or there if needed and also work out of the pen, that’s some impressive versatility.

As Cirensica

Staying healthy is a valuable skill. Definitely helped to get that contract.


Agreed. I think staying healthy is a very underrated trait in pro sports in general, but especially in baseball. It’s crazy that GM’s will sink money into someone like Jacob deGrom without thinking twice.

As Cirensica

You made me look, and DeGrom has pitched fewer than 100 innings in every single year since 2020. Sure, when he pitches, it’s like Nintendo stuff, but man, those scattered innings here and there do come expensive. DeGrom is 5th all-time in ERA+. He will be 2nd if you eliminate relievers and pre WWII pitchers. Only Clayton Kershaw has been better.

Curiously, even though Kershaw and DeGrom are the same age (35), and even though Kershaw is a bit of an injury prone himself, even though that, Kershaw has doubled (exactly double to the last digit) the numbers of innings DeGrom has pitched.

Yes, staying healthy is very underrated, and the White Sox, who used to be good at keeping players healthy, have been a disaster in recent years in the health management department.


An oddity yes but DeGrom debuted at 26 yrs old, Kershaw at 20.


It’s part of what has made players like Swanson and Semien so valuable. Those two have played 160+ games 5 times the past 3 years between them (with Swanson playing over 145 last year), while Moncada and Eloy together had 4 seasons under 105 games and one season over 120 during the same time frame. Subtle difference.


I think Swanson is very underrated. He’s a very good SS that is actually more valuable than “better” SS’s because he’s consistent and never gets hurt.


My first instinct is to say this is a bad idea, but then I remember my initial reaction to Marcus Semien converting to SS with the A’s. Carry on, Atlanta.


I know all these GM’s are smarter than me, but “let’s roll with the 2019 White Sox bullpen” seems like a weird strategy for a championship contender.

As Cirensica

The 2019 White Sox bullpen wasn’t a problem. Later it became a problem when there were no leads to protect because the problems were elsewhere. The 2024 Braves won’t have that problem.


Just wow. While Lopez has certainly made himself into a solid reliever, I think the Braves will wind up with buyers remorse when he pitches in high pressure situations. That seems an awful lot to pay him, to me.

It’s gonna cost Getz a ton of money just to get a mediocre bullpen again, if that’s the going rate for Lopez.


Perhaps theres a lesson that we can learn here. Failed starter = high end cheap reliever. I don’t understand why this doesn’t happen more often or why teams don’t try this more. Just look at old friend Liam Hendricks as an easy example!


Yep, and this should be the primary way a healthy organization builds their bullpen. Draft pitchers who are starters. Don’t spend first round picks on relievers (i.e. Zack Burdi). Take failed minor league starting pitchers and develop them into MLB relievers.


Every reliever starts off as a Starting pitcher. No one goes in wanting to be in the bullpen. The either fail in the minors or fail in college. Aaron Bummer for example pitched 15 games as a starter for Nebraska before being drafted.


Right on – I advocate for trying the ones that make it the longest. IE flame out as a starter after multiple seasons in the majors

King Joffrey

With all the old and new statistical measures of a players productivity, why not an ‘IL%’, the percentage of games in which the player was rostered divided by the number of games on the IL?


Soroka’s initial impressions:


Does Getz vision include overthrowing the tyrannical overlord owner?

Right Size Wrong Shape

Just put David Eckstein highlights on a loop and tell Jerry that he’s watching the Sox’s new star player. He won’t know the difference.


Ahhh, the Game of Thrones parley


Diana Rigg is unavailable.

King Joffrey

Just don’t invite that woman to your wedding.


That’s a positive. I don’t recall a free agent or trade arrival ever having a quote like that with Sox before. Historically it’s been, “nobody is giving me a chance or thinks I’m healthy, and I’m going to reward the Sox for this”.


Soroka said he got kind of giddy on the phone… did they tell him what team he was traded to yet, or maybe he was being very sarcastic?

I can’t imagine anybody being giddy about being traded to this team, unless they grew up as a Sox fan or something. Even then, they wouldn’t remain giddy if they have any memory of team history.

El Arvo

Lopez can’t go to Atlanta without Giolito can he?!


I remember being Lopez being an occasional source of greatness in the rotation. Looking at old game logs, he’s pitched 13 “great” (game score 70+) games as a starter.

Seth Lugo, who is 4 years older, will probably get a similar contract to be a starter somewhere, and he only has 5 “great” starts to his name.

I’ll believe that Reynaldo has the consistency to be a starter when I see it, but this isn’t insane as an upside play. And now that Braves farmhand Ryan Goins has retired, he can be assured his outfield will support any no-hit bids.


Sox should never have gone that over-the-top on their pen in the first place, not with so many other holes on the roster. Also, relievers seem to fluctuate in performance more than most other players and the Sox have been decent at finding scrap heap pitchers and turning them into quality relievers. There was never a need for Kelly and Kimbrel. Plus, what good is a great reliever if you don’t have a lead to protect?

Texas’ bullpen should be more of the model. A third as expensive, still quite effective.

For this year, the only use the Sox have for a good reliever is to trade them.

As for Lopez, I hope the Braves can unlock some consistency from him as a starter. He’d go stretches of 5 or 6 outings where he looked like a CYA candidate, then another 7 where he looked like the worst pitcher in baseball. He definitely has talent, but really needs to tap into it on a consistent basis.


Texas is a model not just of a bullpen, but how to do a rebuild and use free agency intelligently. Even after they signed BOTH Semien and Seager the same winter, they were still only like a 15th ranked payroll. B/c they didn’t idiotically sign scrub players like Kelly, Graveman, Leury, etc who together take up the salary of a much better player.

The Sox need to look at what the Astros and Rangers did. The Sox “way” does not work, and never will.


It’s really the Reinsdorf way. We all know he’s a meddler. Hahn seemed to want to sign Springer, but JR said he “wouldn’t pay CF prices for a RF” (though I’ll admit that between a year where he missed half the games and this past year where he struggled, Sox might have lucked out a little). And then there’s the TLR debacle, as well as signing past-their-prime big names. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with JR until his demise.

The Astros did a great job with scouting and development, while the Rangers seem to have struck gold with Carter and Garcia, as well as that well-timed and well-executed spending spree. But you know JR will never spend like that. A half billion dollar middle IF? Just the thought of it would make his wallet shrivel in horror.

Last edited 16 days ago by John

Rick Hahn was right(ly fired)!