Not many people predicted good things for the 2008 Chicago White Sox.
GM Kenny Williams thought that they were the team to beat in the AL Central, but
that was about it. I wrote that they would
win between 80-86 games for the
next few years, and settled on
83 for the 2008 season. In
one sense, I underestimated them, as they would win 88 games prior to a bogus
one-game playoff in which the Minnesota Twins, who defeated Chicago in their
season series, had to play at the White Sox at US Cellular Field due to a coin
flip. In another sense, I overestimated them, as the Detroit Tigers and
Cleveland Indians were both much worse than I had predicted, meaning that many
of the Sox' supposed losses against them turned into victories. The
Sox went 23-13 against the Tigers and Indians last year, when I would have
pegged them for a sub-.500 record against those teams.
The bad news for the 2009 Chicago White Sox is that the Tigers, Indians, and
Minnesota Twins all figure to improve this season, while the Sox have clearly
stepped backwards. They traded two players poised for rebound seasons at
low value, getting no immediate help in return. They also failed to add any
players under 280 pounds via free agency. They blew $5 million to break their
spring training contract in Tucson but could not be bothered to offer $5 million
to undervalued free agent Bobby Abreu. I have absolutely no idea why this misguided set of
priorities hasn't outraged Sox fans more.
Kenny Williams seems to be the only person on the planet who isn't outraged
by the mere sight of A.J. Pierzinski. Pierzynski was signed to a 3-year, $18.35 M
extension at the end of the '07 season despite his decline from solid workhorse
to liability on both sides of the ball. Next year, Williams should consider
signing Michael Barrett to lay out Pierzynski so that Tyler Flowers can take
over as the Sox' best offensive catcher since Carlton Fisk. This
year, Williams had better hope that Pierzynski can dodge a few more right hooks,
because his backup is career .176 hitter Corky Miller.
Paul Konerko is also signed for two more seasons, but for almost twice what
Pierzynski is making. This is not as awful as it sounds. While
Konerko is no longer the 35-HR, 100-RBI lock that he was between 2004 and 2006,
he is not the utter waste of space at first base that he was last season,
either. He's not worth $12 million, but he's a better usage of money than
Jose Contreras has been since signing his 3-year, $29 million deal.
Had a .910 second half OPS and .923 PrOPS for the season
4.67 FIP last year and 4.98 career ERA
Steady-but-not-flashy Chris Getz earned the starting second base position this
spring, beating out some real tough candidates in prospect flameout Brent Lillibridge,
career utilityman Wilson Betemit, and an injured Jayson Nix. Getz is the ultimate Ozzie Guillen-type
of player, possessing few plus tools but strong fundamentals and work ethic. He will post
an OPS+ around 90 out of the #2 hole and have Ozzie crowning him as the team's
MVP by May.
26-year old Josh Fields is healthy again this year and appears ready to build
upon his .480 SLG compiled in 2007. The questions are whether or not he is
ready to build upon his .308 OBP, his one-strikeout-every-three-at-bats rate, and
his shaky defense at third base. Ozzie is also considering using him as
a leadoff hitter against left-handed hitters. Since his OPS against
southpaws is 1.030 so far in his young career, I assume the idea is to just get
him to the plate as often as possible in those situations.
Alexei Ramirez reminds me so much of Alfonso Soriano circa his rookie season
in 2001. Thin as a rail? Check. Lots of pop for his size?
Check. Athletic-yet-poor defense at second base? Check. Big
clutch hits? Check. Refusing to draw walks? Check.
Ramirez made more contact, but Soriano was the superior baserunner. I'm
sure the Sox would be thrilled to get what Sori gave the Yankees in 2002 (39 HR,
41 SB, .300 BA), but I'm predicting that the Cuban Missile sputters in his
sophomore season before reaching those kinds of heights. He'll also
represent a defensive downgrade from Orlando Cabrera and will almost certainly
lead baseball in
Defensive Misplays Plus Errors.
Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye return to their corner outfield spots.
To me, Quentin wasn't the big surprise of 2008; it was Dye. He had his
third best offensive season ever at the age of 34. Expect a return to his
2005 or 2007 output in this odd-numbered year. Defensively, he has the
worst +/- figure in baseball over the past three seasons (-67), leading to a
whopping 39 runs below average. Carlos Quentin has a right fielder's arm
in left field, which offsets his sometimes-clumsy fielding. His offensive
will decline in '09, but he'll have a similar overall value, assuming he doesn't
break his hand punching his bat in the middle of a pennant race.
Centerfield will be a platoon between the left-handed hitting Dewayne Wise
and the right-handed hitting Brian Anderson. Wise will lead off against
right-handed pitchers, while Anderson may lead off against southpaws if Guillen
decides that it doesn't make sense to begin the game with Fields' mammoth power.
Think about this for a second. Dewayne Wise has a career .254 on-base
percentage in 504 major league plate appearances. Anderson's is .277 in 652
at-bats. Again, these are on-base percentages, not batting averages.
