CHICAGO — Kendall Graveman listed three reasons as to why he chose the White Sox in free agency after his three-year, $24 million deal was announced Tuesday.
“One, I wanted to go to a team that was winning, so that was a huge factor in all of it,” Graveman said. “Two, [White Sox general manager] Rick Hahn was a pleasure to work with throughout the whole process. Very professional. And thirdly, they were a team that was pursuing me the most and they feel that adding me is really going to benefit this ballclub and this team.
“So, coming to the White Sox was not an easy choice at first, but at the end of the day, it’s the right choice. … Chicago is a city that my wife and I fell in love with every time we’ve gone. For us personally, we are so excited that the next few years are going to be in Chicago.”
Graveman, who turns 31 on Dec. 21, already was a familiar face pitching against the White Sox. In 2016, Graveman threw a two-hit shutout on Aug. 19 as part of the A’s rotation in possibly the best-pitched game of his career. But Chicago is focused more on his bullpen work, with Graveman posting a 5-1 record and a 1.77 ERA over 53 regular-season appearances between the Mariners and Astros in ‘21. He allowed just 35 hits over 56 innings with 20 walks and 61 strikeouts.
During Houston’s postseason run, one that ended after a Game 6 loss to the Braves in the World Series, Graveman yielded two runs on seven hits and struck out 11 over 11 innings. He allowed just one run during three AL Division Series three appearances against the White Sox.
Liam Hendriks, who compiled 38 saves during his first season with the White Sox and won the AL Reliever of the Year Award for a second consecutive season, remains the team’s closer. Graveman joins part of the current bridge from the starters that includes Craig Kimbrel, Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet.
Helping the younger players improve is as important a goal for Graveman as his daily success. He’s also prepared for any role, in any inning.
“I told the White Sox when they were talking to me … that I am trying to get three outs, or four outs or five outs, whenever my name is called,” Graveman said. “And I have no ego in this game. I couldn’t care less about personal stats. I want to help a baseball team win.
“Honestly, that’s who I am. If I throw the eighth, if I throw the seventh, if there’s a big situation in the sixth and [manager] Tony [La Russa] needs me, I’ll be available. I’ll be ready.”
The key for Graveman, who topped 19 appearances for the first time since ‘16 after having Tommy John surgery three years ago, was a sinker he threw roughly 63 percent of the time. The pitch averaged 96.6 mph, generated a 61.5 percent ground-ball rate and yielded a mere .177 batting average and a .221 slugging percentage against, with one homer in 113 at-bats. Graveman paired that with a slider that produced a 43 percent whiff rate on swings and was his best put-away pitch.
Graveman’s signing doesn’t figure to be Chicago’s last bullpen addition. The team picked up Kimbrel’s $16 million option for ‘22 on Nov. 6, but with one of the game’s all-time great closers struggling in an eighth-inning role last season after coming from the Cubs in a Trade Deadline deal, Kimbrel seems to be an offseason trade candidate.
Ryan Tepera, another bullpen Trade Deadline acquisition from the Cubs, is a free agent, and Michael Kopech, who pitched in relief in ‘21, will move to the rotation in ‘22. A solid bullpen, which now includes Graveman, will be a key to success.
“Personally, the money doesn’t drive me to play this game,” Graveman said. “It’s not why I started playing this game.
“There is some factor to that, but at the end of the day, I want to win a championship, and being so close with the Astros last year makes me want to win a championship even more. And I believe the city of Chicago, especially the White Sox fans, are eager to do that again.”