For the third time this calendar year, the White Sox have bolstered their bullpen by adding a veteran reliever. Their latest addition has more of a history with them. Former Mariners closer and Astros setup man Kendall Graveman is nearing an agreement on a three-year, $24 million contract to jump to Chicago, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.
The White Sox have not confirmed the deal, which is not yet finalized.
Graveman, who recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2019 to revive his career in Seattle’s bullpen before a Trade Deadline deal sent him to Houston, joins an already stacked White Sox relief corps. Chicago headlined its dealings last offseason with a three-year contract for closer Liam Hendriks, then traded for Craig Kimbrel on July 30.
The White Sox picked up Kimbrel’s contract option for 2022, but could trade the veteran closer after he struggled in a setup role.
“What we have to figure out is whether it makes the most sense to have Craig in a White Sox uniform going forward, or is there a better use of that spot and him via trade,” general manager Rick Hahn told reporters earlier this month.
Graveman, by contrast, had continued success after jumping from the back end of Seattle’s bullpen into a supporting role behind Astros closer Ryan Pressly. The signing seemingly increases the likelihood of a Kimbrel trade.
Graveman, who turns 31 on Dec. 21, posted a 5-1 record and a 1.77 ERA over 53 regular-season appearances between the M’s and Astros. He allowed just 35 hits over 56 innings with 20 walks and 61 strikeouts. Graveman was even more important in Houston’s postseason run, allowing just two runs on seven hits with 11 strikeouts over as many innings.
The key for Graveman was a sinker he threw roughly 63% of the time. The pitch averaged 96.6 mph, generated a 61.5% ground-ball rate and yielded a mere .177 average and a .221 slugging percentage, with one homer in 113 at-bats. Graveman paired that with a slider that produced a 43.8% whiff rate on swings and was his best put-away pitch.
Graveman pitched in eight of Houston’s nine wins in the postseason, including both World Series victories and all three wins over the White Sox in the AL Division Series. He pitched the eighth inning of the Astros’ series clincher in Game 4 in Chicago, where his lone baserunner allowed was a hit-by-pitch to slugger José Abreu.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa, mindful that Abreu was hit by 22 pitches in the regular season, accused Graveman and the Astros of hitting Abreu on purpose. Six weeks later, Graveman is about to become a critical part of La Russa’s bullpen mix, strengthening Chicago’s defense of its Central crown against up-and-coming division foes.