GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox got busy addressing two needs Saturday night.
They strengthened their pitching staff by signing right-handed reliever Joe Kelly and filled an opening at second base by signing another veteran, infielder Josh Harrison, a day before spring training officially opens at Camelback Ranch.
A two-time All-Star with the Pirates, Harrison, 34, is a career .274/.318/.401 hitter over 11 seasons. He batted .279/.341/.400 with eight home runs, 33 doubles, 60 RBI and nine stolen bases with the Nationals and Athletics last season.
Kelly, 33, had ERAs of 1.80 and 2.86 in his last two seasons with the Dodgers. A ground-ball pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff, Kelly has appeared in 40 postseason games with the Cardinals, Red Sox and Dodgers, posting a 3.55 ERA.
The Sox did not announce the deals, which are pending physicals, on Saturday night.
Harrison’s is for a reported $5.5 million, with the Sox holding a $1.5 million option for 2023.
The Sox’ bullpen already was a strength, and Kelly’s addition adds even more depth, although Craig Kimbrel’s status is uncertain. Manager Tony La Russa earlier Saturday said he expects Kimbrel to be on the Opening Day roster, but the Sox might be exploring a trade after he struggled in a setup role last season. Kimbrel is set to earn $16 million in 2022.
In any case, a deep pen would take pressure off a rotation that is getting off to a late start because of the lockout and shortened spring training.
“Everyone is worried about the arms,” La Russa said.
Kelly joins closer Liam Hendriks ($13 million in 2022), Kendall Graveman ($8 million), Aaron Bummer ($2.5 million), Garrett Crochet, Ryan Burr and possibly Kimbrel on what could be one of the most expensive bullpens in baseball.
Kelly reportedly signed a two-year, $17 million deal with the Sox. The Dodgers elected not to pick up his $12 million option, paying a $4 million buyout instead.
Harrison, a right-handed hitter, has played second base, third base, shortstop and all the outfield positions, although mostly in the corner spots, during his career. His addition allows La Russa to use the switch-hitting Leury Garcia in the multipurpose role he excelled at last season.
La Russa agreed with what general manager Rick Hahn said a day earlier: The Sox’ most pressing need going into the season was pitching, even though a rotation of Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Dallas Keuchel and Michael Kopech looks good on paper.
When the staff was finally free to have contact with players after the lockout, pitching coach Ethan Katz learned that Kopech had done some throwing off a mound but wasn’t as far along as Lynn, who threw 34 pitches in a simulated game Friday, and Keuchel, who pitched two innings in a sim game Saturday. Or Hendriks, who went from athletic field to athletic field facing hitters.
“If you’re not ready right now, it’s on you,” Hendriks said.
Transitioning to an expected starter’s role to fill the void left by Carlos Rodon, Kopech isn’t expected to pitch six innings in his first start in mid-April — that is, if he’s even ready to start by then.
“How much stamina can he build,” La Russa said. “So we’re just going to take what we’ve got, be intelligent and pull for him. We need him, build him up as healthy and as slowly as we have to.”
A deep bullpen can take some innings off the rotation’s plate. Whether Kimbrel is part of it bears watching.
La Russa acknowledged Kimbrel didn’t fare well in his role last season, and his role would be the same, perhaps hinting that a deal might be the best for all involved.
“He really likes it here,” La Russa said. “But he really likes closing. If he’s here, another dynamite arm. We’ll see.”
NOTE: Not everyone will be in camp Sunday, the first official day. Eloy Jimenez and Jose Abreu are expected to arrive Monday.