White Sox bolster bullpen by adding Putz

White Sox bolster bullpen by adding Putz

CHICAGO -- Check off 'Add a significant bullpen arm' from the Hot Stove list of things to do for White Sox general manager Ken Williams.

One year to the Dec. 11 date of J.J. Putz being part of a three-team deal involving the Mariners, Indians and Mets, sending him from Seattle to New York, the right-hander agreed to terms with the White Sox on a one-year, $3-million contract, with up to $3 million in incentives for games finished. Putz, who turns 33 in February, is 23-19 with a 3.24 ERA, 103 saves and 356 strikeouts covering 337 career relief appearances and 352 1/3 innings pitched over seven Major League seasons.

Putz figures to take over Octavio Dotel's role as part of the late-inning setup crew, but when healthy, he also gives the White Sox yet another option to close behind Bobby Jenks. Judging by comments coming from general manager Ken Williams, speaking during a Friday afternoon conference call, Putz simply rounds out a top-notch pitching staff, with no major changes in roles.

"Obviously, Bobby [Jenks] is the closer, and then we have Matt Thornton, who can do a little bit of both, and now you have J.J. who also can do that, and everyone else fills in behind them," Williams said. "With the starters we have, starting in the sixth or seventh inning through the ninth, we have guys who can close games out.

"From the top of the rotation now through the end of the bullpen, we are as strong as we've ever been," Williams said.

As a part of the Mets in '09, Putz finished 1-4 with a 5.22 ERA, 10 holds and two saves in 29 games as a setup man to Francisco Rodriguez. Putz underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow on June 9 and missed the rest of the season.

But Williams and the White Sox have been monitoring Putz's progress since the 2009 season ended, receiving weekly progress reports. Putz passed his physical with flying colors, and when Spring Training begins, he will have "no restrictions whatsoever," according to Williams.

"We couldn't be happier with what was communicated to us," said Williams of Putz's physical progress. "We had to get to the point where we were really comfortable, and their camp had to get more information as to what was available for him. J.J. expressed a strong desire to be here."

During the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Putz stood out as one of the game's most dominant closers and ranked among the Major-League relief leaders in strikeouts (2nd, 186), ERA (3rd, 1.86), saves (3rd, 76) and opponents' average (4th, .182). The best season for the one-time University of Michigan hurler came in 2007, when he finished 6-1 with a 1.38 ERA and a career-best 40 saves in 42 chances for the Mariners, along with just 37 hits given up in 71 2/3 innings.

Those great Seattle numbers for Putz dipped a bit in 2008, when his ERA rose to 3.88 over 47 games. Basically, Putz was pitching with some level of pain during each of the last two seasons.

"When he's healthy, he's one of the best," said Thornton, one of Putz's good friends for more than the past decade. "I know the last year and the year before, the injuries really bothered him. He prepares himself and works very hard and he's a great competitor."

Thornton, who is coming off an All-Star caliber 2009 effort, during which he set the franchise record for career holds, has been working out with Putz throughout the offseason in Arizona. The hard-throwing left-hander said that Putz's throwing is "fluid and pain-free" and explained how various Major League teams had representatives there almost every day just to watch Putz play catch.

Although Putz was flying home on Friday afternoon and not on the conference call, Thornton talked about staying in Arizona for Spring Training as one key factor for Putz. Putz also liked being part of an AL Central-based team, Thornton said, with his family in Michigan, and avoiding tougher travel from either coast.

Most importantly, though, Putz made the move that was best for him and his family. He also knows, from past chats with Thornton, how the White Sox expect to win and put competitive teams on the field.

"There was a big market for him, but it's a situation where he has a comfortable fit," said Thornton of Putz. "He's a great addition."

This Putz signing rounds out the solid back end of the White Sox bullpen, including Jenks, Thornton, Scott Linebrink and Tony Pena. Randy Williams received a conference call endorsement from his general manager as a left-handed specialist, but arbitration-eligible middle reliever D.J. Carrasco's situation won't be officially known until Saturday's 11 p.m. CT deadline to tender contracts to unsigned players on the 40-man roster.

"You'll have to wait for those things to come down the pipeline," said Williams when asked about Carrasco. "Everything will reveal itself in time.

"In terms of moving any guys out of the bullpen to reshuffle things, no, [adding Putz] was our goal from the outset. Now, we turn our focus to a couple of other things offensively."

Finding a leadoff hitter and a middle-of-the-order left-handed power bat would leave the White Sox in "pretty good shape" going into Spring Training, according to Williams. Putz's addition pushed the bullpen well past the "pretty good" status, when everyone is healthy.

"It comes down to the same thing for J.J. as for me. Winning is No. 1," Thornton said. "My role is dictated by how I'm throwing, how I'm pitching, and the same goes for him, what the team needs to be successful."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.