March is here, and its been unseasonably warm for this early in the year. As I go outside I find myself getting more and more excited for baseball season.
Ever since 2005, every season has been disappointing. The southsiders have only made the playoffs once since then, only to get knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.
Last year was especially painful after some key pre-season signings, only to embarass themselves through the majority of the season. All in? More like All Dunn…
So here we are looking at the 2012 season. We lost Mark Buerhle (which wasn’t a surprise) Sergio Santos (which was a surprise), Carlos Quentin (I have mixed emotions on that one), Juan Pierre, and Omar Vizquel (neither a surprise). John Danks got the only notable extension in the offseason, and we added a few interesting small pieces to the puzzle but no major signings.
There are several questions most Sox fans have at this point in the year:
- Starting Pitching – Who will be our ace now that Buerhle is gone? Can Danks handle the pressure? Will Gavin Floyd maintain his consistency from last year? Will Peavy stay healthy after his shoulder surgery? Is Chris Sale ready for the spotlight? Will Phil Humber’s fluke breakout season last year continue into 2012? If one of those guys gets injured, who will be our 5th (or even 6th) starter?
- DH – The big question on everyone’s mind is will Adam Dunn turn around one of the most atrocious seasons in baseball history? For those of you who dont remember, Adam Dunn was a highly respected slugger who hit 38 or more HRs in the 7 seasons before signing with the White Sox. He was to be a key element to our team last year and he miserably failed!
- Catcher – This is the last year in A.J. Pierzynski’s contract. Most indicators point to this will be his last for the Sox. Tyler Flowers has been touted as our catcher for the future, but his offense numbers really haven’t been there. With almost no other quality catcher candidates in our entire minor league system, the big question this year will be if Tyler Flowers finally steps up and shows that he can be our number 1 guy next year and beyond.
- Outfield – Almost as disappointing as Adam Dunn, we got Alex RIos on one of the worst contracts in baseball (Hes signed through 2014). He’s getting paid so much and isn’t delivering anywhere near to what was expected of him. The Sox cant get rid of this guy even if they wanted to (well, at least not as bad as the Cubs wanted to get rid of Zambrano). Rios actually had a decent season in 2010, so will he return to 2010 levels, or will he continue to produce Brian Anderson level stats like he did in 2011? Dayan Viciedo will replace Quentin, but will his atrocious defense be offset by his offense? Alejandro de Aza was one of the few highlights from last season (batted .329 through 54 games) and will take Juan Pierre’s place in left field. Hopefully his success at the plate will continue this year. Finally we signed Kosuke Fukudome (another ex-Cub who will wear jersey number 1 for the White Sox) on a hell of a bargain deal. He was mostly a bust for the Cubs, but for how little we paid to get him for one season, (the Cubs payed him $14.5 million last season, this year we got him for $1 million) he was a steal and he cant possibly be any worse than Rios.
- Infield – Things look a little better here. Brent Morel already looks to be doing well in spring training and will continue starting at 3B. Alexi should continue his success at SS, and of course we have Paulie at 1B, but can Konerko continue to defy father-time and have yet another All-Star caliber season in 2012? It also appears that our Jack-of-all-trades Brent Lillibridge (who can play every position except pitcher) will take Vizquels spot as utility infielder and can still sub in the outfield if necessary. An interesting fact about Brent Lillibridge is that he hit the White Sox’s 10,000 franchise HR last season. I was at the game (they lost) but it was still cool to see. Finally, theres Gordon Beckham. This will be the third year in a row we keep hearing “what if” about this guy, but he continues to be subpar at the plate. Thankfully he is above par with his glove, so hopefully he’ll at least maintain a great defensive presence, even if his bat doesn’t improve.
- Relief Pitching – This is the area of the team with the most openings. We still have Matt Thornton who at times has been one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball, just he can’t close. We got Jesse Crain and Addison Reed who should do well in the bullpen. Will Ohman will take another turn, and then theres a whole lot of openings. We signed a lot of players that will be unfamiliar to most casual fans, so expect to see some high jersey numbers in the Sox ‘pen this year. If the bullpen can be at least average, and our starting pitching holds up their end, I’ll call the offseason relief pitching changes a success….right now, the jury’s still out.
- Coaching – Ozzie’s out, replaced by another popular ex-White Sox infielder, Robin Ventura. Ventura has never managed a team at any level. Will he invigorate new life into the team, or has the damage already been done by the prior administration?
So, there ya have it, my assessment of our team. What is my prediction? Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve been disappointed every season since 2005. I am taking a different approach this season and not thinking about it too much. I am trying not to pay much attention to spring training (mostly failing though) and I am going to try to stay away from the ballpark in April.
I’ll lay it on the line here and say we’ll have a better season than last year. I think we’ll improve upon last seasons 79-83 mark and finish with around 85 wins, making our record 85-77. I think that will be good enough for 2nd in the AL Central. I havent seen enough from Minnesota or Kansas City that indicate their teams will turn it around. Assuming things don’t completely fall apart for Detroit, I think they should take the division easily. That leaves the Sox and Cleveland to fight for 2nd and 3rd place.
I think the biggest loss of the offseason was clearly Mark Buerhle. I don’t even think his stats were necessarily his strongest asset (although he had the best record and ERA of any Sox starter last season), I think its his durability and clubhouse presence that will be missed the most. Buerhle has never been injured in his entire career and has 11-straight seasons of at least 200 innings. I cant find the stat right now, but I read that is the most in all of baseball over that time.
To make matters worse, I’d say that only two of our starters (Danks and Floyd) have a proven track record as a starter. Sure everyone points to Peavy’s Cy Young award, but that was years ago and he has had injury after injury after that. I am sure Jake will have some great games, but I would be utterly shocked if he lasts the entire season without at least a small trip to the injured list. Chris Sale appears to be the real deal, and he could be a pleasant surprise this year as a starting pitcher. But in his 79 total major league appearances, none of them have been as a starter. I don’t think its doom and gloom for our starters, but all its going to take is one or two key injuries which could decimate our rotation.
Between Dunn, Rios, and Beckham, (.159, .227, and .230 respectively last year) I figure if only 2 of those 3 can improve, we should be in good shape. It’s almost physically impossible NOT to improve from Dunn’s .159 average last season but even with a 100 point improvement, he still will only have a .259 average. If all 3 of these guys can step it up this season, things could really turn around for the Sox, but I think that even 2 out of 3 will get the job done.
We got a new manager, some new coaches, a decent outfield and infield, two veterans at first and behind the plate that should still have good seasons, and a starting rotation that technically looks like it will work, but as I mentioned earlier, a couple injuries will really shake things up. The bullpen has the most question marks, but hopefully our offense will improve this season (4th worst in the AL last year) and allow our bullpen and rotation time to figure things out.
Oh, and one last note. Of the Sox players in the minors, one guy I am interested to see is Tyler Kuhn. I haven’t heard much about this kid, but last year he skyrocketed through AA and AAA and put up some great numbers. He plays infield and LF, he doesnt hit a lot of homeruns, but he hits a ton of doubles and even some triples. He has good speed and a lifetime minor batting average of .314. We’ll probably see guys like Eduardo Escobar and Dallas McPherson before Kuhn, but mark my words, you read it here first, I am going on the record that in the next couple of seasons, Tyler Kuhn will be a great major league player!
Baseball season…welcome back! I missed you!