State of the Franchise: Chicago White Sox

Last Season: 88-74 (2nd in AL Central, missed Playoffs)

In 2010, the White Sox bounced back from a poor 2009 campaign. The team won 88 games, but still finished six games behind AL Central division winner, Minnesota Twins and placed seven games behind the eventual Wild Card winners, the New York Yankees. Part of the problems that troubled the White Sox the previous year resonated in their bullpen, offensive question marks and, of course, injuries.

The bullpen issue came to a head this off-season when the team did not tender a contract to closer Bobby Jenks. The two-time All-Star had spent his entire six-year career with the White Sox, but over the past two years, his performance has nose-dived. Last year, Jenks closed a career-low 27 games, then posted career-worst marks across the board in ERA (4.44), hits per nine innings (9.2), and Wins Above Replacement-level (0.3). By September, manager Ozzie Guillen removed Jenks from the closer role completely, and went unused for the better part of a month.

With Jenks removed from the bullpen equation, it seems as though the White Sox are willing to give left-hander Matt Thornton the first shot at the job. Last year, Thornton was selected to his first All-Star game, and recorded a dominate season. He posted an ERA of 2.67 (matched his career-best), 81 strikeouts, 12.0 K/9 (career-best) and eight saves (career best). To replace the lefty specialist role Thornton vacated, the team added Will Ohman on a two-year contract. Between the Orioles and Marlins last year, Ohman posted a 3.21 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 42 innings, while appearing in 68 games.

The White Sox, however, weren’t finished there with solidifying the bullpen. The team signed reliever Jesse Crain to a three-year contract, signing him away from division rival Minnesota Twins. In 2010, Crain had a career year, appearing in 68 games while posting an ERA of 3.04, 62 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.17. Crain will look to bridge the gap in the eighth inning to Thornton.

Another hole in the White Sox appeared in two gigantic holes in their line-up. The first was the black hole that became the White Sox designated hitter. Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay split the majority of DH duties, but neither player had strong seasons. Kotsay saw the most action at DH, but posted lowly numbers of .239, eight homers and 31 runs batted in. Jones didn’t fare much better, hitting only .230. What Jones did provide, however, was more pop, hitting 19 home runs 48 runs batted in, but posted an impressive .827 OPS. Neither of those players are on the White Sox roster this year, and this a mighty big reason for that.

The White Sox biggest off-season acquisition is former Washington Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn. For years, talent evaluators and number geeks have been at a clash about the value of Adam Dunn. As someone that watches National League East baseball on a daily basis, I tend to favor the pro-Dunn faction of baseball fans, because his numbers genuinely speak for themselves.

Last year, in what is considered widely to be a pitchers ballpark and playing in a division that hosts three other pitcher-friendly parks in Citi Field, Turner Field and Dolphins Stadium, Dunn bashed out 38 home runs, his seventh straight season of at least 38 homers. He also drove in 103 runs, sixth time in the last seven years he’s accomplished that feat (he drove in 92 in 2006 for the Cincinnati Reds). And while Dunn hit only .260, he walked 77 times, posted an on-base percentage of .356 and an OPS of .892. Yes, Adam Dunn is going to strike out (career-high 199 times last year), but the mere presence of Dunn alters how managers pitch to a line-up.

This biggest knock on Dunn is that he doesn’t have a true defensive position and was best suited for a DH role on an American League team. When he signed with the White Sox, there was a chance that Dunn would have to play first on a regular basis for the squad, until the White Sox made their second biggest off-season move: re-signing first baseman Paul Konerko to a three-year deal.

The four-time All-Star first baseman has spent all but two years of his 14-year career with the White Sox. After having a terrible 2008 when his numbers dipped to .240, 22 homers and 62 runs batted in, there were more than just whispers around baseball that suggested the then-32 year old was on the down swing. Konerko apparently heard those rumblings and has responded emphatically. Last year, Konerko posted a .312 average with 38 home runs, 111 runs batted in, .393 on-base percentage and a career-best .977 OPS. For his effo, Konerko placed fifth in last year’s All-Star balloting. Most importantly, Konerko is a capable defender, and by re-signing him, Dunn can exclusively DH, greatly improving the team’s defense.

Speaking of defense, third base has been a problem for the White Sox for a number of years. They’ve tried Joe Crede, Josh Fields and most recently 43-year old Omar Vizquel at the position to find some form of stability. At this point in his career, Vizquel is nothing more than a mentor and an able body, posting a .276 average and a .341 on-base percentage, but had only 14 total extra-base hits. The Sox acquired former Royals third baseman and outfield Mark Teahan to try and add more pop to the hot corner. But, Teahan struggled while in Chicago, hitting only .258 with four homers and striking out 61 times in 77 games with the team. Ozzie Guillen would much rather use Teahan as a utility lefty off the bench.

The team was hoping 21-year old Cuban defector Dayan Viciedo would be ready to take the reigns at third entering this season. In 38 games last year, Viciedo .308 with five home runs, but the team is becoming increasingly concerned with his defense and range. “The Tank”, as he was known in Cuba, is a talented hitter, but there is significant concern that his weight (240 pounds) will limit his range at first and that he might be better suited for a role in the outfield. However, it would surprise many if Viciedo wasn’t in the Opening Day line-up in some capacity.

The last issue for the White Sox, which is an issue for many teams across the league, were injuries to two key players. The first of which is former San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy. Peavy, a two-time All-Star and the National League Cy Young award winner in 2007 has been battling injuries ever since he arrived in a mid-season trade to Chicago in 2009. In his year and a half in the Windy City, Peavy has only started 20 games, posted a record of 10-6 with an ERA of 4.11. Only 29-years old, if Peavy can remain healthy, there is no reason to doubt that he’d be able to regain his previous form. His last full season in 2008 on a dismal Padres team, Peavy managed to win 10 games while posting a 2.85 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 173 innings. Teamed with lefties John Danks and Mark Buerhle, a healthy Peavy could be the difference for the White Sox.

In a line-up that already includes Dunn, Konerko, Alexis Rios (.284/21/88) and Alexei Ramirez (.282/18/70), imagine what a healthy Carlos Quentin could add. Quentin has been battling injuries each of the last two years, but played through pain last year to post a line of .243 26 homers and 87 runs batted in. You almost forget that this same player in 2008 hit .288 with 36 home runs, 100 runs batted in, won a Silver Slugger, was selected to the All-Star game and placed fifth in the MVP voting. He’ll be 28 this year, and arguable has his best years ahead of him as long as he regains some form of health. Put Quentin in between Konerko and Dunn with Ramirez setting the pace on top and the sky is the limit for the White Sox.

The White Sox will have to compete with the likes of the Minnesota Twins, a team that won the division without former MVP winner Justin Morneau at first base due to a concussion, and the Detroit Tigers for the division crown. It will be no easy task winning the Central this year, but the White Sox may have the best team on paper.

Unfortunately for them, games aren’t won on paper.


About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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