Chicago White Sox

Reliever Crain 'ecstatic' to join White Sox

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Reliever Crain 'ecstatic' to join White Sox

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
3:37 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO Last year, J.J. Putz cherry-picked enough easy wins to be considered the Chicago White Sox vulture, swooping down for surprisingly easy kills. But with Putz having departed for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the role is now open.

Early nominee for 2011 White Sox vulture? General Manager Ken Williams.

It happened very quickly, Jesse Crain recounted on Monday afternoon. We were negotiating with the Colorado Rockies and Boston Red Sox, they were offering a vesting third year, the White Sox called on Tuesday and we agreed on Wednesday Dec. 15.

It took 24 hours to get a deal done. I thought, These guys are serious.

Crain had his second-best professional season in 2010, going 1-1 with a 3.04 ERA and 2.3 KBB. His 3.45 Fielder Independent Pitching was equivalent to that of White Sox starter Gavin Floyd, and like Floyd he was lights-out at midseason, stitching together 21 straight scoreless appearances from June 12 to Aug. 4 and compiling a 0.28 ERA over 35 games between June and August. Crain tied for eighth in the American League with a career-best 21 holds, limiting hitters to a .215 average and stranding .769 of inherited runners. In his career vs. the AL Central, Crain is 20-7 with a 2.82 ERA.

His team-first makeup and his ascendant numbers pushed Williams to secure Crain for the next three seasons, paying him 13 million (4 million in 2011 and 4.5 million each in 2012 and 2013) in a contract made official on Monday.

Better yet, Crain feels hes only getting better.

I was sort of surprised to see just a few days ago on a Web site that my velocity has gone up over the last few years, he said. Im developing a new split-finger fastball to compliment his fastball, slider, curve and seldom-thrown changeup and Im really looking forward to working with Pale Hose pitching coach Don Cooper.

Crains correct, in that speed tracking finds that over seven professional seasons the righthanders fastball has increased in average velocity from 92.9 mph in 2004 to 94.8 mph in 2010.

Those numbers point toward Crain just reaching his professional peak. Yet hes chosen to ditch the deep gaps of Target Field for the summer bandbox that is U.S. Cellular Field. While there is some concern that Crains flirtation with being a fly ball reliever may make for a bad fit at his new ballpark (0.89 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio in 2010 but 1.23 in his career), the 29-year-old is unruffled.

Ive pitched in Chicago a bunch of times, Crain said. Yeah, the ball flies a little more, and some deep flies are going to turn into home runs, but you just cant let it affect you. You cant think too much.

The fireballer admitted to some surprise over Minnys reticence in re-signing him, claiming they told him right away the club wouldnt be looking for more than a two-year deal at 3.5 million per.

The Twins were never really in the running, Crain said. They said from the very beginning they wouldnt sign anyone for more than three years or 3.5 million per year. They told former Minnesota Twins reliever Matt Guerrier the same thing. We didnt negotiate with them at all.

Crains departure is just the latest from the Twins, who have lost key late man Guerrier to the Los Angeles Dodgers and second baseman Orlando Hudson to the San Diego Padres, and have yet to come to terms with key free agent starter Carl Pavano.

Im not sure what direction theyre going, Crain said. Im not sure whos going to come up. They have some prospects but with not much experience. Losing me and Guerrier is definitely going to hurt them.

As for handing in his deep blue Twinkies PJs to become a White Sox man in black, changing pinstripes in the midst of an intense rivalry, Crain didnt hesitate to admit he was entering uncharted territory.

I dont know, its going to be weird, he said of facing his old team. Ive never been anywhere else. I have a lot of very good friends there. But its going to be fun to go back there and face them.

With the closers roleand the makeup of the 2011 bullpen itselfin flux, Crain was assured of a key role on the back end. When Williams talked to Crain, the GM had the short man plugged in between Matt Thornton and Chris Sale as the last right-hander out of the pen. Its not inconceivable to see all three hurlers, as well as Sergio Santos, getting shots to finish gamesand if so, Crain is eager to give the firemans role a shot.

I closed games growing up all through the minors (42 saves in four minor-league seasons and 29 for AAA Rochester in 2003 and 2004), Crain said. I was ready to close in 2004, but the team traded for Joe Nathan and I never got the chance.

