Around the Division: The White Sox get Confusing

This is the second in a series of four, each focusing on the Twins’ division opponents this year. Though the division looks like it might be the Twins’ to lose, there is a lot more that any dedicated Twins fan should know, and it’s my job to try to help you out with that. As always, follow me at @calltothepen on Twitter and subscribe to updates of this page via the link on the sidebar!

Since the White Sox and the Twins played an extra game to determine dominance of the Central in 2008, the White Sox have largely been in the rearview mirror. Last year, the White Sox finished in a distant third, 7.5 games back of the Twins and 6.5 back from the Tigers. That said, I don’t think, short of the Astros, Royals, or Mets, any one team had a more confusing off-season. The White Sox, despite their insistence that they are getting younger, faster, and more defensive, they traded away DeWayne Wise and replaced him with a strange hybrid of Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones. They have also moved away from their homer-happy former lineups, this despite the fact that the White Sox will play 82 games in arguably the most homer-friendly park in the Majors. They let go of Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye, and their OF defense took a hit with the loss of Scott Podsednik. Like I said, confusing.

So, let’s take a look at the White Sox, below the fold.

Off-season Moves

After some really major moved during the season, including the surprising decision to pick up the extremely expensive contracts of Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, it almost seems that Kenny Williams realized the depths of the financial water he was taking on. That said, he did take some steps to address the problems, though none that will likely make a huge difference. Here’s a look at the moves made by the White Sox, including those surprising Peavy and Rios moves, just because I want to.

Jake Peavy for Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter, and Adam Russell. This trade, which occurred as Jake Peavy was rehabbing a torn ankle tendon, was confusing for so many reasons. First, Peavy had a full no-trade. Why in the world would he want to leave the NL for the AL and Petco Park for The Cell? Both moves will likely jack up his ERA and make life more difficult once that massive contract is up. The White Sox are paying 100% of that contract, about $52 million, and could end up paying $74 mil if they pick up his 2013 option. In addition, the White Sox didn’t exactly underpay: Clayton Richard seemed like he was finally coming into his own; Aaron Poreda looks like he could be very, very good; Richard was arguably their best young pitcher; Dexter Carter has an outrageously high ceiling (143Ks in 118 IP in Kannapolis); Adam Russell might make a decent MLB middle reliever, but don’t hold your breath. Even more important: all of them were cheap. None of the prospects are guaranteed, but then again, neither is Peavy, going from one of the best environments for pitchers to one of the worst. Grade: B-

Alex Rios Waiver Claim. Sure, the White Sox didn’t give anything back, but they still took on a ton and a half of guaranteed money here, about $60 million dollars, when I don’t know how much they had to. However, this move makes a lot of sense because it allowed them to get rid of the single worst outfielder I think I’ve ever seen (Jermaine Dye). Alex Rios is expensive, but if he finds his form this year, he might make his contract somewhat worth it. Grade: B

Traded Chris Getz and Josh “Booger” Fields (H/T SouthSideSox) to the Royals for Mark Teahen; Teahen’s extension. I like this move: it offloads what were effectively spare parts and picked up a decent third baseman in Mark Teahen, possibly KC’s best player. The extension is nothing to write home about – just bought out arbitration years and a free agent season at pretty much market value. However, I don’t really know why they did it – they’re paying a corner infielder who hasn’t hit like a corner infielder in a few years. Overall, it’s a decent move, but nothing earthshaking. Grade: B-.

Juan Pierre and cash for Jon Link and John Ely. Eh. This move is better judged by the opportunity cost. Sure the Dodgers included a ton of money, 10.5 mil, but the Sox are still on the hook for $8 mil over two seasons. Could Pierre have gotten that on the market? Highly doubtful. That money probably would have been better spent on a decent DH, and by holding onto DeWayne Wise. Grade: C+

Free Agent Signings: Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Mark Kotsay, J.J. Putz. Man, this was confusing. Mark Kotsay got extended for 1.5 million and Andruw Jones got signed to be co-DHs, but neither hits very well. Williams would have been better off saving the money and signing a decent DH, like Jim Thome (another confusing move). Omar Vizquel is going to be an expensive (and old) back-up utility infielder, and J.J. Putz will be a very expensive attempt to recapture the 2008 Seattle lightning in a Chicago bottle. Grade: C. For Confusing.

