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Does Adam Dunn make Chicago the team to beat in the AL Central?

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 keith@baseballevolution.com.

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