ANAHEIM, Calif. -– Paul Konerko is the White Sox’s biggest free-agent issue this offseason, but plenty of time will be put in on building a bullpen for 2011.
The return of Bobby Jenks remains in question. The big right-hander is arbitration eligible and because he figures to be due a raise on the $7.5 million he made this season, there is a chance the White Sox won’t tender him a contract. That would make Jenks a free agent.
But Jenks isn’t the only one who will be searching for a payday this winter. J.J. Putz is also a free agent and the veteran is in line for a two- and possibly three-year deal. The 33-year-old made $3 million this season.
Matt Thornton has a $3 million option for 2011 that seems almost certain to be picked up. His $2.25 million option for this season was picked up shortly after the 2009 season ended.
Another bullpen candidate for 2011 is Tony Pena, who is arbitration eligible.
The White Sox are expected to go ahead with their plan to make Chris Sale a starter. If Jake Peavy isn’t ready to go once the 2011 season starts and the White Sox don’t re-sign Freddy Garcia, Sale could open the season as the team’s No. 5 starter. If Peavy is ready or Garcia returns, Sale is expected to start at Triple-A Charlotte to open the season.
But having Sale in the bullpen certainly would be tempting. The left-hander closed out Saturday’s victory in a non-save situation and now has a 1.40 ERA this season in 19 relief appearances.
“He’s been great and as long as this kid is healthy, he’s going to be nasty,” manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Assuming Thornton’s option is picked up and Pena is asked back, that gives the White Sox a bullpen of Scott Linebrink, Sergio Santos, Thornton and Pena in 2011 with a few vacancies. That’s far from what was considered one of the best bullpens in baseball this season.
“I think the pieces we have a lot of teams would die to have,” Thornton said this week. “With the addition of Sale here in the last month, and Sergio had a great year, J.J. had another solid year, Bobby was great when he was healthy. You have a lot of great arms out there and a lot of teams where these guys would be closers for. It’s one of those things where [we] hit a rough patch and get exposed a little bit.”
That rough patch was the second-half injuries to Jenks, Putz and Thoronton that slowed the bullpen’s charge into the second half. Not only that, but Santos faded some in the second half, something that was understandable since the right-hander is in just his second season as a pitcher.
Santos has emerged as a key bullpen piece for the future and could be a possible closer in the future, although it might be too soon to expect him to close in 2011. It is something he aspires to down the road, though.
“In this game you can never stop getting better,” Santos said. “I feel like any kind of promotion, whether it be a consistent setup guy or hopefully a closer, at the end of the day to be a closer would be a dream come true. It’s something that I would look forward to and make a goal. I’ll just control what I can.
“I can’t jump into the manager’s mind and say, ‘Hey, put me at closer.’ But hopefully with the work I do on the field and how I prepare it will make them look at me as an option to be a closer. At some point that’s what I’d like to do.”
By the numbers
6: Consecutive White Sox victories over the Angels after Saturday’s 6-2 triumph. The last time the White Sox won six consecutive games against the Angels was from April 7-June 10, 1992.
“That’s … I don’t know what to say about that. That’s tough. Obviously we haven’t pitched the way we wanted to pitch this month. We’ve kind of let the team down in some respects. We’re going to try to win these last eight or nine games and have a little momentum, have a little encouragement going into next year.” -– John Danks, when asked about his victory Saturday that snapped a run of 18 games without a win for a White Sox starter.
White Sox right-hander Tony Pena (4-2, 4.87) is taking over the rotation spot left vacant by Gavin Floyd, who is dealing with soreness in the back of his right shoulder. Pena will be opposed by Angels right-hander Jered Weaver (13-11, 2.99) who just received his team’s pitcher of the year award in an on-field ceremony before Saturday’s game.