Releases: There were many releases, so I’ll just mention the major ones. Jim Thome, a big part of the heart of this team for years, was let go, only to sign with the Twins in a bench role for cheaper than the Sox paid for their DH platoon (EDIT: Thome was traded to the Dodgers last season, but I still believe that the White Sox could/should have taken him back. Maybe it’s just me…). Scott Podsednik was let go, to be replaced by the Pierre boondoggle. Also lost? Jermaine Dye, DeWayne Wise, and MIA Bartolo Colon. I’m horribly confused. Again. Grade: C.

Overall Grade: C+

The Rookies/Young’uns

The White Sox and the Tigers have, in my mind at least, switched mantles this offseason. Though the White Sox got younger by letting Thome and Dye go, they also brought in Pierre and Vizquel. The other thing is that exactly ZERO of Baseball America’s Top Ten White Sox Prospects will be breaking camp with the White Sox. Probably the most interesting rookie this year is Sergio Santos, a former SS prospect in the Twins system, among others. He has since converted to pitcher and now is ranked as having the best fastball in the whole White Sox prospect system, which could be good or bad. At the same time, the young members of the White Sox teams of a few years ago are not that young anymore. Alexei Ramirez is 29 and Carlos Quentin is 28. This concerns me, for a reason I’ll explain in a bit. Bonus: if you Type “Carlos Quentin Super” into the Google, this is one of the top results:

Ew. Frightening. Courtesy Midwestsportsfans.com

Overall Grade: B-

The Vets

The veteran corps (pronouncing it “corpse” might be appropriate) of the White Sox look NOTHING like the 2005 World Series Championship team. There, I said it. Some of the notable names of that team that are no longer with the Sox? Juan Uribe; Joe Crede; Scott Podsednik; Jermaine Dye; Aaron Rowand. All these players were at their peak in 2005, now they’ve moved on, either out of baseball or to other teams. Those that remain, A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko, are 5 years older, slower, and have become worse hitters. The vets they’ve added since then aren’t much better. Alex Rios is a very confusing player. In 2008, his UZR was 23.9 (!). Last year, it was -6. This year his is projected at 0.0. If he is going to add much to this team, it’ll be with his bat, but his bat also fell off rather shockingly last year. If he rebounds, he could be good, but I am not expecting too much. Last year, Rios’ BABIP was at .273, so he can expect a good rebound from such bad luck, but there’s a reason he was put on waivers. If Carlos Quentin can stay healthy, which is a big assumption, he could be very good. But, in the last three years, he’s had plantar fascitis, a broken wrist, and a torn labrum. The injury bug has hit Q-uperman hard, and if he can’t stay healthy, the team will have trouble. Ditto Alexei Ramirez and Paul Konerko, as well as the DH Combo of Andruw Jones, who is over the baseball hill, and Mark Kotsay, who is 34 years old. The question remains for me: who’s going to hit the homers? I’ll, again, come back to that question.

Overall Grade: C

The Rotation

For the record, I would kill for the first four spots of this rotation, at least on paper. I know we in Twins territory tend to view the Uber-douchiness of some of the White Sox Pitchers as a bad thing, but you know what? The results speak louder than the personality traits. I can honestly say that, as much as I dislike Jon Rauch as a person right now, if he is a successful closer, I am positive I can get over the douche-factor, just like I’ll probably be able to overcome my dislike of Chase Headley in fantasy baseball if he gets results. Jake Peavy, their new, expensive ace, becomes likely the single best starting pitcher in the Central Division. Follow him up with Mark Buehrle, who I would put up against any other pitcher in the division, Gavin Floyd, who has an extremely high ceiling, if he can live up to it this year. John Danks has had his difficulties, but he’s better than Nick Blackburn or Carl Pavano, arguably, on their good days. The only weak spot is Freddy Garcia, who thrylos98 would call NepoFreddy due to his connection to Ozzie Guillen. Garcia’s trying to regain the past glory of his career, and in all likelihood won’t last the season. However, that’s fine because Daniel Hudson, who has a great, sharp slider and great control, is ready to go in AAA. Like I said, if I were to design a rotation to compete in the Central, this is it. It’s better than the rotation of the 2005 team, but the rest of the team, sadly for the White Sox, is not.

