White Sox decline to tender Jenks a contract
GM Williams leaves possibility for closer's return open
CHICAGO -- The 2011 closer for the White Sox could wind up as any of the following pitchers:
Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, someone from outside the organization or Bobby Jenks.
Yes, despite the White Sox declining to tender a contract to Jenks for next season, apparently ending his six-year run in Chicago, White Sox general manager Ken Williams has left the door ajar for the burly right-hander's return.
"All this move says is for the dollars we would commit to him in arbitration, we can't commit that type of money to where he is now and where we are now," said Williams, whose team also non-tendered left-handed reliever Erick Threets.
"It's especially true since we have a few option to go to," Williams said. "We have to allocate money to the best of our abilities to put together the team as a whole."
Where the 29-year-old Jenks stands now is arguably coming off the worst big league season of his highly successful career. Jenks finished 2010 with a career-high 4.44 ERA, despite posting 27 saves and 61 strikeouts over 55 games. He missed the last 27 games of the season after saving both ends of a Sept. 4 doubleheader at Fenway Park, suffering from ulnar neuritis in his right forearm.
This move involving Jenks certainly was not unexpected. Although the right-hander emerged as one of the franchise's most important players during the past decade, ranking second all-time behind Bobby Thigpen with 173 saves, he struggled through an injury-plagued 2010 campaign aside from the ulnar neuritis.
Jenks earned $7.5 million in 2010 and was in line for a raise through his final year of arbitration. With the White Sox agreeing to terms with Adam Dunn on a four-year, $56 million deal, pending a Friday physical, and still in strong pursuit of Paul Konerko, they had to make the fiscally sound move as expressed above by Williams.
Even if Jenks doesn't return to the White Sox, which remains a strong likelihood, his contributions will not be forgotten.
"Bobby Jenks helped bring a World Series to Chicago, and I'll never forget that," said Williams. "Where we are with Bobby and the message I have to fans and to Bobby Jenks is, No. 1, he gave us everything he had and performed very well for the White Sox. I'm proud of him as a person, player and as a dad. He's a heck of a dad too. Just a good guy. I wish the best for him if, in fact, he ends up somewhere else."
"What he did with the streak [in 2007], that was ridiculous, just unheard of for a reliever," said Thornton of his bullpen mate's 41 straight batters retired, which was a Major League record he shared with Jim Barr until Mark Buehrle broke it at 45 in 2009. "He'll always have a special place in White Sox fans hearts, but just because he was non-tendered doesn't mean he won't be with the White Sox for sure."
Assuming Jenks finds closing work elsewhere, Thornton would like to assume this same role with the White Sox. Thornton certainly has proven the ability to handle this relief position, blowing just one ninth-inning save in his career, and Williams expressed strong faith in Thornton as the closer.
Williams also mentioned the hard-throwing Sale as a closing option, changing his September comments in which he had Sale moving to the rotation. But Sale's relief work will depend on Jake Peavy's ongoing recovery from a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his right posterior shoulder, ending his 2010 season. Williams also expects growth from Sergio Santos in his second full year of pitching.
"We are exploring possibilities on the relief front," Williams said. "This is the week before the Winter Meetings, so a lot can happen before Spring Training."
"My preference would be to close if I have any say," Thornton said. "But like I've said every single year I've been here, I'm ready to do whatever they need me to do."
Contracts were offered to arbitration-eligible players in John Danks and Carlos Quentin, as well as Tony Pena, who appeared to be on the proverbial non-tender bubble. But Pena, who earned $1.2 million last season, showed his durability and value by being able to work in long relief and as a spot-starter.