White Sox bid adieu to failed closer Koch

By Jim Callis

June 17, 2004

After giving up on Keith Foulke as their closer in 2002, the White Sox traded him to the Athletics in a deal for Billy Koch. The idea was that Koch would finish games for Chicago, but that plan proved to be a disaster. Koch had a 5.51 ERA and blew seven of his 26 save opportunities in a season and a half with the White Sox, leaving him without a clear role in their bullpen. He’ll now get a fresh start with the Marlins, who traded Triple-A shortstop Wilson Valdez for Koch on Thursday.

Koch, a 29-year-old righthander, will help set up Armando Benitez in Florida. Koch was shelled last year when his once-upper-90s fastball dipped to 91-93 mph, and though he regained some velocity this year his results haven’t been much better. Even when Koch pushed triple digits on the radar gun, he didn’t miss a lot of bats because his four-seam fastball is fairly straight and his two-seamer and slider aren’t dominant pitches. He also struggles at times to get ahead in the count, forcing him to come with the four-seamer. In 24 games this year, Koch was 1-1, 5.40 with a 25-16 strikeout-walk ratio, .255 opponent average and three homers in 23 innings. For his career, he has gone 28-23, 3.91 with 163 saves in 356 appearances. He’s making $6.375 million this season in final year of a two-year, $10.625 million contract. The White Sox will pick up more than half of the roughly $3.9 million due him for the remainder of 2004. Koch will be arbitration-eligible after the season.

Valdez, 25, signed out of the Dominican Republic with the Expos in 1997 and went to the Marlins on a waiver claim in March 2002. His career began to turn around last year after a long talk with then-Florida third-base coach Ozzie Guillen, whom he’s now reunited with in the White Sox organization, with Guillen serving his first year as Chicago’s manager. Valdez is a line-drive, contact hitter who could bat second in a lineup if he drew some more walks. He has plus speed and good baserunning skills, and he has thrived at shortstop since moving from second base last year. His arm and range are assets. In 66 games at Triple-A Albuquerque, Valdez hit .319/.357/.400 with two homers, 25 RBIs and 19 steals in 31 attempts.