South Side Sox are all about winning now
Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Chicago White Sox.
2010 record: 88-74
Finish: Second place, AL Central
2010 final payroll: $112.2 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $127 million
For as much as Jerry Reinsdorf plays mouthpiece for his friend Bud Selig when the free-agent market lavishes money on the undeserved, the White Sox’s longtime owner is himself something of a shopper. Reinsdorf enjoys putting his money where his mouth isn’t.
Already the White Sox were among baseball’s heftiest spenders, their payroll last year ranking eighth. To jack it up another 13 percent, with the addition of Adam Dunn(notes), the re-signing of Paul Konerko(notes) and the remaking of their bullpen with Jesse Crain(notes) and Will Ohman(notes), signals the greatest affirmation yet from the man who signed off on the White Flag trade: The White Sox want to win now, and they’re happy to set the pace for Detroit and Minnesota.
Reinsdorf’s management duo personifies that: Kenny Williams is the gunslingingest GM in baseball, and Ozzie Guillen is quick to criticize coaches, players and even himself when the White Sox aren’t winning. And since they didn’t last year, mostly due to a putrid offense in April, May and September, back they come with two big sluggers in hopes of canceling out question marks in both corner-outfield spots as well as third base.
Dunn might have more raw power than anyone in baseball, and the combination of him and U.S. Cellular Field should return him past the 40-home run threshold he reached five consecutive years. Whether the dip in his walk rate last year – from a career 16.9 percent to 11.9 percent – was aberration or the first sign of decline will determine whether the $56 million Reinsdorf gave him for four years of DHing was canny or wasteful.
Even more troublesome is Konerko’s potential for deterioration. For $12.5 million a year, and at three years for a guy turning 35 in March no less, is the sort of gamble that comes from teams overpaying because they’ve been perpetual losers or because of unnecessary emotional attachment. Yes, Konerko is a Reinsdorf favorite, so his return was almost guaranteed, and, yes, he was staggeringly good last year, and there is no chance he repeats it. None.
In baseball history, only five first basemen over 35 have had an adjusted OPS better than Konerko’s 158 (which means he was 58 percent better than league average). The only one in the last 50 years was Mark McGwire in 1999. Lowering the criteria to a 140 OPS+, there have been three since 1985. Down to 130, it’s five. And 120, it’s a dozen. First basemen don’t age well, and as nice as it is to have Konerko’s name in the middle of the lineup, unless he is an unprecedented player – and chances are he isn’t – the White Sox may have created another hole when they thought they were filling one.
As much as Dunn and Konerko should help the White Sox score runs, their lineup remains tenuous as best. Chicago’s weird symbiotic relationship with catcher A.J. Pierzynski(notes) continues, despite his inability to get on base, rookie Brent Morel(notes) is likely to inherit third base from a subpar committee and Juan Pierre(notes) and Carlos Quentin(notes) are every bit the unknown quantities they were last year. Compound that with Gordon Beckham’s(notes) inconsistencies, Alexei Ramirez’s(notes) career .321 OBP and Alex Rios’(notes) hit-or-miss production and, well, there’s reason for concern at every offensive position.
Their pitching staff, on the other hand, is among the best in a loaded AL. Should Jake Peavy(notes) return from a torn lat – one ripped completely off the bone, an injury from which no pitcher has come back – he could turn an already-good rotation of John Danks(notes), Gavin Floyd(notes), Mark Buehrle(notes) and Edwin Jackson(notes) into a great one.
And even after non-tendering closer Bobby Jenks(notes), trading Scott Linebrink(notes) and losing J.J. Putz(notes) to free agency, the White Sox’s bullpen remains a strength. Whether it’s Crain, Matt Thornton(notes), Sergio Santos(notes) or rookie Chris Sale(notes) who closes, Chicago comes with a nice array of power arms. Should the White Sox decide to stretch out Sale to fill the fifth spot in the rotation before Peavy comes back, the lack of depth could become an issue.
Sale’s dominance out of the bullpen last year could put the White Sox in a situation similar to that of Boston (Jonathan Papelbon(notes)) and Texas (Neftali Feliz(notes)), where a pitcher is so good in relief, teams are loath to switch him back to starting, even if relievers are significantly less valuable. The White Sox can go with four starters through April 19 with only one spot start necessary, and if Peavy can split his ETA (opening day) and the Sox’s (end of April), smart money is on Sale keeping his devastating slider a one- or two-inning weapon.
The ever-present issue for every White Sox team, of course, is Guillen and Williams’ relationship and how it will spill into the team’s everyday affairs. Beckham thought it enough of a distraction to mention this offseason, and other White Sox players privately gripe the same. Rare is the team where neither of the two biggest egos actually plays.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue with the 2005 World Series title and the annual contention, and amid the individual inconsistency, that’s something that shouldn’t change. The White Sox, their drama and their money aren’t going anywhere.
White Sox in haiku
Why do we even listen
To Oney Guillen?
Next: Minnesota Twins