Overall Grade: A

The ‘Pen

The White Sox bullpen is, to put it bluntly, a weakness. The cast of characters includes Bobby Jenks, possibly the worst closer in the majors, and Matt Thornton, the closer-in-waiting, who is 34, but is coming off the best two years of his career, in which he had a WHIP of 1.o and 1.08, respectively, combined with an increasing number of innings. Thornton is the better pitcher, but Jenks has been so lucky the last few years that he’s locked in place. J.J. Putz is trying to make it back after a disastrous season in the NL and the year before that, which ended early with an arm injury in Seattle. The intriguing bullpen arm is Sergio Santos, who is still transitioning from a SS,and has a total of 28.2 minor league innings as a pitcher, and wasn’t particularly good at any level. This is Mets-like rushing, people, and don’t expect him to have a great year after this. However, he was good in ST, to which I must add the obligatory “SMALL SAMPLE SIZE” disclaimer, and it would be a huge boost to the White Sox if he can pull it off. Finally, the remaining members are Scott Linebrink, who is projected to take a big step backwards this year, Randy Williams, whose presence is confusing to me, and finally, Tony Pena who is also projected to take a big step back from last season’s numbers, which were in the NL. Overall, not a strength, but they should be able to hold a lead well enough, especially since the bullpen will likely not be used much.

Overall Grade: B-

Where’s the Offense?!

I’ve gotta be honest, I was perplexed by the moves that the White Sox have made in the last 10 months or so. Getting Peavy? Sure, sounds good, if you leave aside the park effect he had benefiting him. Getting Rios? Meh. Good move if he is less of a black hole than he has been in the past. Letting their power hitters go and bringing in some fairly over-the-hill players to replace them? Sure, whatever. But whoever was driving these moves forgot one thing: The Cell is where pitchers with good ERAs go to die. Kenny Williams has assembled a pitching staff that will be the envy of the division (and possibly league), only to have them pitch in just about the worst possible place for pitchers. Lets be straight here: there will be many home runs hit in The Cell. Unfortunately, those home runs will most likely be hit by the White Sox’s opponents.

As Craig Calcaterra put it in his round-up:

The White Sox were 19th in runs scored last year. They could easily be worse this year. I know Ozzie Guillen likes to talk about stolen bases and the hit and run and small ball and all of that fun stuff he used to do back in the 80s, but the teams that come into U.S. Cellular Field are going to be rattling it off the bleachers. The White Sox will not be. This should be a cause for concern.

Take-Away

Personally, I tend to think that this team is Kenny Williams’ nightmare and Ozzie Guillen’s dream. Ozzie has spent the last few years publicly kvetching about how his teams aren’t fast, don’t play small ball, and that they are locked into their positions. Williams listened, and got him a DH platoon that could very well be a black hole of offensive production. Andruw Jones? Mark Kotsay? Really? He also let Dye and Thome walk, and now there is a massive power void. It looks like Gordon Beckham gets to re-learn second base after finally settling into third last season; he’s at least interesting and as close to a sure thing offensively as the White Sox have, but he isn’t a power threat.

Look, if there are no injuries, this’ll be a decent team next year. But it’ll require a lot of offensive players to step up and be counted. Paul Konerko had better have his best offensive year yet. This team projects to score 780 or so runs according to the Baseball Musings lineup analysis tool. That’s not going to be enough, unless that pitching staff can limit the damage far more than it would be fair to ask of them.

Overall Grade: B

Prediction: Second Place in the Division, but in a dogfight (catfight?) with the Tigers to stay there.

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3 Responses

  1. In all fairness, the White Sox didn’t let Thome go, the Dodgers did. He was traded at the deadline last year.

    • That’s very true – but I think that he would rather have re-signed with them. If they had put any effort into him at all, he would have been on the ChiSox.

  2. […] blog. However, it lifted effectively my entire previews of the season for the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox (among other posts) and re-posted them without attribution or permission. This is by definition […]

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