Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate CHGO Sports Community!

Lefty Tim Hill figures to be just the start of White Sox’ bullpen work

Vinnie Duber Avatar
December 28, 2023
Tim Hill

The White Sox have been pretty busy this offseason, necessary considering the amount of holes first-year general manager Chris Getz needed to fill — and still needs to fill — on a roster that lost 101 games last season.

But while infield defense, the starting rotation and veteran catching help have been focuses, Getz had yet to make a significant addition to the bullpen. That is, until Thursday.

Tim Hill is now a part of the South Side relief corps, the left-hander getting a one-year free-agent deal worth $1.8 million after being non-tendered by the Padres earlier this winter.

Hill is a veteran of six major league seasons with the Padres and Royals and boasted a pretty strong track record until 2023, when his ERA soared to previously unseen heights and finished at an ugly 5.48. Prior, his career mark stood at an impressive 3.88.

Once upon a time, Hill put up good strikeout numbers, though those have declined in recent years. His ground-ball rate, however, was one of baseball’s highest last season. He ranked seventh, to be precise, among pitchers who logged at least 40 innings. That meshes well with Getz’s quest to have that improved infield defense make life a breeze for ground-ball pitchers. Erick Fedde, who the White Sox signed to a two-year free-agent deal earlier this month, dazzled as the MVP of Korean baseball this year in part due to being able to make hitters hit the ball on the ground.

The White Sox had an abysmal defense all over the field in each of the last two disappointing seasons. But Getz has swapped out Tim Anderson — who committed 130 errors in eight years at shortstop — for the more sure handed Paul DeJong, and Nicky Lopez is aboard with a strong defensive reputation at second base. Yoán Moncada has disappointed offensively as he’s struggled to stay healthy, but his defensive ability at third base has never been in doubt. That trio — though it remains unknown whether Lopez will stick as the everyday second baseman or serve in more of a utility-infielder role — ought to make things much easier for pitchers.

With a near-submarine delivery style from the left side, Hill could be seen as a more affordable replacement for Aaron Bummer, who was traded to the Braves last month and also excelled at generating grounders. Though whether because of bad luck or the aforementioned defensive shortcomings on the White Sox’ infield, he struggled to find the same success he did earlier in his career, posting a 6.79 ERA last season. Hill will be looking for a similar bounce-back campaign to what Bummer will have in mind down in Georgia.

But Getz is far from being able to point to a finished bullpen. Hill is basically the first addition to the unit this offseason, unless you count October waiver pickup Alex Speas. Prior to Hill’s signing, only presumed closer Gregory Santos, who ended the 2023 season on the injured list, and Garrett Crochet, who missed the bulk of the 2023 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, figured to count as locked-in members.

It’s a far cry from what the relief corps looked like on Opening Day last season. Since, just about everyone has departed: Jake Diekman and José Ruíz were DFA’d; Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly, Reynaldo López and Keynan Middleton were dealt away at the trade deadline; and Liam Hendriks, who wasn’t on the Opening Day roster while he underwent cancer treatment, had his option declined for the 2024 season. Only Santos and Jimmy Lambert remain with the team from the group that broke camp.

Few who were given late-season auditions impressed much, exemplified by Declan Cronin getting DFA’d to make room for Hill on the 40-man roster Thursday. In fact, of everyone who threw a pitch for the White Sox in 2023, midseason waiver claim Deivi García was the only one to post an ERA below 3.00, doing so in just six games of work. Santos and Graveman, who had more strenuous workloads, joined him as the only ones with ERAs under 3.50.

It all points to just how much needs to fall into place in order for Pedro Grifol to have relievers he can depend on when the season starts in late March.

Some of that, as the manager explained late last season, just happens, as the year-to-year volatility of relief pitching sees new faces emerge on an annual basis.

“I think the cool thing about a bullpen is that it can come from anywhere,” Grifol said in September. “You might have a starter in the minor leagues that all of a sudden has a really good spring training and you feel he’s got the stuff, but you don’t want to push him to start in the big leagues yet, you might want to preserve innings or you don’t want to give him that task of 30 starts. You start him off in the bullpen, and all of a sudden you’ve got a big-time dude out there. Or it can come from a non-roster invite, like Middleton. Or it can come from a trade, like Santos, where you identify a big arm. (Pitching prospect Jordan) Leasure, in that trade we made, from the Dodgers, he’s throwing upper 90s, 97, 98, 99 with command. He could end up being one of those guys. Who knows?

“The good thing about a bullpen is they just show up. It just happens. I remember Liam starting for us in Kansas City. And then the next thing you know, he’s in the bullpen in Oakland and he’s having a great season in middle leverage to a little bit later leverage. And the next thing you know, he’s one of the premier closers in the game.

“That’s the cool thing about building a bullpen, you have so many different avenues that you can use and resources you can use to fill it out. It’s kind of neat.”

But it’ll be hard for Grifol to head into spring with overwhelming confidence in more than a few relief arms unless Getz keeps adding, which would figure to occur. Some fans might be itching for a reunion with veteran Bryan Shaw, who pitched well when given a heavy workload in the 2023 season’s final weeks. For what it’s worth, Getz said earlier this month that the White Sox would be open to bringing Shaw back.

But regardless of who it is — Hill is yet another low-cost addition by Getz this winter, a trend that’s making it hard to escape the notion that the White Sox are entering something akin to a rebuild, even if team brass doesn’t want to use that word — the South Siders would obviously benefit from as much pitching help as they can get their hands on, both in the rotation and in the bullpen.

Hill is a nice start on the relief front, but there would figure to be plenty of bullpen-related items still on Getz’s offseason to-do list.

Get Our Best Sox Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Chicago White Sox fan with Vinnie Duber's Sox Newsletter!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?