OAKLAND, Calif. -- In what could be a preview of the near future for the White Sox, David Robertson is off three days to attend the birth of his second child.
One of the team’s most sought after assets, the veteran closer was placed on the paternity list before Monday's 7-2 win over the Oakland A's and isn’t likely to rejoin until the White Sox reach Denver on Friday.
For now, the White Sox coaching staff must determine how to survive for three games without Robertson, who has provided stability to the back end of the bullpen. But if all goes according to plan, the White Sox could be in search of a new closer sometime later this month when Robertson is dealt to the highest bidder.
While the White Sox have several interesting internal options to fill the void -- and having a bonafide closer shouldn’t be a priority for a rebuilding club -- the lack of an anchor could leave the rest of the team’s bullpen in disarray. That’s a position the team has been in twice in the last decade, most recently in 2014, which led to Robertson signing a four-year, $46-million deal the following offseason.
“It’s no fun,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “When you lose a guy or two or when a guy can’t handle his job there’s more asked of others, there’s more put on another guy’s plate.”
You don’t have to look very far back to recall a similar predicament.
After Addison Reed was traded, the White Sox went into 2014 with Matt Lindstrom as their closer with the hope that either Nate Jones, Daniel Webb or another young arm would emerge as the eventual replacement.
Lindstrom got the first shot and kept his head above water until he suffered a devastating ankle injury in May. That’s when the job went to Ronald Belisario, who excelled in the eighth inning but couldn’t handle the ninth.
Meanwhile, what began as a sore gluteal muscle injury for Jones eventually resulted in back surgery. During his recovery, Jones’ elbow blew out and he required Tommy John surgery. Webb never panned out and the position remained unstable until Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam -- both of whom are now injured -- pitched well over the final two months. By then it was too late for the White Sox, who briefly flirted with a run at the second wild card spot before the bullpen collapsed around the same time Frank Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
[MORE: Knee slapper: Avisail Garcia cracks jokes about recovery]
“It was a crazy year,” Petricka said. “It was a fun year. It’s what you always dream of and normally it takes years to get there. I was kind of in the right place at the wrong time. You don’t want injuries, but when injuries happen there’s an opportunity for somebody else and me and Putnam obviously were the beneficiaries of the opportunities. We both did real well, but now we’re fighting through our own injuries.”
Without Robertson, the 2017 bullpen could suffer a similar fate. Having suffered a rash of injuries and a heavy workload, the current unit has hung on by a thread in the first half only because of the performances of Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak, who also could be dealt to a contender in July.
If he’s healthy, some scouts thought in late 2016 that Jones and his nasty fastball/slider combo had the potential makings of a lower-tier closer. Though he’s made enough progress to travel with the club for the first time in three road trips, Jones hasn’t thrown off a mound in more than a month. Meanwhile, Putnam is out for the season and Petricka was placed on the disabled list again only last week with a right elbow strain.
In the midst of a breakout season, Kahnle has some experience as a closer having temporarily handled the role with the Rockies in 2014 and 2015. Kahnle entered Monday having struck out 55 batters and walked seven in 32 2/3 innings with a 2.20 ERA.
“It would be easy to slot Kahnle into the ninth inning if we wanted to,” manager Rick Renteria said. “As the game progresses we might have to match up. We’ll see how it goes as we move forward.
“Great opportunity. Absolutely. There’s no apprehension on our part to use him in that role. None whatsoever.”
But if Kahnle’s promoted, the White Sox would then be in need of a setup man. The White Sox also are trying to manage the right-hander’s workload
Zack Burdi, the team’s 2016 first-rounder, is as good of an option as any within the organization to step up and fill the void. But, his promotion would come with a learning curve.
Either way it would seem the White Sox could have some trying times ahead.
“(In 2014) we had to try and shuffle the deck and go with Belisario,” Cooper said. “I thought he was doing a good job where he was in the eighth and it goes to show you in the ninth he couldn’t handle it.
“As far as the future goes, I don’t know what people are thinking about who’s in the cards for us, who’s here or not. But we’re trying to win games.”