MLB Team-By-Team Previews 2009: Can The White Sox Repeat As AL Central Champs?
2008 was a big year for the South Side of Chicago. Almost bigger than the country electing its first White Sox fan to hold the office of president was the job Ozzie Guillen did managing the Sox. Ozzie conjured, cajoled and castigated this team to a division title. In a year where not much was expected the Sox, they fought the Twins, a late season swoon and a couple of single elimination games to capture the AL Central. Even though the season ended with a whimper in the ALDS, 2008 was a success.
So what do we have to look forward to in 2009?
Additions: 3B Dayan Viciedo (Via Cuba), 3Wilson Betemit (Trade from Yankees), RHP Bartolo Colon (free agent Sizzler), RHP Kelvin Jimenez (off of waivers)
Losses: RHP Javier Vasquez (traded to Braves--wait, is this really a loss?) LHP Boon Logan (traded to Braves), Nick Swisher (traded to Yankees), LHP Horacio Ramirez (F/A Royals), C Toby Hall (F/A), INF Juan Uribe (F/A Giants), CF Ken Griffey, Jr. (F/A Mariners), 3B Joe Crede (F/A Twins)
Front Office - As the calendar moves to 2009 the White Sox are a team in transition, as GM Kenny Williams is trying to retool on the fly, but is a job that could become a rebuild if the Sox get blown out early. The mash and bash teams that the Sox have trotted out since 2006 are slowly moving toward a model that resembles the 2005 Sox team. Williams has been trying to restock a farm system that has been drained as the Sox tried to build on the success of 2005. Williams has been willing to deal some known commodities to obtain pieces that will help the Sox make this transition when the Dye’s Konerko's and Thome's have gone past their sell dates. This season will be the first litmus test for Kenny’s plan. Even though he has made some head scratching deals, no one can accuse Kenny of sitting on his hands. Grade B-
Manager – What I am going to say will not shock you. Ozzie Guillen is insane. Lost in that is that he does a fairly good job in getting the most of his roster. Sure he does shoot his mouth off and he can do stupid things, but as a White Sox fan I still want him as the skipper. He is a White Sox through and through. Did You Know: He is the first manager ever in the history of the organization to lead his team to two post-season appearances in his tenure? Not Tony LaRussa, Gene Lamont, Al Lopez, Kid Gleason, Jerry Manuel and even Pants Rowland ever had the Sox playing in the post season multiple times during their tenures. Grade A (I will freely admit this is biased on this one)
The Infield – The Sox infield will definitely have a very different look to it. Konerko is still manning first, but everything else has changed. At the hot corner the days of Joe Crede have ended. The Sox could not wait around for Joe to be healthy so they let him walk. Sadly he has walked over to Twins which means he will be in the running for MVP because that’s the Twins for you. Josh Fields tries to stake claim to the job. The promise he showed in 2007 was nowhere to be seen after his disastrous audition for the job last season as Crede was went down. It went so bad the Sox gave the 3B job to Juan “back away from my Jeep” Uribe. If Josh Field plays more like Mrs. Fields then the Sox will let Wilson Betemit take the job. If that does not work the Sox may have to turn to their newest Cuban import Dayan Viciedo and if he is not ready it will not be pretty. The over-looked, very spindly and exciting Alexi “The Cuban Missile Crises” Ramirez moves to his natural position. However his pivot partner is still in flux. Right now the Sox are letting three men fight it out. Chris Getz, Brent Lillibridge and Jayson Dix are all in battling for the spot. Grade C- (It will slip to D- if no one take a firm hold of the 2B & 3B jobs)
Catchers – The man everyone loves to hate comes back. A.J., the most unlikely of #2 hitters in baseball, is still the #1 catcher. The Sox hope that A.J. can give them another season of .280 hitting, because base runners treat him like he is a bank in trouble because there is a run on him. Backing him up will be banjo hitting Chris Stewart who the Sox hope can channel the spirit of Chris Widger and not shame himself out there. The White Sox hope they may have found A.J.’s future replacement as they acquired Tyler Flowers in the Vasquez trade, but he is still raw and the Sox can give him some time, but with A.J. at 32 it may not be too long. Grade C (All depends on the health of A.J.)
