Countless baseball executives have said on record that constructing a bullpen is the most difficult task that they have to undertake heading into a season. Assembling seven or eight arms that all must have successful, healthy seasons is a tall order. It is unheard of that a team is able to contend by having all their Opening Day members of the bullpen succeed throughout the year. Injuries and underperformance strike every team’s relievers, making it vital for a general manager to work on the fly to always improve the bullpen. So far this season, Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has had to find early replacements to infuse into a pen that is struggling.
Entering 2014, the White Sox’ bullpen was filled with fresh faces. Two out of the three holdovers (Matt Lindstrom, Nate Jones and Donnie Veal) sustained injuries in Spring Training. Two of the newcomers, Daniel Webb and Maikel Cleto, had only brief cups of coffee in the majors before the season began. Free agent acquisitions Scott Downs and Ronald Belisario were set to prove that they still had something left in the tank. A mix of youth and recovering veterans did not scream sustainability to anyone. Hahn believed that his patch work would be enough to not blow the leads handed to them by the dominant starting rotation.
Through 15 games this year the bullpen has been terrible. With the exception of Webb, Cleto and Petricka, every guy has struggled thus far. Manager Robin Ventura has been mixing and matching to find a feasible role for each pitcher. While this has not worked so far, the team brass has been looking to find arms that can add depth to the system while also making an impact in the majors later on in the year.
This past week the White Sox signed former closer Frank Francisco to a minor league contract. The former ninth inning guy for the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets brings a whole host of experience to the organization. While the 34-year-old has not had a successful all around season since 2011, he proved over the course of the last two seasons that he still can rear back and gun it past hitters. That, coupled with his track record of making an impact on every team he has been on, makes Francisco an appealing signing for the Sox.
Last season Francisco pitched in only eight games as he struggled with his command and injuries. In 2012 he recorded 23 saves for the Mets but had a lofty 5.53 ERA. Before those two seasons, however, the righty had ERAs of 3.13, 3.83, 3.76 and 3.55. His career high in saves came in 2009 when he notched 25 and he had 17 in 2011.
Francisco may not be the bandage that the team needs to heal the early season bullpen woes. His elbow and personal issues made teams stay away from him this offseason. However, Francisco re-enters a system (he was traded by the Sox as a minor leaguer to the Rangers in 2003 for Carl Everett) where he will be put in a non-pressure situation. Unlike when he signed with the Mets, he is not expected to do much besides eat up innings. With not much going right amongst the collection of relievers Hahn amassed to start the year, giving a veteran with past success a shot can’t hurt. Who knows, maybe the Sox will catch lighting in a bottle.