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Friday, November 13, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #3: The Chicago White Sox

Kenny Williams, as usual, wasted no time getting his offseason started. Within a week of the end of the World Series he had already made a trade (netting Mark Teahen from Kansas City for Josh Fields and Chris Getz), resigned a veteran (Mark Kotsay), and declined the team option on another (Jermaine Dye). The trade, which surprised a few people, since it included a guy (Fields) who hit 23 HR for the White Sox at the age of 24 in 2007, seems designed to give the White Sox flexibility (Teahen can play 3B, 1B, OF, and even a little 2B) and unload a couple fading prospects who will be promised many more "developmental" at-bats with the Royals than they would've gotten with the Sox. Getz and Fields proved in '09 that they weren't really ready to be everyday players, at least not on a contending team, and the White Sox are, most definitely, one of the dozen or so franchises who enters every season with the intention to win it all.

Free Agents:

Ramon Castro (34) C
Bartolo Colon (37) RHSP
Octavio Dotel (36) RHRP
Jermaine Dye (36) RF
Scott Podsednik (34) OF

Arbitration-Eligible:

D. J. Carrasco (33) RHRP
John Danks (25) RHSP
Bobby Jenks (29) RHRP
Tony Pena (28) RHRP
Carlos Quentin (27) LF/DH
Mark Teahen (28) 3B/UT

ETA 2010?:

Tyler Flowers (24) C
Lucas Harrell (25) RHSP
Dan Hudson (23) RHSP
Brent Lillibridge (26) INF
Jhonny Nunez (24) RHRP
Clevelan Santeliz (23) RHRP
Dayan Viciedo (21) 3B

In 2009 the White Sox finished below .500 (just barely, .488) for only the second time in the last decade. Thanks mostly to their long-awaited World Series victory in 2005, the popular tandem of manager, Ozzie Guillen, and GM, Kenny Williams, will likely be steering the Pale Stockings for the foreseeable future. And, despite Ozzie's quirky, occasionally offensive personality, there is a lot to like about this South Side administration. Williams is not risk-adverse. He is willing to gamble. Sometimes those gambles pay off, as in his acquisition of Carlos Quentin prior to the 2008 season. Other times, as in the waiver claim on Sixty Million Dollar Man, Alex Rios, and the trade for Jake Peavy this fall, they don't...at least not immediately.

What Williams and Guillen clearly recognized this past season, however, was that the core which won the '05 championship and took them back to the playoffs in '08, has aged considerably, past the point of viability in many cases. The 2010 team will be considerably younger. Gone are Jim Thome (39), Jermaine Dye (36), Jose Contreras (38), and, probably, free agents Octavio Dotel (36) and Scott Podsednik (34). The new White Sox will be built around Gordon Beckham (23), Alexei Ramirez (28), Quentin (27), Rios (29), Peavy (29), John Danks (25), and Gavin Floyd (27); and led, of course, by the longtime "faces of the franchise," Mark Buehrle (31) and Paul Konerko (34). Clearly, this is a team which can easily compete in the tightly-packed AL Central. With rebounds from Peavy, Quentin, and Rios, and a couple smart moves this winter, they could match-up pretty well with the big boys of the American League.

Williams still has a few questions to answer. Center-field has been a black hole since Aaron Rowand was traded prior to the 2006 season. The good defenders (Brian Anderson, Dewayne Wise, etc.) were automatic outs, and the decent hitters (Scott Podsednik, Nick Swisher, etc.) left serious gaps in the alleys, which is a major problem when your top three starting pitchers (Buehrle, Danks, and Floyd) are all in the top 25 in the AL in fly-ball rate.

Alex Rios was brought in to help solidify the defense, while, hopefully, providing significantly better than the 530 OPS he posted after joining the team in '09. The departures of Thome and Dye give Williams flexibility. He could move the oft-injured and defensively mediocre Quentin to DH or continue to play him in left. He could go after a true centerfielder like Mike Cameron or Coco Crisp, who combined with Rios in right would dramatically help Chicago's rotation. If the brass are willing to spend, the White Sox could even make an offer on Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. Or, they could go back to a relatively inexpensive Thome-esque veteran, somebody like Carlos Delgado, Vladimir Guerrero, or Gary Sheffield. Chicago definitely needs two OF/DH additions before the season begins, because with Fields in KC, they have no potential replacements within the system. That shouldn't necessarily be poor reflection on the White Sox system. OF/DH types are the most readily available players on the free agent market most years.

