That 'pen, with Herrera playing one of the starring roles, was perhaps the strongest part of a Royals roster that reached back-to-back World Series and won the whole thing in 2015. That success, however short lived (the Royals were one of just two teams with a worse record than the White Sox in 2018, just three seasons removed from winning it all), was a rebuilding success story of recent vintage. And while it might not have produced a sustained contender like the Cubs and Houston Astros seemed to have done with their rebuilding projects, it accomplished baseball's ultimate goal.
Well, the White Sox are trying to accomplish the same thing on the South Side, and now Herrera is part of another team looking to make the transition from rebuilding mode to contention mode in the next few years.
"I'm excited the direction this team has taken. It resembles my time with Kansas City when I was starting," Herrera said with the help of a team translator during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "We were in the rebuilding mode and we were just trying to learn how to play the right way, with intensity and giving 100 percent effort every time. I think that's something you can see in this team, too.
"I'm very excited to be part of another process like I was part of in KC. Things here are going to be good. I'm excited because I know how things can be good when you do the things the right way. I think that's the case here with the White Sox."
Herrera would know. The Royals took their own fleet of highly rated prospects and the fruits of a high-profile trade and turned it into back-to-back pennants and a World Series championship. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Greg Holland and Herrera were the young core that those teams were built on. The White Sox have similar plans that hope to feature Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Dylan Cease, Yoan Moncada, Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning, Nick Madrigal and Zack Collins as the foundation of a future champion. (Manny Machado would fall into that category, too, should the 26-year-old free-agent superstar eventually sign with the White Sox.)
Herrera could be a part of rebuild-to-riches story again, signed to a two-year deal with an option for a third. He's not even 30 years old, and that contract aligns with the planned transition and opening of the contention window.
"When we started in KC, we were all young players with a lot of talent. I can see that here with the White Sox," he said. "I think this is an organization with a lot of young talent, a lot of guys that want to play good and be good players.
"For me, I think I'm going to try just to to help as much as possible in the development process for all those young players. That's something like what we accomplished in KC."
That's the dream scenario for the White Sox, of course, and now they have someone in the clubhouse who's been through the process and can speak to the light at the end of the tunnel, a valuable thing considering much of the roster has experienced nothing but losing in their short big league careers.
Now, the volatility of relief pitching, a multi-time talking point for general manager Rick Hahn during the Winter Meetings, could make for a lot of different outcomes for Herrera and his place in the White Sox long-term future. He showed some relatively worrisome signs last season, his velocity down and his season over in August with a foot injury that he says will be a thing of the past come spring training. Perhaps he isn't the same pitcher that helped fuel late-game dominance for the 2014 and 2015 AL champs. Or perhaps he is, so successful in a White Sox uniform that he generates midseason trade buzz. Few things are more desirable for contenders at the deadline than an All-Star type reliever, and a vintage performance could net Hahn some more young pieces to further the rebuild.
But whether he's around for the planned glory days or not, someone who's been through this whole rebuilding thing before - and got to the mountaintop - likes what he sees with his new club. Is the White Sox rebuild moving in the right direction? A veteran of this kind of thing and now a member of one again says yes.