2005 Team Preview: Chicago White Sox

by Keith Glab

2004 Record: 83-79 (2nd Place)
2004 Runs Scored: 865
2004 Runs Allowed: 831
Expected 2004 Record: 84-78

Every year, the White Sox underachieve, hang around the .500 mark, and finish a distant second to the Twins in the central. If things are going to change this year, it will be because the team is more balanced. Gone are 1-tool power threats Jose Valentin and Miguel Olivo. 1-tool speed threat Willlie Harris has been regulated to bench duties. Replacing them are players who can score runs a lot of different ways.

Also gone are the days of "Garcia and Buehrle, then lose 2 of 3 surely." The Sox have added depth to both their rotation and their bullpen, and should be able to keep games close for an offense that will be able to score more consistently.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the White Sox’ changes:

Catcher

2004 Starters: Sandy Alomar Jr., Ben Davis, Miguel Olivo

Projected 2005 Starters: A.J. Pierzynski, Davis

The Sox tried a lot of players behind the dish last year, none of whom stole the job. Newcomer Pierzynski has a better track record; He had an off-season in the NL, but returns to the AL Central where he’s hit over .300, and looks to provide stability for the Sox’ pitching staff.

First Base

2004 Starter: Paul Konerko, Ross Gload

Projected 2005 Starter: Konerko

All Konerko has done over the past year and a half is hit 54 homers and drive in 160 runs in 774 at bats. Whatever plagued him during the first half of 2003 is clearly gone, and Konerko has established himself as one of the best RBI men in baseball. Sadly, he is one of the worst fielding first baseman not named Frank Thomas, amassing 10 UZR runs below average.

Second Base

2004 Starters: Willie Harris, Juan Uribe

Projected 2005 Starters: Tadahito Iguchi, Harris

While his numbers in Japan (.333 24 89, 18 SB .943 OPS 3 Gold Gloves) make Tad Iguchi look like a five-tool star, one never knows how the transition to the majors will go. Certainly, though, he’ll beat Willie Harris’ .329 SLG of last year by over 100 points.

Third Base

2004 Starters: Joe Crede, Juan Uribe

Projected 2005 Starter: Crede

Crede has had some rather impressive stretches and some rather laborious slumps in his short career. He turns 27 in April, and might finally be poised to show consistent production over the course of an entire season.

Shortstop

2004 Starters: Jose Valentin, Juan Uribe

Projected 2005 Starter: Uribe

Uribe really slowed down in July of last year, hitting just a buck twenty-three in 57 at-bats. If he can avoid any such ridiculous slump in ’05, the .300 mark is within reach (he hit .303 during non-July months last year).

Outfield

2004 Starters: Carlos Lee, Aaron Roward, Magglio Ordonez, Timo Perez, Joe Borchard

Projected 2005 Starters: Rowand, Scott Podsednik, Jermaine Dye, Perez

The effectiveness of this new outfield depends heavily on how many at-bats are wasted on Perez and Borchard. It also depends on which Rowand, Podsednik, and Dye show up. Either way, the defense is improved, and the club can sustain a lot of injuries here with Carl Everett, Ross Gload, and Willie Harris as other backup options.

Designated Hitter

2004 Starters: Frank Thomas, Carl Everett, Ross Gload

Projected 2005 Starters: Thomas, Everett, Gload

Over the years, the White Sox have relied on Big Frank to be healthy, happy, and productive in order to contend for the postseason. This year, the club has enough depth to allow Frank ample recovery time (though he says he’ll be ready for April), and his return at full strength is more of a bonus than a necessity. Everett and Gload are each likely to post OPS’s over .800.

Pitching

2004 Front Three Starters: Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland

Projected 2005 Front Three: Buehrle, Garcia, Orlando Hernandez

Buehrle and Garcia combined to throw 455.1 innings last year, and both finished with ERA’s below 4. They’re two of the most durable young pitchers in baseball, and form an impressive 1-2 lefty-righty punch. "El Duque" was actually enjoying the best non-postseason pitching stretch of his career before getting injured last year, but the Sox can’t be exactly sure what they have in him.

Other 2004 Starters: Jose Contreras, Scott Schoeneweis, Esteban Loiaza

Other Possible 2005 Starters: Contreras, Garland, Dustin Hermanson

Contreras has undeniably nasty stuff, but at 33+ he’s not likely to suddenly gain a good command of it. Still, the back end of this rotation looks far more solid than the non-Buehrle/Garcia/Garland starters’ 6.22 ERA did for them last year. Chicago’s #5 starters combined to go 5-16 with a 9.66 ERA, so this year they have Hermanson waiting to take over for any member of the rotation that experiences a collapse.

2004 Top Relievers: Shingo Takatsu, Jon Adkins, Cliff Politte, Damaso Marte, Neal Cotts

Projected 2005 Top Relievers: Takatsu, Politte, Marte, Luis Vizcaino, Jeffrey Bajenaru

During the offseason, Takatsu has added some extra pop to his fastball, which should make his 70-MPH changeup even more effective, and compensate for AL hitters getting used to his unique delivery. The additions of Vizcaino and Hermanson make this a pretty deep pen, and young Bajaneru struck out 67 batters in 53.2 Minor League innings last year.

Final Word:

The White Sox have gone from a team of one-dimensional players with poor depth to one of the deepest, most well-rounded teams out there. They should be in contention all season, but one man will decide how they ultimately finish: Ozzie Guillen.

Will Guillen overuse players who are zeros on offense, as he did last year with Willie Harris, Timo Perez, Joe Borchard, Roberto and Sandy Alomar, despite better options available in Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowand, Ross Gload, Ben Davis and Miguel Olivo? Will he enjoy the basestealing prowess of Scott Posednik so much that he runs his slower players into outs? Will he be able to effectively manage a bullpen featuring options ranging from good (Takatsu, Vizcaino, Marte) to decent (Politte, Hermanson, Bajenaru) to poor (Adkins, Cotts, Felix Diaz)?

One thing is certain: this will be the most exciting White Sox team to watch in some time.

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