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Last winter, the White Sox’s biggest move was the signing of a free-agent closer for either $13.5 million or $18 million a year, depending on whether the White Sox exercised the final year.
This winter started with the White Sox picking up the option for another closer at $16 million, although they have plans on trading him.
Now their next move is apparently signing another closer, as Jon Heyman says the White Sox are closing in on a deal with Kendall Graveman for three years and $24 million.
Graveman is less accomplished in the genre than either Liam Hendriks or Craig Kimbrel. He’d saved his first 10 games just last year with the Seattle Mariners, but his work in the ninth inning was enough to inspire the Houston Astros to acquire him from their AL West foe in a four-player deal before the trade deadline. The Mariners included Rafael Montero, while the Astros sent Joe Smith and Abraham Toro to Seattle.
Graveman had also inspired enough confidence in his Mariners teammates that Jerry Dipoto’s decision to deal him to the division leader led to a feeling of “betrayal” in the Seattle clubhouse.
Multiple pitchers emerged from the clubhouse with tears still in their eyes from saying goodbye to Graveman.
“You should’ve seen it earlier,” said a veteran player about the initial reaction.
Several players opted not to speak on the record about the move, but their anger was palpable. Sources said equipment was broken and smashed while one player “went absolutely mad.”
“Betrayed” was a word used often.
“Are you (expletive) kidding me?” said the same player. “It never changes. They don’t care about winning. How do you trade him and say you care about winning? And you trade him to Houston? It never changes.”
Graveman’s performance — a 0.82 ERA and just 26 baserunners allowed over 33 innings — explained the frustration at the player level. Graveman’s subsequent regression with Houston — an ordinary 3.13 ERA, 20 hits and 12 walks over 23 innings — explained Dipoto’s decision to get anything for Graveman at the height of his value, and before he’d reached free agency. Graveman’s record shows that he went 0-for-3 in save opportunities with Houston, although given that those three appearances started in the seventh and eighth innings, they weren’t his game to close out. Graveman had wobbled too much for saves by then, issuing 12 walks over his final 12 innings and hitting a couple of batters as well.
That said, Graveman redeemed himself in the posteason. He allowed just two runs over nine games and 11 innings. Only two of those appearances could be classified as leverage-laden, but he posted three zeroes over those games when called upon.
Graveman had worked on a pair of small-potatoes one-year deals with Seattle the last two years. He hadn’t made a case for more, what with a 4.44 ERA and ugly peripherals whether starting or relieving.
Now here he is with his first big payday, signing a three-year, $24 million deal. The contract year was more than a fluke, because his sinker jumped two ticks to 96.5 mph, a slider emerged to complement it in a way his cutter never did, and his ground-ball rate stayed above 50 percent (54.9). The White Sox need somebody like him with Evan Marshall off the roster, Ryan Tepera a free agent and Michael Kopech projected for a rotation spot.
It’s just not particularly exciting because of the context. With Hendriks and Kimbrel, the White Sox made closers the center of their last two acquisition periods, only for the postseason to reveal the danger of tying up all the resources for players who require leads to matter. Also, there’s the matter that the White Sox have made their intentions of dealing Kimbrel clear, and he’s an elephant on the payroll until he’s gone.
Perhaps by signing Graveman, the White Sox are reducing the amount of alternates for teams to pursue on the open market, doing what they can to create a near-monopoly on pitchers with recent ninth-inning success. For the time being, all we can hope for is that this Graveman isn’t more like…
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)