He Gone: Sox risk big in non-tendering Jenks

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He Gone: Sox risk big in non-tendering Jenks

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
3:01 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

To no ones surprise, on Thursday the Chicago White Sox non-tendered closer Bobby Jenks, ending his South Side career just 29 saves short of the Bobby Thigpens franchise record.

All signs pointed to todays move, as Jenkss rising salary, declining conditioning, and sour attitude were all supporting evidence of the decision.

Jenks didnt get along well with manager Ozzie Guillen, who doesnt mask the fact that he believes Jenks doesnt take his job seriously (conditioning) andor exaggerates injury to miss time. And in speaking for a half-hour with pitching coach Don Cooper on Wednesday, Coopclearly still appreciative of his fireballing protgdidnt bring up Jenkss name once.

But most importantly are the thoughts of the man who offers the contracts, and GM Ken Williams was pointed in his remarks about Jenks in his final address of the 2010 season: Jenkss return is something we have to evaluate strongly, because Ive been disappointed on a number of levelsand there are certain things that Im not going to talk about right now.

So between the lines and emblazoned on the marquee, the writing on Jenks was there: He gone.

However, cutting Jenks loose without a true backup plan could spell doom for the White Sox. The offseason attention is being paid to the return of Paul Konerko or the acquisition of Adam Dunn, but breaking camp with the dominoes still scattered after Jenkss dismissal would be catastrophic.

Did Jenks have a down 2010, arguably his worst yet in the majors? Absolutely. Via arbitration, he has become far too expensive, and as a player hes turned increasingly fragile and relatively unreliable. But unless there is a serious problem with Jenks that both the reliever and the team have kept well sequestered, hes due for a major bounce-back. Jenkss price for 2011 will still be high, but the cost of selling him off low (in his career arc, at least) could be a terrible mistake.

The case for Jenks is already made rather handily by my colleague J. Jonah Stankevitz, but the summary is that of all the serious factors listed above that can be used as reasons not to keep Jenks on board, the burly fireman was more a victim of bad luck and a corresponding lack of confidence than anything.

Take Jenkss batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In 2010, hitters safetied at a .368 clip vs. Jenks, which was a far higher rate than any other season in his career (his career average BABIP is more than 60 points less, at .306). So more balls were falling in on Jenkssomething he could not control.

Bad luck isnt entirely new to Jenks. In his first two seasons batters posted a BABIP of around .340 against him. However, those were Jenkss salad days, when even a superstar like Jeff Bagwell would soil his shorts over not just the Jenks heater, but a curveball that made vendors selling popcorn jump back and spill.

Jenks has lost confidence in his deathly yakker, and must regain it to become an elite closer again. He threw it just 7.4 of the time in 2010, the lowest of his careerand often replacing it is his most hittable pitch, the slider.

And its not as if Jenks has lost his stuff, with a sweet K rate (10.42 K9, second best of his career). His Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP, essentially an ERA-type figure taking fielders out of the equation) was as good as any in his career, at just 2.52. And his ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, which must be high to ensure success in a microwave like U.S. Cellular Field, was a career-best 2.80, indicating that Jenks, for all his woes, is keeping the ball down and mastering the ability to pitch in his tricky home park.

So a strong case can be made that Jenks is due for a strong, if not stellar, bounce-back season. Sabermeister Bill James envisions (not entirely because of but largely due to better luck, a BABIP trimmed to .307) a 32-save season and a 3.12 ERA.

But theres an equally-important reason why Jenks, sans a doable Plan B involving a player outside the organization, needs to return: the domino effect.

Talking with Cooper yesterday left no indication, as many (including me) have speculated, that Sergio Santos will get much of a sniff at closing in just his second major-league year. Coop talked of Santos repeating and improving on his great 2010, but in a context that pointed to another season setting up.

J.J. Putz could return to the South Side, re-inked with a promise to get a chance to close. But he would be wise to refuse that option, given his relative success last year in a lower-pressure role vs. his awful work as a substitute closer. While unstoppable as a fireman in 2006 and 2007 for the Seattle Mariners, Putz has battled to just a .588 save percentage over his last three seasons, including just .429 last year in seven chances.

That leaves lefty All-Star Matt Thornton as the likely closer in 2011. Great, right? Thornton was all but unhittable in 2010 and has been building a case to close for years now.

But shifting the only viable lefty in the pen to closer is the capper of a terrible domino effect. Santos could well be left as the only proven bullpen short manand hes been proven for just a single season. There are no obvious reinforcements in the minors, and the sole promising lefty in the pen, Erick Threets, went down with a torn ligament in his elbow in August and was non-tendered along with Jenks on Thursday.

An argument can be made that Jenks himself, with his self-immolating series vs. the Minnesota Twins to open the 2010s second half, started the clock ticking toward his demise. Believe me, as a diehard following the team daily, it was tempting to measure the what-me closers neck for the guillotine. But imagine Jenks being lost for the season in spring training, and the train wreck of a pen that would have been unleashed on fans from April on. Like it or not, even in Jenkss worst year, he was the linchpin of the pen.