The Sox have used prospects as trade bait in recent years to an extent most teams in this era are reluctant to do, which is how they've been able to acquire major-league talent like Peavy, Thome, and Tony Pena. Somewhat surprisingly, there are still some very useful players coming up the pipeline. Teahen will hold down the third base job only until Dayan Viciedo proves himself ready. Even at the outset of 2010, he could get some competition from Brent Lillibridge and Jayson Nix. Williams likely sees Teahen as Mark DeRosa-lite, a guy who is a fair starter at several positions, but most useful as insurance against injuries and fatigue, a guy who's best served getting three or four starts a week.

The White Sox catcher of the future is Tyler Flowers. He could start sharing time with A. J. Pierzynski this coming season, depending largely on how the volatile Pierzynski responds. A. J. probably knows his memorable tenure in Chicago will be over when his contract expires next winter. A. J., know affectionately on the South Side as "Ass, Jack" could respond in one of two ways, either by treating Flowers as promising protege or potential saboteur. Want to make a bet?
The White Sox best youngsters are pitchers. They can safely part ways with Dotel and perhaps even consider trading Bobby Jenks (who is getting a bit expensive) knowing that D. J. Carrasco, Matt Thorton, and Tony Pena all have closer potential, and prospects Jhonny Nunez, Clevelan Santeliz, and Jon Link are ready to step into the middle innings. The White Sox Opening Day rotation is set, barring injury - Buehrle, Peavy, Danks, Floyd, and Freddy Garcia - a very formidable staff, but if somebody struggles or falls ill, as almost inevitably happens, they have not only Clayton Richard, who posted a very admirable 9-5 record and 4.42 ERA as a starter in '09, but also Lucas Harrell and Dan Hudson. The Old Dominion alum, Hudson, drafted in '08, surged through the minors, seemingly getting better as he went, then made two decent starts (11 IP, 3 ER) with the big club in September. He will probably get the first crack at a rotation spot.

Finally, Williams and Guillen will have to figure out what to do at the top of the order. Assuming Quentin and Rios return to form, they will offer a lot of pop, alongside Konerko and Ramirez, in the middle of the lineup, but Chicago will need to put people on base in front of them. Gordon Beckham will likely hit second. He sees a fair number of pitches and doesn't strike out a lot, but he doesn't offer incredible speed or OBP. As such, the White Sox could help shape the market for this year's premier leadoff men, namely Chone Figgins and Johnny Damon, or they may got the cheap route and take a chance by trading for Juan Pierre or Wily Taveras.

Despite a somewhat disappointing finish in '09, it's not a bad time to be a White Sox fan.


Projected 2010 Opening Day Roster (Revised 1/1):

CF Juan Pierre (L)
2B Gordon Beckham (R)
LF Carlos Quentin (R)
1B Paul Konerko (R)
DH Vladimir Guerrero (R) FA
RF Alex Rios (R)
C A. J. Pierzynski (L)
3B Mark Teahen (L)
SS Alexei Ramirez (R)

SP Mark Buehrle (L)
SP Jake Peavy (R)
SP John Danks (L)
SP Gavin Floyd (R)
SP Freddy Garcia (R)

CL Bobby Jenks (R)
SU J. J. Putz (R)
SU Tony Pena Jr. (R)
SU Scott Linebrink (R)
LOOGY Matt Thorton (L)
SWING Dan Hudson (R)
MOP Jhonny Nunez (R)

C Tyler Flowers (R)
IF Omar Vizquel (S)
IF/OF Mark Kotsay (L)
OF Andruw Jones (R)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Clayton Richard is no longer on the team, He along with Aaron Poreda were the two major acquisitions by the Padres in the Peavy trade. It also heavily appears that Hudson will be the set in stone 6th starter assuming injuries, also receiving spot starts to rest weary arms.

Hippeaux said...

Somehow I missed the fact that Richard was included in the Peavy/Poreda deal, which is probably a good thing for the Sox, because although it might limit their long relief options, it means Hudson will pretty certainly get the first shot at the rotation, and he clearly has considerably more upside than Richard. On a related note, I was very surprised when the Padres didn't give Poreda a cup of coffee in September. He is a solid prospect, who has an even higher ceiling now that he's pitching in the comfortable confines of Petco Park. If and when the Padres put him in the rotation, which could be as early as Spring Training, he could be an early frontrunner for Rookie of the Year.