Last offseason, Rick Hahn made a decision that made a lot of sense, even if the results didn't pan out on the field.
Lost in the mix of signing Jose Abreu to a monster deal and making crafty trades for Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson was Hahn's decision to rebuild ... sorry, RESHUFFLE ... the White Sox's bullpen with a series of cheap, low-risk signings.
After trading "Proven Closer" Addison Reed in the deal that netted Eaton, Hahn went out and signed Ronald Belisario, Mitchell Boggs, Scott Downs and Frank Francisco. It was year two of Matt Lindstrom and later Hahn brought in the likes of Javy Guerra, Maikel Cleto and Zach Putnam in the hopes that, combined with the returning Nate Jones and some minor league filler, some semblance of a competent bullpen would be formed.
Of course, things kind of fell apart. Some of the aforementioned group worked out better than others. Boggs never pitched an inning in a White Sox uniform. But the mindset behind this method was sound. The success and failure of bullpen arms is so sporadic from year to year, that bringing in cheap arms makes more sense than throwing gobs of cash at a Fernando Rodney or Jim Johnson — particularly when the team making these moves is still a year or more away from contention.
That brings us to this offseason, where the White Sox are a year closer to realistic contention and the bullpen, once again, needs a lot of help.
There aren't a ton of big names out there outside of David Robertson, who just turned down a qualifying offer from the Yankees and will cost a lot of money AND a draft pick to sign. There's also the enormous contract and dwindling skill set of Jonathan Papelbon out there to be had.
It's unlikely Hahn would consider acquiring either of those guys, and likewise for Sergio Romo, Rafael Soriano, or any of the other relievers likely to command big money and/or several years.
Just because Hahn struck out in his quest for bullpen help in 2014 doesn't mean he shouldn't use a similar strategy this time around. There are plenty of cheap, low-risk arms out there to be had.
So, who could he have his eye on?
Scott Elbert, LHP
Elbert was mentioned in Keith Law's Buyer's Guide for relievers as a potentially good investment. At 29, he's hardly pitched during the last two seasons and has never made a seven-figure salary during his career. He put up solid numbers out of the Dodgers' bullpen in 2011 and 2012 and, if healthy, could be a potential reclamation project. A minor league deal would suffice.
Burke Badenhop, RHP
Badenhop might be more sought-after than I'm thinking as he's established himself as a solid, reliable but ultimately unspectacular arm you can rely on to eat innings. At 31, he threw 70.2 innings for the Red Sox last season — his most since 2009, and put together a a 2.29 ERA. He doesn't miss a lot of bats, however, and his K/BB was the lowest of his career. Still, staying healthy and not being terrible gets you on this list. If he'd take a 1-year deal worth $3 million, that be a good get for the Sox.
Tim Stauffer, RHP
I've actually followed Stauffer's career a bit closer than normal since he was a primary part of one of my favorite sports books, The Last Best League (read it, if you haven't). He was drafted fourth overall by the San Diego Padres in the 2003 draft and never quite lived up to his potential as a starter. He's battled injuries and inconsistencies throughout his career and last started with regularity in 2011. He's been both healthy and solid for the Padres during the last two seasons and would make a fine addition the the Sox's bullpen.
Neal Cotts, LHP
Oh, what a fun reunion this would be for the fans who like to bring up 2005. After being out of the majors from 2009-12, Cotts has found a resurgence during the last two seasons with Texas, racking up innings and posting a solid strikeout rate.
Jason Motte, RHP
After posting 42 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals, Motte missed the entire 2013 season because of Tommy John Surgery. He returned in May and pitched poorly in 29 appearances before being left off the postseason squad. He's the type of low-risk guy you give a $1 million deal to, if not a Spring Training invite. He's not too far removed from being a successful pitcher.
Dustin McGowan, RHP
Like Stauffer, McGowan is a once-hyped starter who failed to A) stay healthy and B) show solid results when healthy. The Blue Jays declined his $4 million option after the season and is the type of arm one can dream the White Sox can work their magic with.
The moral of this story, of course, is Who The Hell Knows? Relievers are a fickle bunch, and there are plenty of lotto tickets out there of which Hahn can sort through until he finds a few he hopes can resemble a solid unit. Regardless of who ends up in the Sox's 'pen in 2015, one should anticipate it'll include free agents who, like the aforementioned six, are flying well under the free agency radar.