5 for '14: Did pen makeover go far enough?

Closer candidate Nate Jones has dealt with command issues at times this spring. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Figuring out who is going to close games is only a part of the equation when it comes to the Chicago White Sox's bullpen.

It is the biggest decision, of course, but after an offseason of upheaval, there are plenty of new faces that will be trying to make themselves comfortable in the holding area at U.S. Cellular Field that sits beyond the left-field wall.

Left-hander Scott Downs is new, not to mention right-handers Ronald Belisario, Maikel Cleto and even Daniel Webb, who has just nine games of major league experience. Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom remain in a duel for the closer role and that decision might not be made official until the first save situation of the season.

While most of the attention has gone to the youth movement being made with the everyday lineup, this year's bullpen has been mostly recognized for its subtractions rather than its additions. Closer Addison Reed was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, leaving some large shoes to fill, while mainstays Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain have also moved on.

And this year's bullpen has already had one setback as right-hander Mitchell Boggs, a member of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic just last year, has been released after he struggled in seven Cactus League outings.

Even if Lindstrom starts the season as the closer, the job figures to be Jones' eventually. Ultimately Jones will have to overcome command issues that not only affected him in the first two months last season, but have also crept up on him at times this spring. The 28-year-old still led the American League last season in batting average against first batters faced (.131), was fourth in strikeouts among relievers (89) and sixth in double plays induced (nine).

While Downs has 12 years of major league experience, that also means he isn't young anymore at age 38. He did post a 1.84 ERA in 29 1/3 innings with the Los Angeles Angels last season before he was traded to the Atlanta Braves to assist in their stretch run.

Figuring out what Belisario will be able to deliver won't be easy. His habit of arriving late to spring training were evident again with his new team. What was also evident when he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers was the tendency to run out of gas as the season wore on. May and June are typically his best months, with July being his least productive, next to April and August.

If Boggs was the most disappointing addition this winter, then claiming Cleto could be the pleasant surprise if the hard-throwing right-hander can deliver after not gaining any traction in big league stints each of the past three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.


By the time Jones got it going last season, two months of the season had passed and he had already made 21 appearances. Even if he doesn't close, a quicker start could help to solidify roles.

If Webb continues the rise he started last year when he opened the season at the Class A level, it could mean a higher-profile role before the summer is complete. He will have modest expectations early, but a huge year could put him in the team's young core moving forward.

Oblique injuries are tricky since they aren't quite healed even when the discomfort goes away. The White Sox can't afford a significant setback in Lindstrom's recovery, especially since all of their bullpen roles, outside of a late-inning left-hander, remain up in the air.