Two weeks. Two short weeks and pitchers and catchers report.
It's a new beginning for the White Sox and their fans alike. It felt like some of the shine wore off of our boys the past two years. The team is still built around the same core that won the first Chicago World Series in 88 years. With Dye resigned and still capable of putting up MVP numbers, Right Field is the only outfield position secured. Other Sure things, see Konerko still playing the role of Captain from 1b, A.J. still running his mouth behind the plate, Thome will still be smiling from the bench and hitting in the DH spot, and Buerhle and Jenks will hold their spots as Starter and closer respectively. What is left over is a heap of potential and a butt-load of questions. Fans have to wait until Cactus League play begins before we even get a sense of who's starting where and who will be traded when.
However, for this anxious fan, Cactus Leagues are too darn far. So heres my own run down of what is possible, likely, or even just dreaming:
Let's start at the hot corner. 3B- Joe Crede is the man in Chicago. Joe Clutch made himself a comfortable spot in each of our hearts during the 2005 campaign. However injuries, Scott Boras, and the emergence of Josh Fields has made Mr. Clutch expendable. Avoiding non-tendered free agency Ken Williams penned a one-year deal with the once blooming superstar, Kenny's just waiting to trade him. The only problem is no one will give Williams a quarter for a guy who has had two straight seasons cut short from back injuries. Kenny's gonna have to wait until Joe can prove himself in the spring. However this opens up an interesting dilemma. What if Joe comes out strong and the heir apparent, Fields, fizzles? Dare kenny keep him? Would Fields become expendable? Does Joe get an extension?
Not likely. Kenny has made it clear. Josh Fields is the future at 3B. Barring a Brian Anderson style dissapointment, Joe will be sent packing, likely in the spring, definitly before the all-star break. Josh Fields will likely be your starting third baseman, joining the ranks good hitting great white hope 3Bs, along with Joe Clutch and Sweet Swinging Robin Ventura, not to mention the Great Buck Weaver.
Let's move over the Shortstop, where the starter seems clear. Wait, no it doesn't. Orlando Cabrera, shipped over in a debatable trade for Jon Garland, is the odds on favorite to start. However, with only a year left on his contract and Kenny still not inking the extension, it's possible that his career with the Sox may be one and done, perhaps even a trade deadline move. Kenny has said that he plans to keep Cabrera but he doesn't need to. Uribe can still play the field, despite his growing waistline and streaky hitting. Plus Cuban sensation Alexi Ramirez prefers to play shortstop and has inked a 4 year contract. Perhaps we see Cabrera play one season and let ramirez play second or center and give more time to develop to youngsters like Carlos Quentin, Danny Richar, and Jerry Owens. Either way, it is likely either Uribe or Cabrera will leave via trade if Uribe isn't starting at second, but Cabrera will likely hit lead-off or second and start at Short.
I talked about it a bit already so we'll talk about it more in depth, 2B. It is possible that Juan Uribe may win the starting job here. His struggles with hitting make him a liability with his all or nothing swing. He is still a sharp fielder but it can be tough to swith sides of the infield. Uribe is not the likely starter, unless Guillen really doesn't thinK Richar can play and Alexi starts in the outfield.
Ramirez is currently listed at the top of the depth chart, but may fit better in the outfield. Danny Richar just doesn't quite seem ready to step into the everyday roll, but weirder things have happened and he could come out and surprise alot of people. He has the quickness to play second, and could be a valuable speedster near the bottom of the order. His BA and OBA must improve. And of course there is always super-sub Pablo Ozuna, who saw some starting time last year in Left before he was injured. He is a natural second baseman and seems most comfortable when he's playing there. He just doesn't look like he can operate as an everyday player, and is just too valuable coming off of the bench. Look for Ramirez to start and be either the one or two spot with Cabrera.
On to the Outfield: Dye is solid in Right, no questions. But there are six other players listed on the White Sox depth Chart. Okay, one of them is Brian "The future of White Sox Baseball" Anderson, and it's not likely he'll be playing for the good guys come opening day, as word is he's being shopped around a bit. Another is Ozuna, who like I said is far more likely to be playing off the bench. However, Jerry Owens, Alexi Ramirez, Carlos Quentin, and Nick Swisher will be competing for the two remaining outfield spots. Nick Swisher is guaranteed to play one of the two. So it's a three man race for the remaining spot. Jerry Owens is super fast and is tempting to place at the top of the lineup because of it. However, Owens hasn't been as successful at stealing as the Sox would have liked and that and his OBA need to improve before Guillen thinks about putting him in the leadoff role. He could play every day and wants too, but He'll likely wind up on the bench or in the minors at the begining of the season, allowing him more time to develop into what he could be. We've talked quite a bit about Ramirez. He is a stronger center fielder than Swisher, which means he'd be up the middle if he starts in the outfield. However, Swisher would start in center if Carlos Quentin is given the starting reigns. Carlos Quentin is the Diamondbacks version of Brian Anderson, except he had injuries as an excuse. Williams and Guillen both feel certain that Quentin will turn his career back on track. I personally think he's a utility bench player, but with Owens not quite ready and Ramirez patroling at second, it'll probably be Quentin starting in left.
