To say that the Chicago White Sox won the American League Central Pennant is a statement of fact. But to say that they were the best team in the division might be a stretch. The White Sox should have had that division in late August but a series of umm, unfortunate injuries to their veterans (and Carlos Quentin), as well as persistent pressure from a young Minnesota Twins ball club, pushed the pennant race to the very last day of the season.
Last season, the White Sox were simply old and slow. The team was 5th in runs, 9th in OBP, and second to last in stolen bases; and what’s more, they finished behind Minnesota in almost all offensive categories save for solo home runs.
This offseason, though the economy is forcing a lot of teams to cut or hold budget, White Sox GM Kenny Williams has been able to make some deals while “bumping up” against his financial ceiling.
First, he unloaded a couple of veterans in exchange for a handful of minor league talent that may actually compete for a starting job or two. In what was an arguably puzzling move, Williams traded Nick Swisher to the Yankees for Jeff Marquez and Wilson Betemit. Swisher, as UmpBump’s Paul argued back when the deal came through, is a bounce-back candidate, but it was clear towards the end of last season that he simply didn’t fit in manager Ozzie Guillen’s clubhouse.
For his next big trade, Williams sent veteran hurler Javier Vazquez to Atlanta for catching prospect Tyler Flowers (who was the best power hitter in the Arizona Fall league last year) and infielder Brent Lillibridge.
Out of those two trades, Marquez has a realistic shot of landing the 5th spot in the rotation, while Betemit and Lillibridge will duke it out with Chris Getz for second base now that Orlando Cabrera is out via the free agent door and Ramirez moves over to short (his natural position).
Joe Crede’s tenure in the South Side came to a sad end after he couldn’t shake a rash of back injuries that limited his playing time in the last two to three years, giving Josh Fields third base as his job to lose.
Flowers is the prospect with the most up-side, but he’ll have to endure a few seasons in the minors before A.J. Pierzynksi is ready to give up the starter role.
With Cabrera and Crede gone, the Chi Sox figure to field a much younger (and arguably more agile) infield. Meanwhile, Brian Anderson will get yet another shot to land the center field job, though he’ll have to beat out Jerry Owens (and his .324 OBP).
As far as the rotation is concerned, Jose Contreras has been making a steady and speedy recovery from an Achilles heel injury, and Vazquez’ departure via trade opens the fifth spot for which there are a few competing arms. Williams brought back Bartolo Colón and the hope is Marquez as well as Clayton Richard (who saw some starts last year) challenge the veteran former Cy-Young winner for the spot.
There have been other trade rumors circulating around veterans Jermaine Dye and even Bobby Jenks, (even some rumblings about Williams possibly signing Bobby Abreu before he joined the Angels), but as of now, Dye is headed to camp, as is Jenks (with whom the Sox avoided arbitration).
Of note is young Cuban defector an third baseman Dayan Viciedo, whom Guillen praised for shedding some weight since he was inked to a multi-million dollar deal, but he’s only 19 and it’s doubtful he’ll break camp with the big league squad. Instead, Fields will get start the season at the hot corner.
Notable acquisitions: Bartolo Colón, Ben Broussard, Tyler Flowers, Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, Brent Lillibridge, Dayan Viciedo.
Notable losses: Juan Uribe, Joe Crede, Orlando Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Javier Vazquez.
Lineup, rotation and closer:
C A.J. Pierzynkski
1B Paul Konerko
2B Christ Getz/Brent Lillibridge
SS Alexei Ramirez
3B Josh Fields
LF Carlos Quentin
CF Jerry Owens/Brian Anderson
RF Jermaine Dye
DH Jim Thome
SP Mark Buehrle
SP Gavin Floyd
SP John Danks
SP Jose Contreras
SP Bartolo Colon / Jeff Marquez / Clayton Richard
CL Bobby Jenks
Offseason Grade: B
While Williams got hosed in the Swisher deal mainly because he was shedding a no-longer-welcomed player, I’d dare say the Sox got a decent deal in the Vazquez trade. He was also able to throw some money at his veterans (Jenks) while bringing in some outside help. The Colon signing was classic Kenny Williams (it can’t be a ChiSox offseason without a freshly inked vet), but in this case, it made sense to make sure the young’uns stepped up their game and earned that fifth spot in the rotation. The bullpen will return with Octavio Dotel, Scott Linebrink and Matt Thornton setting up Jenks. The only black eye is, again, center field. Neither Anderson or Owens has shown they deserve the everyday job. Maybe that will change this season.