By now, most every fan knows what this picture was supposed to mean…except this season, it will no longer have a reference to Bobby Jenks, who was non-tendered by the White Sox this off-season and (according to reports) decided to not accept the White Sox offer to return for a chance to compete for the club’s still vacant closer’s job, before accepting a set-up man role with Boston. Thanks for the memories Bobby, but YOU GONE.
The question is: Who’s Ozzie gonna call from the old bullpen this season?
(Hint: The answer is NOT Ghostbusters…) Now, Twins-busters? Okay, I’m listening…
Matt Thornton: The most dependable arm we have, and you can make a case that he is one of the elite late-inning relievers in all of the game right now. The only question is: Is he ready to assume the (still) vacant closer role that was capably occupied by Bobby Jenks since 2005? Some say “yes”, some say: “why mess with a good thing?” or better yet: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”…we know what we’ll be getting from Thornton. Lights out, (usually in dominating fashion) relief 9 out of 10 times. Does that mean he’ll duplicate that success as a closer? This is where the risk comes in for me. My wish would be to add a closer from the FA market (Rafael Soriano is the best available, and could still be had for the right price…but is that the direction that KW will go? Should he, with several closer options (albeit none with a proven track record) already on the roster? Can he, with the budget already near an all-time franchise high? Inquiring (and impatient) fan’s minds want to know!
Chris Sale: The Rookie (not even officiallyone yet either) phenom who went from 1st Round Draft pick (13th overall) in June of 2010 to set-up/closer for the White Sox by September…he’s the wildcard in our bullpen, as to whether he’ll: 1) begin the season in the starting rotation (due to Jake Peavy’s uncertain timetable for a return from his season-ending surgery last year, then go to AAA to remain a starting pitcher, 2) remain a part of the starting rotation even after Peavy’s return (which would likely mean that one of the current starters would leave via trade), 3) start a few games (if necessary) until Peavy returns, then return to his role as flamethrower in the bullpen, possibly as the closer?, or 4) stay in his role as flamethrower (again, possibly as the closer) from the onset of the 2011 season? Decisions, decisions…at least this one is a good one to have to make, as we are talking about what looks like a special arm for years to come.
Jesse Crain: Had a great year last season for the arch-rival Twins (and most notably against us head-to-head), so the assumption can be made that we got stronger by not having to face a guy that literally dominated us in key late-inning situations. Addition by subtraction? And hopefully, he can duplicate that dominance for us against his old mates…that would be ideal. His role has been middle to late inning roles, setting up for closer, but from early indications has the makeup and ability to be a possible closer. His acquisition was especially key to replace the defection of FA J.J. Putz who siezed an opportunity to become the closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Let’s hope Crain can help us forget all about the one year White Sox wonder that was JJP.
Sergio Santos: Quite possibly the most under-rated arm that we have in our bullpen. Considering that he is a converted position (Shortstop) player, and how short of a time that he has been a pitcher, his progress is remarkable. If he continues to improve, add pitches to his arsenal, and keep the walks low…might very well be in a position to himself assume the closer’s role.
Tony Pena: Proved to be a valuable contributor, especially late last season as he made several spot starts and did surprisingly well for the club in that role. He is a hard-throwing righty who can be used in mop-up, swingman, middle, and late-innings situations. It’s both a shame and a blessing that he survived (and mostly thrived) while Scott Linebrink (traded to Atlanta) never lived up to his “set-up man extraordinaire” billing.
Will Ohman: Newly acquired lefty whose arrival confused most of us. Clouding the projected use of Chris Sale, as seemingly the 3rd lefty in the bullpen. Regardless of his role (in place of Sale or in addition to Sale), he was clearly added to help neutralize those LHH in key spots of games, namely Morneau, Mauer, Kubel, and maybe one Jim Thome again…just as long as he is better than Randy Williams, that’s all I care about.
Another pitcher: (hopefully soon) to be named, or one that earns a spot with an impressive Spring Training showing (or one that at least shows a bunch of promise, since you couldn’t have been any more impressive than Greg Aquino last ST, who still has yet to get a call…) this list is a deep one of names ranging from unproven but promising minor league relievers, to former major leaguers who are trying to recapture former success. If one of 10-12 names can be this year’s Sergio Santos/Boone Logan/Chris Sale (or better known as that guy that came out of nowhere to claim a roster spot)…there may not be a need to add a more expensive FA name to an already strong cast who will be our key to success ala 2005, and not our achilles heel, ala 2010. Here’s hoping THIS ‘pen will be the former, as on paper, it looks to have the goods.