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2012 Chicago White Sox: We're All Out Spring Preview
by Keith Glab,
February 29, 2011

The Chicago White Sox are a 79-win team that has lost its leadoff hitter, ace, closer, and second-best slugger. Their biggest offseason acquisition was Kosuke Fukudome. They have the worst farm system in all of baseball and a major league payroll - replete with unmovable contracts - that exceeds their revenue. It's a really bad time to be a Sox fan, and when the going gets tough, Sox fans get going.

2011 Standings - AL Central
Central W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Detroit Tigers 95 67 .586 0 50-31 45-36 787 711 .546 64-47 31-20
Cleveland Indians 80 82 .494 15 44-37 36-45 704 760 .465 57-56 23-26
Chicago White Sox 79 83 .488 16 36-45 43-38 654 706 .465 55-61 24-22
Kansas City Royals 71 91 .438 24 40-41 31-50 730 762 .480 55-65 16-26
Minnesota Twins 63 99 .389 32 33-48 30-51 619 804 .383 42-73 21-26

OK, that may have been a bit harsh.  In losing leadoff hitter Juan Pierre, they lost a replacement-level player.  Since his departure means more at-bats for the surprising Alejandro de Aza and Brent Lillibridge, this may actually be a decent gain.  While you can't argue that Mark Buehrle wasn't the team's ace and most effective pitcher last season, you can make a strong argument that he would not have been next season.  Bill James' projections, which came out before Buehrle signed with Miami, predicted that Buehrle's ERA would be higher than that of John Danks, Gavin Floyd, or Jake Peavy.  As great as converted shortstop Sergio Santos was as a closer, he had a 9.35 ERA in September, which might have been symptomatic of a larger issue.  Carlos Quentin was the team's second-best slugger by default.  He's a .252 career hitter and among the worst defensive right fielders in baseball.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Kosuke Fukudome OF
Departed Pos.
Mark Buehrle SP
Sergio Santos RP
Carlos Quentin OF
Juan Pierre OF
Jason Frasor RP
Ramon Castro C
Omar Vizquel SS

Don't get me wrong - these losses cripple when you do very little to address the voids they create.  Kosuke Fukudome might not wear down as easily as a role player and put up solid numbers in Pierre's stead.  Chris Sale might channel C.J. Wilson in his move from the bullpen to the rotation.  Addison Reed could see his strikeout rate of 13 batters per nine innings translate from the minors to the majors.  Adam Dunn might remember the player he was for the first decade of his career and replace Quentin's numbers easily.  You need an awful lot of faith to believe that all of these things will happen, however.

Even if they do, we need to allow for some regression in other areas.  Elder statesmen Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski are unlikely to be as effective as they were last season.  Even though Lillibridge, De Aza, and Phil Humber are in their primes, we have to assume some regression from their improbably 2011 performances.  Jesse Crain isn't likely going to replicate his best-ever season at age 30 while pitching in higher-leverage situations.

Paul Konerko
But the bulk of the White Sox underperformed last year.  Floyd and Danks can do better than their league-average ERAs of 2011.  Peavy will certainly improve, now fully recovered from his dislocated lat muscle.  Matt Thornton should have a sub-3.00 ERA once again absent any pressure to be the closer.  Gordon Beckham and Brent Morel are only 25 and can't hit any worse than they did last year.  Alexei Ramirez could be ready for a breakout season with his plate discipline much improved.  Alexis Rios...might not play as much in 2012?

It's funny, but the Sox underachieved so much last year that they probably could have brought back the same roster and won a middling AL Central division. Since they let a bunch of players go and made virtually no acquisitions, they'll instead wind up with the same win total of 79 or perhaps a little better.  Okay, that might not be so funny if you're a Sox fan, but most of them expect the 2012 team to do much worse than playing .500 ball.  All they need is a few of their 30-somethings to hit their career averages and a few of their 20-somethings to take another step forward.

No one in the projected five-man rotation of Danks, Floyd, Peavy, Humber, or Sale is over 30 years old or has a career ERA below the league average.  How many teams can boast that? Danks and Peavy's career ERAs are each more than 10% above league average and Peavy has more than three strikeouts for every walk over the course of his career.  Sale, of course, has a 2.58 career ERA, but has never made a professional start.  The big problem is that the Sox have no contingency plan if the lanky Sale isn't durable enough to start, or if Humber remembers that his career minor league ERA is 4.50, or if Peavy discovers another injury no one has ever seen before.  The state of the White Sox' finances means that it's hard for them to provide depth, and it will be nearly impossible for them to add help at the trade deadline if needed.   
RoY Candidate
Addison Reed
Voters adore effective rookie closers
Comeback Candidate
Adam Dunn
His .159 BA was worst ever for a player with at least 400 PA

The offense maintains a decent amount of depth, considering.  They have five outfielders who at least have a chance to contribute in De Aza, Lillibridge, Rios, Fukudome, and Dayan Viciedo.  Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't take any of these guys in a fantasy draft save perhaps Lillibridge for his infield versatility.  But the Sox would be hard-pressed to get less production from their outfield than they received last year with as many fallback options as they have.    

The infield is a bit more precarious.  Eduardo Escobar, a 23-year-old all-glove, no-hit shortstop is the primary backup along with Lillibridge.  While Tyler Flowers can probably outplay starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski in every facet of the game save hitting for average, any injury to Konerko ends the season.  In the bullpen, Thornton, Crain, and Reed are the only arms of note.  There's no way that the Sox' rotation can go deep enough into games for the staff to get away with this thin of a relief corps.    

Addison Reed
Most of the defense behind this pitching staff hinges on the centerfielder.  Alex Rios saved the team 13 runs in 2010 before costing it seven runs last season.  Rios may have seen some decline in his athleticism at age 30, but anyone who watched the Sox regularly last year could see that he simply wasn't giving much effort at all in the field.  If new manager Robin Ventura can figure out a way to motivate a player who will have made over $70 million by the time his contract expires after 2014, the 15-20 run swing from his defense alone would be worth about two wins. 

Final Word

Given the state of the Sox' finances and farm system, I wonder why they didn't try to go for it all one more time this year.  Obviously, re-signing Buehrle to a four-year contract would not be possible, but they could have given a one-year deal to some affordable pitcher to shore up that depth.  Takashi Saito, Bartolo Colon, and Brad Lidge each signed for less that $2 million this offseason and would have given the Sox' staff some room for error.  They could have waited until July to trade Santos and Quentin.  Neither one was coming off his best season; they might have even had more trade value come this summer. If the Sox were competitive, the resulting boost in attendance would have helped to keep the finances afloat and they could have retained those two for the season's final months. 

White Sox Fun Fact
The White Sox have only lost more than 90 games once in the past 35 years (1989)

Instead, the franchise finds itself with no real commitment to win now, not enough young talent to like their chances in the near future, and too many bad contracts to do anything about either predicament.  It's going to be a  long time before the Sox are a playoff team once more.  It might just be 70s night every night at US Celluar Field for the next decade.

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