The Outfield – The White Sox are pretty much set in the corners, but there may be a big hole in center. Carlos Quentin, who the White Sox burgled from the D’Backs, was on his way to a possible MVP season until his wrist injury sidelined him and nearly sidelined the White Sox playoff chances. In right, Jermaine Dye continues to churn out homers and RBIs. However, in center field the White Sox are still trying to fill a hole that has been there since the White Sox bid adieu to Aaron Rowand. This is another three man battle royale as Jerry Owens, DeWayne Wise and Brain Anderson fight it out. Reports so far still have it as a three man battle. Sadly it is not because all three are lighting things up. Owens has speed the Sox would love to see on the base paths; now if he could get on base. Wise provided a lift for the Sox in Quentin’s absence, but there is a reason why he has been a minor leaguer for so long. Lastly there is the blonde bomber Brian Anderson who has the glove and power, but has a hole in his swing a big as his range in center. Oh where have you gone Lance Johnson? Grade B (B+ if they find a CF they can get on base)
Starting Pitching – The 2008 season saw the return of Mark Buehrle and the possible emergence of two others. John Danks and Gavin Floyd made major strides and both have taken hold of spots in the rotation. Sadly it also saw another year of Javy Vasquez not showing up when needed. The Sox also had to suffer seeing Jose Contreras blowing out his Achilles and a bunch of dudes who got pounded. So 1 through 3 is set, but the other two spots are what Ozzie and Kenny are fretting over. So far it looks like Sox may have some good news in that Contreras has had no setbacks and was effective in his last outing The Sox would love to have him replicate his 2005 Playoff form, but they will take a guy who will eat innings and keep them in games. As for the 5th spot it is down to two youngsters LHP Clayton Richard (who was not sterling in his extended stay with the big club 2-6 6.04 ERA), RHP Jeff Marquez (Free Agent pick up) and mound denter Bartolo Colon. Grade C (but if Jose can come back and the 5th spot does not hemorrhage runs then B-)
The Bullpen – The White Sox are in good hands when the ball is given to lithe Bobby Jenks. Who may not be bringing it in triple digits, but has become more effective. However getting to him is the main concern. Last year, two of the Sox imports Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel, both excelled, when healthy. Sadly nearly every reliever White Sox had down time to injury. This meant Ozzie had to go do some serious juggling. Which along with a rotation, that could not depend on getting a solid performance every 5th day, lead to even more consternation and Maalox moments. The Sox still do have hard throwing and rubber armed Matt Thornton from the left side. Filling out the rest of the bullpen will be any of the following characters: the of the losers of the 5th spot competition (Richard or Marquez), D.J Carrasco, Ehren Wasserman, Jhonny Nunez and heaven help us Mike MacDougal. Grade B+ (Again it comes down to health with this crew)
The Bench/DH – This will be an area of concern all season long unless some guys can flourish as role players. As for DH, that mantle will be placed upon the broad shoulders and unstable hamstrings of Jim Thome. Since MLB has not allow him to use a mortised cart Sox fans will have to cross his fingers anytime anything he hits does not leave the yard. Grade D+
Players who may be making the trip from Charlotte to Chicago:
1. Aaron Poreda LHP – Should get a shot at a starting spot
2. Dayan Viciedo 3B – Hey the last straight from Cuba import was not too shabby.
3. John Shelby CF – Has potential to be a 20-20 guy
Projected 2009 Opening Day Line-up:
CF Jerry Owens - since you can’t steal first Jerry needs to find a way to have a OBP above .400
C A.J. Pierzynski - If the Sox can get any kind of production out of the lead-off spot then A.J. will be in the .280’s.
LF Carlos Quentin - Arizona would love to have him back a perfect fit for the Cell
DH Jim Thome - will be as productive as his hamstrings will allow him.
RF Jermaine Dye - should put up 30 HR’s and 100 RBI amongst this line up.
1B Paul Konerko - Paulie has been around long enough to be a Grey Sox
3B Josh Fields - Would love for him to show some the power he displayed in 2007
SS Alexei Ramirez- Should have gotten more fanfare during his rookie season, but I digress. He now moves to his natural spot.
2B Chris Getz
Mark Buehrle LH
John Danks LH
Gavin Floyd RH
Jose Contreras RH
Jeff Marquez RH
Closer – Bobby Jenks RHP
7th & 8th Inning Bridge
Scott Linebrink & Octavio Dotel RHP
Matt Thornton LHP
Rest of the pen
Clayton Richard LHP
D.J Carrasco RHP
Ehren Wasserman RHP
Jhonny Nunez RHP
Wilson Betemit INF
Brent Lillibridge INF
Brain Anderson OF
Dewayne Wise OF
Chris Stewart C
Cleveland – Should win since this team was too talented to be that bad last year.
Minnesota – Since the Twins are only here on this earth to antagonize me, they will be fighting for the top spot all year long.
Detroit – Will be better than 2008, but the back end of the bullpen is still a mess
Kansas City – They have been moving in the right direction, now if they can get some more pop in the line-up and stop giving contracts to guys like Jose Guillen then they may return to the land of the living.
The White Sox Outlook – As mentioned above the White Sox are not rebuilding, but retooling. If things fall right they could be back to winning 90 games, but a lot, and I mean a lot of things have to fall their way. The team has some good pieces but the question marks surrounding the infield, the back of the rotation and bench will ground those aspirations probably around the All-Star Break. but then I am a professional pessimist.
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