While never a closer in the years since, as Nathan became the ensconced finisher for Minnesota, Crains career save percentage of .188 is something the hurler is looking to reverse.

I feel confident I can fill that closer role, he said. Im excited to get the opportunity to do that and looking forward to closing with the White Sox.

For a guy bred for years to execute White Sox hittersCrain is 5-2 with a 1.45 ERA in 45 career games vs. Chicagothe 61, 215-pound pitcher is giddy with excitement to hop to the South Side.

Its exciting. If youd asked me in September whether Id be pitching in Chicago next year, Id have had no idea, Crain said. When the White Sox contacted me last week, I was ecstatic. I dont see why was cant go to the World Series.

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

White Sox Talk Podcast: Hawk rips Lackey, Swarzak traded, Coop misses Q

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Hawk rips Lackey, Swarzak traded, Coop misses Q

After a wild day at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, Chuck Garfien and Dan Hayes discuss John Lackey hitting four White Sox batters and also play Hawk Harrelson's epic on-air rant directed at the Cubs pitcher.

"Jeff the Sox Fan" appears on the podcast and suggests what he thinks Jose Abreu should have done to Lackey when he was hit for a second time.

While they taped the podcast, Anthony Swarzak was traded to the Brewers. What kind of return did the White Sox get? Garfien also interviews White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper about losing Quintana to the Cubs, why he can't watch Quintana and Chris Sale pitch in different uniform, when some minor leaguers like Reynaldo Lopez will be called up and more.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

How White Sox aggressive deadline strategy paid off in Anthony Swarzak trade

How White Sox aggressive deadline strategy paid off in Anthony Swarzak trade

The White Sox jumped out ahead of a crowded reliever market once again and traded Anthony Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night.

The White Sox acquired 25-year-old outfielder Ryan Cordell from the Brewers in exchange for the veteran reliever, a baseball source confirmed. The No. 17 prospect in the Brewers farm system, Cordell was hitting .284/.349/.506 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in 292 plate appearances at Triple-A Colorado Springs this season.

A nonroster invitee to big league camp this spring, Swarzak was 4-3 with a 2.23 ERA, one save and 52 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings this season. He’s the third reliever the White Sox have traded since the second half began as they also dealt David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the New York Yankees with Todd Frazier on July 18.

TA free agent after the season, Swarzak has fared extremely well in high-leverage situations, stranding 26 of the 35 runners he had inherited. He pitched in two high-leverage spots in the team’s previous two games, earning his first career save Monday. Swarzak, whose 9.68 strikeouts per nine is a career high, also earned a hold on Sunday in Kansas City.

“I’ve been waiting for that opportunity for a long time,” Swarzak said of Monday’s save. “It’s nice that I went in there and got it done. You think about that moment for years and then it finally happens. You just are trying to take a step back and reflect on what just happened, and I’ll be able to come in tomorrow and be ready to go.”

Two American League scouts said Monday that Swarzak still had good trade value even though he’s viewed as a rental. While he wouldn’t likely net the White Sox a top-150 prospect, they could wrangle a “good” minor-leaguer in a deal. One element that could have potentially derailed the White Sox was an abundance of strong relief options in the market, perhaps as many as 20 pitchers.

[MORE: Carlos Rodon frustrated again after a weird start

After the White Sox traded Robertson and Kahnle, general manager Rick Hahn indicated they moved the pair early in anticipation of a competitive marketplace when they acquired Blake Rutherford and others from the New York Yankees. The Baltimore Orioles are a team that could have wreaked havoc on the relief market if they decide to sell -- something one AL source said they’ve gone back and forth on every day -- because they could flood it with Zach Britton and others.

The move is the third made by the White Sox in a span of two weeks, including the trade of Jose Quintana to the Cubs on July 13. The White Sox still have several veterans on the roster who could draw trade interest, including starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez.

“We are still open for business,” Hahn said last week.

Today’s Knuckleball’s Jon Heyman first reported the deal that sent Swarzak to the Brewers. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal initially reported the teams’ were discussing a trade for Swarzak.