by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
December 5, 2010
The Chicago White Sox signed Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56 million deal on
Thursday, netting the best free agent slugger before the winter meetings even
began. It's early, but does the Dunn signing make the Sox the team to beat
in the AL Central?
The White Sox finished with 88 wins last season despite disappointing seasons
from many of their players, particularly on offense. At this point, it is
very difficult to predict how players like Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios, and Carlos
Quentin will perform in 2011, because their results have been so very volatile
over the past few seasons.
Enter Adam Dunn, who is arguably the most consistent slugger in baseball.
He has followed four straight seasons of exactly 40 home runs with two of 38.
Additionally, The Big Wallop has driven in 100 or more runs and posted an OPS+
of 130 or better in six of his last seven seasons. With so much
uncertainty surrounding their 2011 offense, the Chicago White Sox have a pretty
good idea of what they will be getting from Adam Dunn.
If anything, it could be more than they bargain for. Dunn moves from a
neutral park in Washington D.C. to the most home-run friendly stadium in the
majors, U.S. Cellular Field. Granted, The Cell's friendly dimensions are
more likely to help a warning-track contact hitter than someone who regularly
blasts the ball over 400 feet and strikes out the rest of the time, but Dunn
should still receive some benefit from the change in venue. And since he
was only 21 when he made his major league debut ten years ago, Dunn will only be
34 when his four-year, $56 million contract with Chicago expires. Given
Dunn's age, consistency/durability to date, and the Sox' ability to rest Dunn at
DH when necessary, there is no reason to anticipate a decline for the Dunner.
More than just a good, consistent slugger, Dunn provides two things sorely
missing from the Sox' lineup: a left-handed presence and someone willing to take
walks. Chicago's compliment of left-handed hitters last season included
Mark Teahen (.382 SLG), A.J. Pierzynski (.388), Mark Kotsay (.376), Juan Pierre
(.316), and the switch-hitting Omar Vizquel (.331). Adam Dunn is likely going to
post a higher OBP than any of those guys slugged. Only one White Sox drew more
than 50 walks last season, and that player (Paul Konerko) is currently a free
agent. Dunn draws 50 walks by the All-Star break annually.
Of course, the fact that Dunn is currently replacing Konerko and not Teahen
in the lineup should give fans pause, even though having Dunn in the fold gives
them a bit more negotiating leverage with Konerko. Still, there is a good
chance that Konerko comes back, or at least that the Sox supplement Dunn with
one of the many solid first base/DH/corner outfield types available via free
agency. Getting an outfielder who could push Quentin to primary DH
duties might be particularly beneficial.
The other concern for the South Siders is that they are letting their
pitching ranks get awfully thin. Three very good relievers in Bobby Jenks,
J.J. Putz, and Scott Linebrink have departed. 22-year-old phenom Chris
Sale is supposed to offset those departures, but then again, he is also supposed
to be the team's fifth starter until Jake Peavy returns from his dislocated lat
muscle. As good as Sale looked in his 23.1 innings last year, the team may
be putting too much on him. An injury or two could completely derail this
pitching staff, as there is virtually nothing left in the farm system and likely
no room on the payroll.
Jake Peavy is coming off a gruesome injury that no pitcher has ever had
before, and had yet to prove that he could succeed at US Cellular even when
healthy. Sale's youth and unusual mechanics make him a substantial injury
risk if he is asked to be a starter in Peavy's stead. Edwin Jackson has
been overworked the past two seasons and has a huge red injury flag hanging from
his locker. The current bullpen of Matt Thornton, Sergio Santos, and Tony
Pena is even thinner than the room that will be left on the Sox' payroll should
they come to terms with Konerko.
It's too early to make a prediction for the 2011 White Sox, but if they do
re-sign Konerko and keep their pitching staff healthy, then they are indeed the
team to beat in the AL Central and indeed one of the best teams in all of
baseball. The question of pitching staff health and bullpen depth looms
larger than Konerko's decision of where to sign.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at email@example.com.