Wise did not draw a walk in his first 61 at-bats this spring, somehow beating out the
speedy Jerry Owens, who drew 11 free passes in 61 at-bats before being outrighted off the 40-man roster. The Sox would be better off taking the
50-year old Rickey Henderson out of retirement and making him their full-time
leadoff hitter. Sadly, Henderson might even provide as good of centerfield
defense as Wise, who somehow managed to cost the Sox two defensive runs in just
144 innings there. Anderson, at least, is a top-notch defender
through and through.
Jim Thome will once again act as Chicago's designated hitter, and he
will once again be one of the best hitters on the team, and he will once again
miss between 12-32 games due to his chronic back issues. The difference is
that while the 2008 squad had decent hitters in Ken Griffey and Nick Swisher to
fill in when Thome, Quentin, Konerko, or Dye needed a day off, the 2009 squad
will have no one. I believe the current replacement plan is to have Wilson Betemit man
first base, shifting Konerko to DH. Wise is listed as the backup corner
outfielder on most depth charts, though that's using the word "depth" somewhat
inaccurately, isn't it?
The biggest dropoff from the 2008 team will be seen in its starting pitching.
That won't be Mark Buehrle's fault, as he continues to be one of the most
underrated pitchers in all of baseball. He's had a sub-4.00 ERA three out
of the past four seasons, with his only hiccup having come after being
overworked in the 2005 playoffs and 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Unfortunately, he is the type of pitcher who is best with a solid defense behind
him, and he's not going to get that consistently this year. That means his
ERA could rise slightly over 4.00, but it certainly won't approach the
ridiculous 4.69 mark that
THT's projection system figures. Like I said,
Much of the decline is going to come courtesy of Gavin Floyd. Floyd and
John Danks were each offered identical four-year extensions in March.
Danks refused his offer on the advice of his agent, while Floyd jumped at his.
It's as though even Floyd knows that he's a pretender. Floyd's FIP was
1.26 higher than Danks' and 0.94 higher than his own ERA. The Sox gave
Floyd 8.5 runs per starts last year, 5th most among all pitcher who threw more
than 160 innings last year, which explains his 17 wins. Floyd also allowed a
whopping 19 unearned runs last year. A couple of scoring changes alone
would have ballooned his ERA well over 4.00.
The rest of the decline comes from the loss of Javier Vazquez' 200 solid
innings. They will be replaced by Jose and the Fatman, each of whom are on
the wrong side of 35. Jose Contreras hasn't been any good since the first
half of 2006 while Bartolo Colon has been injured and ineffective since his 2005
Cy Young season. The Sox think it's okay to rely on two old uncertainties
because they have two young uncertainties backing them up in Clayton Richard and
Jeff Marquez. That's the same Jeff Marquez who supposedly has four
plus-pitches, but only managed to strike out 4.5 minor leaguers per nine innings
last year. He was one of the zeroes acquired in the Nick Swisher trade. Richard is actually better than his 6.04 ERA last year would
suggest, but you still wouldn't want him as the fourth best starter on your team
One indication that the Sox won't be as bad as they were in 2007 is that
their bullpen is still strong. Bobby Jenks is one of the most
consistent closers in the game, although his drop in strikeout rate last year is
cause for some concern. Matt Thornton seems to be a good-every-other-year
southpaw and 2009 is a scheduled down season, but his peripheral statistics were so good
last year that I'm now a Thornton believer. Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel comprise
possibly the best duo of control and power right-handed setup men in baseball
(although Cleveland and Boston have some crazy-good looking bullpens).
Mike MacDougal at least has the potential to be dominant if he could learn to
throw a strike every now and then. Minor leaguer
Aaron Poreda, the hardest throwing left-hander in the game, is being groomed as
a starter, but could help the big league bullpen immediately should the Sox find that
they are in contention this summer.
Unfortunately, the only contention in which the Sox will find themselves is a
battle with the Royals for last place in the AL Central. The Sox did nothing
to help themselves in the offseason. Their offense is mostly comprised of aging
sluggers with no one to get on base in front of them and no one to replace them
if they need a Ben Gay break. Their starting pitching is shallow and lacks
any starter with even the potential to be dominant. Their defense isn't
particularly strong anywhere and is frighteningly weak in the all-important
catcher, shortstop, and centerfield positions. The bullpen is fine, but
many Sox games will already be out of reach by the sixth inning, particularly
when Danks or Buehrle isn't starting.
The one thing Sox fans can feel good about is that their future looks much
brighter today than it did one year ago. In Flowers, Poreda, and shortstop
Gordon Beckham, the Sox have three of the games truly elite prospects, and there
is surprising depth behind them. When they join the young nucleus of
Quentin, Fields, Ramirez, Getz, Jenks, and Richard, the Sox should have shed
most of their payroll burdens and once again be ready to compete.