SAN DIEGO -- You've heard of "Chicago tough," a phrase coined by executive vice president Ken Williams for the sort of intangible the White Sox are looking for in a player.
Well, David Robertson was New York tough enough to capably replace Major League Baseball's greatest all-time closer in the Yankees' Mariano Rivera during the 2014 season. Robertson will be bringing a little bit of that East Coast bravado to the Midwest as the last line of White Sox pitching, with his four-year, $46 million deal announced by the White Sox on Wednesday.
Robertson, 29, will earn $10 million in 2015, $11 million in 2016, $12 million in 2017 and $13 million in 2018. The Yankees made the free agent a qualifying offer, which he rejected, so the White Sox will lose their second-round selection in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft, with their No. 8 pick protected in the first round.
But they were willing to trade off that possibility for the security of a steady closer such as Robertson, who saved 39 of his 44 chances in '14 and struck out 96 over 64 1/3 innings. When asked what made him choose the White Sox as his free-agent destination, Robertson answered with praise for the offseason moves made by general manager Rick Hahn.
"First of all, I think the White Sox have a great club. I love the city of Chicago, and I love what Rick Hahn has been doing this offseason," said Robertson during a conference call. "I like the moves he's making with getting [Adam] LaRoche and Zach Duke and the trade for [Jeff] Samardzija. I feel like he's building a good squad that's really going to be a competitor next year, and I'm hoping we end up back in the playoffs.
"Every time we played the White Sox, they were an incredibly tough team to beat. They just grinded it out against us. Obviously, they were on my radar from the beginning and I was glad that I was approached by them and once they -- making those extra moves really helped solidify the direction I wanted to go, which was being a Chicago White Sox."
Upgrading the White Sox relief corps stood as an offseason priority for Hahn, after injuries and pitchers working outside of their best-suited roles left the 2014 bullpen as one of the game's worst. The White Sox made Robertson their main target from the right side and wanted to get back-end bullpen options from both the left and right.
Allocating the funds to Duke and Robertson, as opposed to pursing Andrew Miller, ultimately made the best sense for the team.
"So the choice was not necessarily Miller vs. Robertson. It was more Duke and Miller and then the resources we would have to be able to allocate elsewhere," Hahn said. "There weren't a great number of options from the left side.
"Duke and Miller were at the top of that list, and we wanted to make sure we converted on one of them. Being able to convert on Duke early, we knew the resources we would have to get David in the end. It worked out nicely for us. It was what we hoped to accomplish heading in."
Much internal debate went into committing this sort of years and money to a closer, for a team that has a good track record of developing their own in Bobby Jenks, Addison Reed and Sergio Santos. But Robertson was worth the risk, both for his on-field ability and his leadership ability with young relievers such as Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb.
"Again, his consistency, his durability, his makeup and work ethic made us a lot more comfortable about David being that guy to take that risk on," said Hahn, pointing out that the track record on reliever multi-year contracts is not tremendous. "He really checked a lot of boxes for us in terms of having swing-and-miss stuff, profiling for the ballpark, filling, when needed, a multi-inning role, as well as his character and what he means in the clubhouse. It was a really nice fit for us."
"You bring Jeff into the fold to fortify that first part of your starting rotation," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "And then to be able to add a guy like [Robertson] at the end of the game, you are hopeful he has a lot of opportunities."
Having playoff save opportunities would be Robertson's ultimate first-year goal with the White Sox. Having a capable force consistently handling the ninth in the regular season certainly makes that goal more attainable.
"Absolutely. I definitely think so," said Robertson of the White Sox being immediate playoff contenders. "Rick Hahn put together a great squad. He's already got some great players on the team. With the additions, I obviously see us being a competitor for sure."
"He's done it in some tough situations," said Ventura of Robertson, who held opponents to a .192 average and a .157 mark against left-handed hitters. "Pitching where he was, for a team following who he did, you know he's got the stuff."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.