2009 CHICAGO WHITE SOX PREVIEW
The White Sox had a banner year in 2008, finishing the regular season tied with Minnesota atop the division with an 88-74 mark. The White Sox emerged victorious from the one game playoff to claim their first Division Title since their 2005 World Series victory. The Sox were a veteran team with a deep rotation and rode that all the way to the postseason.
2009 seems to be shaping up much differently on the South Side of Chicago. Gone is power bat Nick Swisher and talented hurler Javy Vazquez for prospects and the White Sox appear to be a bad start away from beginning a full-fledged youth movement. The biggest addition that GM Kenny Williams made this offseason was signing former star pitcher Bartolo Colon to a one year, incentive-laden contract. It appears that the White Sox are going to take a step back this season.
The White Sox have three very solid starters atop their rotation. Mark Buehrle (15-12, 3.79 ERA, 218 IP in 34 Starts last year), John Danks (12-9, 3.32 ERA, 195 IP, 33 Starts) and Gavin Floyd (17-8, 3.84 ERA, 206 IP, 33 Starts) should provide the Sox with a trifecta of solid production. However, the final two spots are wide open. Veteran Jose Contreras (7-6, 4.54 ERA, 20 starts) would likely have been the 4 th starter but he is not expected to return from an Achilles injury until after the All Star break. The candidates to begin the year in the rotation are Colon (4-2, 3.92 ERA, 7 starts for Boston), who is the only veteran of the group, Clayton Richard (2-5, 6.04 ERA, 8 starts), Jeff Marquez (sinkerballer acquired in the Vazquez trade), Aaron Poreda (The White Sox’s 1 st round pick in 2007), and Lance Broadway (1-0, 7.07 ERA, 7 relief appearances). Thus it appears that the White Sox will likely begin the season with two unproven commodities at the back end of their rotation.
Chicago has a very good bullpen, headlined by fireballing closer Bobby Jenks, who finished last year with 30 saves and 2.63 ERA. However, there is good depth in front him, led by Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink, both of whom have ample experience in pressure situations. Expect the White Sox to have another very good year in the late innings.
The White Sox have a very interesting situation in the infield: Almost every position is filled with players either at the beginning or tail end of their careers. At first base, 33 year old veteran Paul Konerko (.240, 22 HR, 62 RBI, .344 OBP) will look to rebound from injury issues last season. Ostensibly, his back up is 39 year old veteran Jim Thome (.245, 34 HR, 90 RBI, .362 OBP), but Thome is almost exclusively a DH at this point. The final veteran piece to the infield is catcher AJ Pierzynski (.281, 13 HR, 60 RBI, .312 OBP), who is 32. The only player in the White Sox’ infield who can be considered in the prime of his career is shortstop Alexei Ramirez (.290, 21 HR, 77 RBi, .317 OBP), who is one of the better hitting shortstops in the American League. Second base is completely up for grabs between prospects Brent Lillibridge, Chris Getz and Jayson Nix. Manager Ozzie Guillen recently said that Getz is the leader going into spring training but any of the three could start. Third base will be fought out between career backup Wilson Betemit (.265, 6 HR, 25 RBI, .289 OBP) and highly regarded rookie Josh Fields. Thus it appears that the White Sox will likely be breaking in rookie starters at two positions. Simply put, the Sox are nearing the point where Konerko, Pierzynski, and Thome could hit the proverbial wall and if they do so at the same time as they’re installing two rookies on the diamond then the Sox could really struggle this year to score runs.
Chicago’s outfield is a solid group. Rightfielder Jermaine Dye (.292, 34 HR, 96 RBI, .344 OBP) is 35 and a hot commodity on the trade market while centerfield will be patrolled by two young players in Brian Anderson (.232, 8 HR, 26 RBI, .272 OBP) and Jerry Owens (played only 12 games due to injury last fall) who don’t have much of a track record at the major league level. However, the Sox can fall back on leftfielder Carlos Quentin, who broke out in a big way last year with a .288 average, 36 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .394 OBP. Even if Dye is dealt, Quentin will be mashing baseballs on the South Side for the foreseeable future. That said, if the Sox want to compete this year in the AL Central, either Anderson or Owens will have to step up and become a presence at the plate.
The White Sox spent much of the offseason assuring their fans that they would slowly integrate their youth into the lineup without sacrificing the team’s competitiveness. However, the Sox go into the season with three positions expected to be filled by young players who haven’t yet proven to be effective major league players on a consistent basis (centerfield) or virtual unknown quantities (second and third base). Furthermore, Chicago’s expected starting lineup will boast only two players who can be considered to be in the prime of their career: Quentin and Ramirez. Even if everyone remains healthy and productive, the Sox still have two gaping holes in their starting rotation to fill, which could take some time in the ultracompetitive AL Central.
The White Sox have to be concerned that half of their expected starters haven’t started a full season in the big leagues yet while the other half are reaching their mid thirties. Even stalwart Mark Buehrle, who has pitched 200+ innings for an incredible eight straight seasons, is getting older and pitchers who haven’t spent a day on the DL in eight years are a very rare commodity indeed. Simply put, the 2009 White Sox are either getting too old or are too young at almost every position and that is not a good way to enter a season. Most concerning is lack of a proven fall back option should any of the youngsters fall short of expectations. Couple that with the uncertainty surrounding the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation and you’ll find that the White Sox will be lucky to finish this year with a winning record. Expect Chicago to finish with 75-80 wins and a 4 th place finish in the American League Central.
By Matt Baxendell
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