So heres my best guess at the opening day lineup:
1)Orlando Cabrera, SS
2)Alexi Ramirez, 2B
3)Jim Thome, DH
4)Paul Konerko, 1B
5)Jermaine Dye, RF
6)A.J. Pierzynski, C
7)Josh Fields, 3B
8)Carlos Quentin, LF
9)Nick Swisher, CF
Onward my fellow palehose, to the mound and the Starting Pitchers:
This became a little clearer after the Swisher deal that sent Gio Gonzalez out of Chicago. Now instead of having youngsters competing for the final two rotation spots we only have three. Vazquez and Contreras are locks for the starting rotation if they aren't traded before the season. Contreras' struggles plus his questionable age, plus his contract, make him a difficult sale. However if he continues to struggle the Sox can't afford to keep him in the rotation in the fiercly competitive AL Central. Vazquez has always had the potential to be a 20 game winner, he just never has. He's still trade-able, but it'd be silly to do that when all you have is youngsters and a questionable old man. The youngsters we have left are Jon Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Lance Broadway. Broadway looks to be the future The kid has some sick stuff, the name of a pornstar to boot, and can definitly win a rotation spot with a strong spring. However, his time looks to be a year or two off. Floyd and Danks both had their ups and downs last year in their crash course in how to be a major league starter. Both showed, at times, that they had the potential to be starters, but also showed they weren't quite ready for a permanent spot. They are inked currently as the starters on the white sox homepage, but it's all subject to competition.
Don't forget theirs also a dark horse. The White Sox are reportedly offering an incentive laden contract to the less than fresh Bartolo Colon. He seems to be theres for the taking, if they really want him, as not many other teams are expressing much interest. The addition of Colon would only leave the five hole for competition.
With a solid one-two in Buerhle and Vazquez, the rest of the rotation lines up with some question marks. Contreras is a tentative three, until he shows he can still pitch. Floyd and Danks are likely to be four and five respectfully, unless they pick up Colon, in which case he picks up the four spot and Floyd is my guess to be the five man.
Finally we come to the biggest problem from last year, our bullpen. Everytime Ozzie motioned to the pen last year I got a feeling in my gut like I had just been punched in the junk. But Kenny did what he could to buy some help. Linnebrink should be stable, but his contract was far to heavy for a reliever. Octavio Dotel, the newest White Sox addition, offers some experience and some hard throwing. Matt Thorton and Mike MacDougal return, or so it looks for now. Both struggled a great deal last year, but both have closer potential. If they return to '06 form they provide a formidable setup duo for the hard throwing Jenks. Boone Logan and Charlie Haeger could both see some time in the pen next year. Haeger's knuckle ball provides a nice change of pace to the rest of the hard throwing pen, plus he's shown some value in the long relief role. Logan surprised alot of people last season making the team, and then stopped surprising. Maybe another season will give him a fresh start. Kenny has a lot of hope for him, but we'll see how he performs. Andrew Sisco struggled a great deal last year, but is another one of those players with a strong arm, he just needs to keep the ball down. Ehren Wasserman was one of the few bright spots last year posting a 2.74 ERA in minimal work late last season. He seemed strong and is a solid addition as a middle reliever.
Bullpens are a crap shoot each year. Relievers are hard to pick, but the White Sox have certainly put together a lot of talent. It's just up to Don Cooper to make sure they live up to it.
So that's pretty much it. The South Siders enter the third season of their world series drought, facing an improved Tigers team, a well rounded Cleveland team, and an up and coming Royals team. Minnesota may lose some footing with the loss of Santana, but if two seasons ago was any indication, Fransisco Liriano will be a solid replacement.
I don't believe that 90 wins is beyond this White Sox teams reach, but they will need to play hard and have a couple breaks if they're going to make the playoffs.
Lets Go, Go-Go White Sox!