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Gregory Santos’ emergence as a potential closer of the future was one of the few bright spots of a mostly miserable 2023 season on the South Side.
But after Chris Getz pulled off a pair of trades Saturday, any future Santos has as a closer will come elsewhere.
Santos was traded to the Mariners in exchange for a pair of prospects – relief pitcher Prelander Berroa and outfielder Zach DeLoach – and a draft pick. Meanwhile, Getz swung another deal with the Diamondbacks, acquiring outfielder Dominic Fletcher for pitching prospect Cristian Mena.
It means the White Sox will have a new ninth-inning man in 2024. Santos was mostly excellent last year, posting a 2.53 ERA through 50 appearances before ending the season badly. He blew three saves and had an ERA north of 8.50 in his final 10 outings and finished the year on the injured list. But he was expected to be healthy enough to make the team’s Opening Day roster, and under club control through 2028, he struck as someone who could be part of Getz’s long-term planning.
But in a similar stroke to what he did with the Aaron Bummer trade earlier this offseason, Getz was able to turn a reliever into multiple assets, and the simple math of two – or in this case, two and a draft pick – being greater than one was enough to make the deal enticing for the White Sox.
“Quite honestly, it came down to multiplying and being able to get multiple players for one,” Getz said during a media session Saturday night. “Gregory Santos, I anticipate he’s going to perform well and have a great career, I do. … It was a hard decision. To trade a Gregory Santos is not easy. There’s volatility with relievers, and to be able to add Berroa and DeLoach and the comp pick, we felt this was a sound baseball decision.”
Indeed, building depth has been one of the many items on Getz’s to-do list since he took over as general manager last summer, and Saturday’s trades added more bodies to the organization, particularly at the position that seems the most unsettled as the White Sox sit a little more than a week out from the start of spring training.
Getz wasn’t ready to say he found his everyday right fielder Saturday, but Fletcher would figure to jump to frontrunner status in the battle for the job. Existing candidates Oscar Colás and Gavin Sheets seem to have little chance at securing the role; Colás’ multiple major league stints in 2023 were downright disastrous, while Getz has voiced a desire to improve defensively at the position where Sheets, a natural first baseman, was forced in recent seasons.
The 26-year-old Fletcher comes with a positive defensive reputation, enough of one, anyway, to satisfy Getz’s mission of an upgraded glove. But his offensive numbers will obviously get the most attention, and he put up some good ones in limited big league action a year ago, batting .301 with a .350 on-base percentage across 102 plate appearances.
But in describing his newest acquisition, Getz talked an awful lot about the kinds of things he’s talked about all winter, and it seems Fletcher can be added to the list of White Sox newcomers who can help deliver a style of play that Getz and Pedro Grifol want to see on a nightly basis.
“What stood out for Dominic Fletcher? Left-handed hitting outfielder. And he can defend,” Getz said. “He’s got both offensive and defensive potential, and I say potential but he’s performed and he’s gone out and done that. High makeup kid, high energy, plays the game the right way. He can base-run, he can defend, he makes good decisions on a baseball field, got a really solid reputation.”
In his first taste of the majors last year, Fletcher wasn’t as successful against left-handers as he was against righties. It’ll take the spring, one assumes, for the White Sox to figure out whether a platoon will be necessary or not.
An answer could lie with the other newly added outfielder, as DeLoach had a strong offensive season in 138 games at Triple-A in 2023. He slashed .286/.387/.481 with 23 homers, 30 doubles and 83 walks, and what do you know, he was particularly effective against left-handed pitchers, posting a .905 OPS when facing southpaws.
Getz also confirmed the team’s addition of veteran outfielder Kevin Pillar on a minor league deal, and perhaps he could factor into the thinking in right field, too.
The general manager said it’s too early to tell how things will shake out in right, though he voiced pleasure with the work done at the position and didn’t seem intent on adding more there unless the opportunity were to arise. Ironing out the playing time, that’s what spring training is for, and right field could be one of the more notable position battles worth monitoring at White Sox camp.
“We view both (Fletcher and DeLoach as) players that are going to get the opportunity to be in our outfield this year,” Getz said. “Fletcher has major league experience. He’s had some success at the major league level. DeLoach hasn’t gotten the opportunity quite yet, but I’m sure when he gets it, he’ll take advantage of it, as well. Both (are) players that we feel strongly about that can help us. More than anything, creating outfield depth from the left-handed side we felt was something we wanted to pursue, and we were able to convert on it.
“To say one or the other is going to be our right fielder or left fielder is premature, I’m just excited to have both of them in the building.”
Berroa, meanwhile, could help soften the sting of losing Santos. While he only made two appearances at the big league level last season – both of them scoreless – Berroa had a dandy of a year at Double-A, posting a 2.89 ERA and striking out 101 batters in 65.1 innings. He was used in a closer’s role, finishing 22 games.
Who knows if the 23-year-old is ready for a jump to pitching in the ninth at the big league level, but he’s the newest candidate for a spot in the White Sox’ bullpen, where there are plenty of spots up for grabs. Only newly added veterans John Brebbia and Tim Hill seem locks to be part of the South Side relief corps, and there’s nothing saying Berroa – who Getz likened to Santos – can’t join them with a productive spring.
As for who will step into the closer’s role with Santos gone?
“Time will tell. We have to breathe a little bit, based on the transaction we had today,” Getz said. “Gregory was able to serve in many roles. He had closed games, but he was a bridge guy, early guy, multi-inning guy.
“We have a lot of quality options. It takes a little bit of time for the identities of the bullpen to kind of take shape in regards to different roles. But I like the style of arms we have, both starting and relievers. There’s plenty of upside. Time will tell. We will certainly be creative with how we deploy our pitching.”
The White Sox might have the vast majority of their offseason work completed, then, after Saturday’s deals, not that either move does much to shift the storyline of Getz’s first winter in the GM’s chair, one where the focus has been on defensive improvement via short-term and low-cost additions. The team’s offensive hopes seem to rest on a host of players rebounding from disappointing 2023 campaigns and, in some cases, finding consistent major league success for the first time or the first time in a long time. The pitching staff is full of questions – chief among them how much longer Dylan Cease will remain a part of it – but can at least count far more options than in years past, even if few are exciting to a frustrated fan base.
Whether Getz and White Sox brass want to say it or not, this seems to be the outset of another rebuilding effort, even if it’s not planned to last as long as Rick Hahn’s yearslong project that never got off the ground.
“We’ve accomplished a fair amount this offseason, building a strong foundation, not only for ’24 but for (the future),” Getz said. “To clean up our defense and put our best foot forward on the defensive side and keep our offensive potential building is important, and it felt like we’ve been able to do that with some of the acquisitions.
“All things considered, I feel pretty good about where we are at. We are very close to spring training, but that does not mean we won’t continue to look at opportunities to make us better.”
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