Sox in '15: Building a better bullpen

Where last offseason the Chicago White Sox took from the bullpen to help make an addition to another area of the roster, this winter will be completely different.

Reconstructing the relief corps figures to be one of general manager Rick Hahn's biggest challenges. If a potential trade partner comes calling in the next two months and beyond, expect the White Sox to explore at least one reliever in a return package. If the White Sox make multiple free-agent acquisitions before spring training begins, it figures that at least one of them will be able to give late-inning help.

While the White Sox were better in some areas this past season when compared with the 2013 team, the bullpen was not one of them with a 4.38 ERA that was next to last in the American League.

Former closer Addison Reed was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks last December in a move that appeared positive on the surface. Nobody denies that closers are hard to replace, but moving a 70-inning pitcher for a possible everyday player with power seemed to be a gamble worth taking.

So far, that gamble hasn't even come close to a payoff. Not only did the White Sox not find a set closer in 2014, the position player they traded for, third baseman Matt Davidson, spent the entire season at Triple-A Charlotte.

Conor Gillaspie's breakout season at third base in 2014 made Davidson's challenge to unseat him even harder than it was going into spring this past February.

And despite six months of baseball this past spring and summer, the White Sox still don't have a clear-cut closer candidate, although Jake Petricka accounted for himself quite nicely with his second-half closer chances.

Nate Jones (Tommy John surgery) still won't be back until midseason, so it isn't like internal help is on its way anytime soon, either.

Don't be surprised if the best closer candidate the White Sox get this winter is via trade. And don't be surprised if that candidate's track record as a closer is limited.

Much like Jones was last offseason as a young, rising, late-inning reliever with closer potential (before injuries surfaced), the White Sox could end up searching for live arms that they can convert to the ninth-inning role.

There will be closer candidates on the free-agent market this winter, but all but one is younger than 32, and none of them figure to come cheaply. Guys such as Jason Grilli, 38; Casey Janssen, 33; David Robertson, 30; Francisco Rodriguez, 33; and Sergio Romo, 32, all could be looking for new homes this offseason.

But closer isn't the White Sox's only need. If they do get one, Petricka and perhaps Zach Putnam can operate in a setup role. The club still has high hopes for right-hander Daniel Webb, but improvement with control issues is vital.

And even if left-hander Eric Surkamp finds his way back into the bullpen to start the 2015 season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the White Sox carry an additional lefty. They carried one left-hander nearly all of last season, and it made it tough for manager Robin Ventura to match up against opposing lineups.

One interesting left-handed free-agent candidate is Neal Cotts, who has revived his career in recent seasons with the Texas Rangers, although he had his issues in 2014 (4.32 ERA in 73 appearances).

Cotts isn't young anymore at 35, but he has history with the White Sox, including his success with the 2005 World Series champions. There is also the fact that he still lives full-time in Chicago, all of which could make him a potential addition.

Even though right-hander Ronald Belisario is arbitration-eligible this offseason, don't expect him to return. Belisario was late to spring training, struggled mightily in the closer role after Matt Lindstrom was injured in the first half, and his power sinker was hardly effective late in the season.

One more reason Belisario doesn't figure to be back: He made $3 million in 2014 and would figure to get a raise on that if offered arbitration.