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White Sox’ reported reunion with Mike Clevinger a head-scratcher, for baseball reasons more than culture ones

Vinnie Duber Avatar
April 1, 2024
Mike Clevinger

There are going to be a lot of White Sox fans who are really mad that Mike Clevinger is back.

“Why in the world would they want to bring him back?” is already a popular question on social media.

The White Sox shouldn’t be surprised by that reaction. Clevinger is reportedly rejoining the team on a one-year free-agent deal after a 2023 stint on the South Side that was, for many, defined by the league’s investigation into domestic-abuse allegations against him.

That the league’s investigation yielded no punishment didn’t do much to change hearts and minds throughout the fan base. Even independent of those allegations, which were made public after the team signed him to a free-agent contract, former general manager Rick Hahn acknowledged that Clevinger’s history of “immaturity” — he notably broke the COVID bubble in 2020, when he played for Cleveland — informed a “calculated risk” on the White Sox’ part.

“We have had success at times in the past taking calculated risks on players that have had, let’s say immaturity issues with other organizations, bringing them in here and making them part of our environment, giving them a new opportunity to fulfill their potential,” Hahn said in February of last year. “We probably don’t have that ring in ‘05 without taking chances like that.”

Obviously, the White Sox didn’t come close to getting a ring in 2023. But in a clubhouse that experienced plenty of dysfunction during a 101-loss campaign, Clevinger was described as a positive presence.

In reaction to Monday’s reports that Clevinger is coming back, plenty have already called out Chris Getz, Hahn’s successor, as betraying his intent to remake the White Sox’ clubhouse culture as part of his organizational overhaul. So many of Getz’s offseason additions were touted for their off-the-field impact and the effect they would have in the clubhouse, even if the effect they would have on the field was less exciting.

But from the White Sox’ perspective, adding Clevinger might be working toward that goal, not against it, despite what fan opinion might be.

“I don’t see what team wouldn’t want a guy like that,” manager Pedro Grifol said in September, when the mutual option on Clevinger’s contract made the right-hander’s future unknown, “a guy that can go out there and compete and compete with plus stuff and have really good makeup and be a real good clubhouse guy with experience.

“From my standpoint, I’d love for him to be a part of the rotation.”

Knowing the team’s opinion of Clevinger on the culture front, the move is more confusing from a baseball standpoint, with the White Sox dropping another veteran onto a team that’s not expected to contend during a rebuilding season.

It’s one thing for the White Sox — who are living up to preseason expectations so far, 0-4 following a blowout loss to the Braves on Monday — to bring in guys like Paul DeJong and Martín Maldonado, who are effectively placeholders while highly rated prospects Colson Montgomery and Edgar Quero develop in the minor leagues.

But it looked like one of the team’s many young pitching prospects was ready to make the leap to the major leagues after a strong spring. Nick Nastrini was sensational during Cactus League play and throughout spring training, looking like someone who would step into the team’s fifth-starter role once the schedule made it necessary for the White Sox to fill it. That was assumed to be Wednesday, though we’ll see if bad weather this week kicks that can further down the road.

Now, though, it’s at least a question of whether Clevinger’s presence would prevent Nastrini — or any other youngster — from getting a big league chance sooner rather than later.

Sure, it’s possible the White Sox had planned to let Nastrini develop more; he made only a small handful of starts at the Triple-A level last year after a late-season promotion. But he was electric during the spring and seemed to be forcing the issue, something the White Sox rewarded Garrett Crochet for doing with not only a place in the rotation but the status of the team’s Opening Day starter.

But does Clevinger’s return block Nastrini in any way? The rotation, once Clevinger is ready for game action, is suddenly full of veterans, Clevinger joining Crochet, Michael Soroka, Erick Fedde and Chris Flexen. Would the White Sox cut one of them loose to give an opportunity to Nastrini, someone who figures to be an actual part of their long-term plans? And if Nastrini can’t get that opportunity, what does that do to the idea that Getz’s rebuilding project could turn the White Sox into contenders in a shorter time than Hahn’s yearslong effort?

The best-case scenario, it would seem, would be the White Sox turning this signing — which one figures must be coming at a smaller cost than it would have months prior — into a trade-deadline deal that nets young players of greater use to them in the long term.

Is that a scenario worth blocking Nastrini?

Is that a scenario worth angering a segment of an already frustrated fan base?

Grifol had no comment on the reports after Monday’s blowout loss, which means the soonest any answers to these questions will come is Tuesday, should the deal become official by then.

And so the question fans are asking amid these reports — “Why in the world would they want to bring him back?” — is, at least for the time being, pretty appropriate.

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