Knebel, a client of Excel Sports Management, didn’t pitch last season after suffering a capsule tear in his shoulder with the Phillies late in the 2022 campaign. He pitched 42 2/3 innings of 3.43 ERA ball with the Phils that season and saved a dozen games. The 32-year-old been severely limited by injuries in recent years, including Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2019 season and a lat strain that sent him to the 60-day IL and kept him to just 25 2/3 innings with the Dodgers in 2021.
Lengthy as Knebel’s injury track record is becoming, there’s little questioning his ability when healthy enough to take the mound. A 2017 All-Star who saved 39 games for the Brewers and led the NL with 76 appearances, Knebel has a career 3.26 ERA and 31.8% strikeout rate in 306 2/3 MLB frames. His 11.2% walk rate is too high, but he’s worked around that flaw with plenty of missed bats and weak contact over the years. His 3.17 SIERA and 3.44 FIP both generally align with his strong ERA, and if Knebel is back to full strength he could be a nice low-cost bullpen pickup for a rebuilding ChiSox club.
Leone, also 32, pitched for the Mets, Angels and Mariners in 2023, working to a combined 4.67 ERA with a 23% strikeout rate and 11.9% walk rate in 54 innings. It wasn’t his best work by a long shot, although Leone’s 2.33 HR/9 mark and jarring 21.2% homer-to-flyball rate both seem due for regression toward his career levels (1.06 and 11.8%, respectively).
Looking beyond the shaky bottom-line results, Leone, who’s represented by ACES, maintained his velocity (95.7 mph average fastball) and posted respective swinging-strike and opponents’ chase rates of 16% and 35.3% — both excellent numbers. Prior to the ’23 campaign, he’d enjoyed a nice two-year run with the Giants, working to a 2.71 ERA in 103 frames with similar K/BB numbers and velocity. The spike in home runs last season was Leone’s primary downfall, and while a potential move to the launching pad at Guaranteed Rate Field won’t help in that regard, he’s had success in homer-friendly venues like Toronto in the past. On a no-risk minor league deal, he’s a perfectly sensible addition.
The White Sox traded righty Gregory Santos and lefty Aaron Bummer this offseason, subtracting two of the only locks for their bullpen from the roster in exchange for a plethora of younger players. They also could deploy Garrett Crochet as a starting pitcher, further thinning out the bullpen mix. Knebel and Leone will join fellow veteran Jesse Chavez as the most interesting NRIs in camp this spring. That trio will compete for roster spots in a relief corps where free-agent signees John Brebbia and Tim Hill are currently the only experienced names with any semblance of consistent MLB success.