Sox address needs with trades as clock ticks toward deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Chicago White Sox needed some bullpen help. They needed someone to play second base.
After a couple of deals Thursday, check and check.
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Did it make for the splashiest of trade deadlines? No, but the trade deadline hasn't arrived yet and Rick Hahn's work won't be officially able to be judged until after 3 p.m. Friday.
But for a team welcoming back some middle-of-the-order bats who figure to provide a big-time boost to an offense that's mustered just 17 runs in the last eight games, addressing these needs were the most important items on Hahn's to-do list this week.
Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal are all back, on their way back or expected back before the end of the regular season, and together they represent a midsummer haul better than any that could be assembled across Major League Baseball at this time of year. Their returns are not to excuse the front office from working to address the roster's needs, but they will make an incredible difference for a team that's established itself as a World Series contender without them.
And meanwhile, Hahn has gone to work addressing those aforementioned needs.
Nick Madrigal is the lone injured White Sox star who won't be making his return in 2021, meaning a replacement was needed. Hahn called up the division-rival Cleveland Indians and needed to part with only a Double-A pitcher to get César Hernández, a nine-year veteran who plays Gold Glove defense and has hit 18 home runs already this season.
Hernández figures to be the team's primary second baseman from here on out, allowing Leury García to return to his expected role as utility man off the bench.
"I think César fits our needs real well," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after Thursday's game. "He's having a good year, and (we) love what he can do from both sides of the plate. He's got good athleticism.
"That frees up Leury to play wherever we need him, so I definitely think César will get a lot of playing time at second. Leury is so valuable at all the positions, so he'll get his at-bats, as well."
Even with a starter missing and not scheduled to return on the infield, however, there was no bigger need than in the bullpen, where a talented group of arms has failed to live up to sky-high preseason expectations. Enter Ryan Tepera, acquired in the first trade with the Cubs since the deal that brought Jiménez and Dylan Cease to the South Side in 2017.
Tepera's got a career-best 2.91 ERA a season after erroneously placing in the National League MVP vote. He gives the White Sox what they needed most: a dependable pitcher to call on to help bridge the gap between what's been one of baseball's best starting staffs and one of its best closers.
That doesn't mean Tepera will become the White Sox primary setup man upon making the trip down Lake Shore Drive on Friday. La Russa said he'll be added to the bullpen mix and help stem the blow created by Evan Marshall's injury. Still, with everyone besides Liam Hendriks and Michael Kopech failing to achieve season-long consistency this season, it's easy to see Tepera playing that kind of role.
"Tepera, he's got experience, he can fill out different roles. Depth is always good in the bullpen," La Russa said. "He just fits into our depth.
"Evan Marshall's so critical for us, and we need to replace Marshall. (Tepera) fits there (in the late innings), but we'll see what we've got when he gets here. ... The bullpen has to be ready. If you're Codi (Heuer) or Garrett (Crochet), you may pitch in the fifth or the sixth or the eighth. Have to watch the game. (Tepera) will fit in the same category."
So what's left for Hahn to do?
Given the inconsistencies in the relief corps, it wouldn't shock to see more augmentation of the bullpen. The White Sox were tied to several other names just Thursday — MLB Network's Jon Morosi mentioning Richard Rodríguez of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Paul Fry of the Baltimore Orioles in a tweet — and could certainly continue shopping for relief help up until the deadline.
Surely, plenty will look to an ugly offensive performance Thursday and what's been a mostly sorry stretch in the run-scoring department of late that's resulted in back-to-back series losses to the Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals, pleading for another bat to join the White Sox lineup.
Thursday, of course, was particularly painful, with Jiménez out of the lineup after leaving Wednesday's game with a tight groin, José Abreu sidelined by a stiff neck and Tim Anderson the recipient of a regularly scheduled day off. But given the offensive production of late, even when those three have been in the lineup, any cries for a trade for another hitter were probably happening prior to the series finale in Missouri.
Whether one happens or not remains to be seen, of course. The truth is that the White Sox have just gotten Jiménez back, with Robert and Grandal not far behind, three additions that will dramatically reshape the offense in the coming weeks. After all three are once more entrenched at their respective positions, there won't be many holes in the lineup, particularly with Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets and Adam Engel playing well enough to cover the corner-outfield spots.
But in vowing an aggressive approach at the deadline, Hahn sought not to waste what he called a "sacred" chance to win the World Series. And as has been his stated operating procedure in the past, it's likely no route is being completely ruled out.
Two needs have been addressed. We'll see what else the White Sox front office has in store in the coming hours. Stay tuned.