The speculative 2011 White Sox bullpen sans Jenks lists Thornton as closer and Santos as his setup man, Scott Linebrink in a mop-up role and possibly a returning Tony Pena in long reliefand theres not a supporting lefty arm within hollering distance.

Chris Sale certainly could be the answer, even as the teams closer. But Sale was drafted to pitch a solid innings load, as a starter. Inasmuch as hes the sixth-man in a five-man rotation right now, the White Soxs best chance to improve via trades would come in swapping a proven armsay, the revitalized wing of Edwin Jackson. And regardless, injuries will occur (no one knows if Jake Peavy will be ready in April) and Sale cannot be expected to start the season in short relief and stretch out to sub in the rotation on the fly.

As for Jenkss cost becoming prohibitive, well, if the White Sox valued him properlyespecially in light of the Threets injury, which ironically may have set the dominoes falling months agochances are a deal lowering his salary, but adding years, could have been secured. Ensure Jenks is your top-salaried reliever (say 5.6 million to top, ack, Linebrink) for two or three seasons, and the White Sox would have seen a return on the investmentin five full seasons, Jenks gave 31.1 million in value to the White Sox per FanGraphs, an average of 6.2 million per season.

At the moment, speculative perceptions and hazy projections have run Jenks out of town. Who replaces him, and how can the 2011 possibly be as strong as it was in 2010?

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Adam Engel making the most of his opportunity with White Sox

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USA TODAY

Adam Engel making the most of his opportunity with White Sox

Adam Engel is making the most of his second opportunity with the White Sox.

Engel had his best game of the season in Thursday’s finale against the Minnesota Twins, where he went 4-for-5 with three singles, a double, and two RBIs in the White Sox 9-0 win. He became the first White Sox outfielder with a four-hit game within their first 11 career MLB games since Harold Baines (10th game) on April 20, 1980, according to CSN stats guru Chris Kamka.

"Some days you hit it, some days you don’t," Engel said. "Yesterday was the day that I hit it.”

After nearly a five-hour rain delay, the White Sox came out hot right from the get-go on Thursday. In fact, by the time Engel was ready to bat for the first time, the White Sox were already leading 4-0 and Twins starter Nik Turley had been yanked from the game.

“It was awesome,” Engel. “(The) team is winning, getting some hits. It’s a great feeling. Obviously the goal is to try and help the team win.”

[Vivid Seats: Buy your White Sox tickets here]

Engel made his major league debut on May 27 and then was optioned back to Triple-A Charlotte on June 9. His wife Jaime had a child on June 12, and almost a week later, he was recalled again by the White Sox to replace an injured Leury Garcia.

Engel, who's hitting .344/.382/.406 entering Friday's game, will look to keep his hot streak going with his wife and newborn in attendance.

Mark Buehrle relishing life after baseball, and his new softball position

Mark Buehrle relishing life after baseball, and his new softball position

Mark Buehrle was known for plenty of things in his 16-year career, whether it was winning 214 games, being a five-time All-Star, throwing a perfect game and a no-hitter, winning a World Series and throwing 200 or more innings in 14 consecutive seasons. 

Now, the 38-year-old is relishing life as a dad and husband. Oh, and as the first baseman and cleanup hitter for his beer league softball team. 

Hey, Buehrle’s probably the only one on the team to hit a home run in the major leagues, in addition to that whole other list of pitching accomplishments. But socking softball dingers hasn’t given Buehrle the itch to get back into baseball, at least not yet. 

“I honestly thought I'd miss it more, the first year at home sitting on the couch and watching games and thinking, 'Man, what am I doing? I probably should still be playing,’” Buehrle said. “But the little ones have kept me busy and the wife's honey do list is not getting any shorter. But no, I enjoy being home and running the kids around and doing all the stuff we're doing. I haven't really missed it at all.”

Buehrle led the American League in complete games in 2015 and finished that year with a 15-8 record and 3.81 ERA, though he fell 1 1/3 innings shy of making it 15 consecutive seasons with 200 or more innings pitched. But he was isolated in Toronto, with his family still in St. Louis, and knew that even though he probably had more left in the tank, he didn’t want to continue playing. 

So Buehrle didn’t have a retirement tour, reportedly turned down some one-year offers and bought an RV after the 2015 season. 

“I was sitting in my apartment too much saying, ‘I’m a family guy, I’m a dad. I’m not a single college student,’” Buehrle said. “That’s what I felt like. I knew I was done that whole year leading up to it. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. I wanted to go off in the sunset kind of quiet. I didn’t want all the attention.”

Someday, Buehrle expects he’ll want to get back into the game in some capacity. His kids are eight and nine (going on 10) years old, though, so it probably won’t be anytime soon. Unless you count getting back in the game as playing some beer league softball. 

“Right now we are so busy at home and enjoying that, I wouldn’t want to have to keep leaving again,” Buehrle said. “Eventually I would like to do something to stay involved.”