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.
2011 record: 79-83
Finish: Third place, AL Central
2011 final payroll: $125.8 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $98 million
Yahoo! Sports' offseason rank: 23rd
Hashtags: #badcontracts, #morelikeabominablecontracts, #ozzie, #rebuildingornot, #bamabangs, #fantasysleeper, #isgavinfloydabluejay, #gitrdunn, #ordont
The Chicago White Sox are Jerry Reinsdorf's car, and his whims tend to dictate how it's outfitted. Last season, Reinsdorf was in go-for-it mode, so he went full "Pimp My Ride," throwing around nearly $120 million in guaranteed money. Gone this year are the in-dash TV, the leather seats and the 24s. If they're not careful, the White Sox may end up without a steering wheel one of these days.
Much of it was understandable, what with the disappointing 2011, manager Ozzie Guillen's departure to the Miami Marlins and the contracts of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy, on which Reinsdorf still owes $104.5 million. Gone went outfielder Carlos Quentin for a couple minor league pitchers, closer Sergio Santos for another and reliever Jason Frasor for even more pitching. Never mind the enormous risks in young pitchers' arms. General manager Kenny Williams runs the White Sox with a – hmmm – unique perspective.
And never was that more evident than the day Chicago announced it had locked up starter John Danks to a five-year, $65 million extension. Rebuilding teams under the weight of three absolutely unmovable contracts do not commit that many years and that much money to anyone, particularly a pitcher whose track record of health offers no promise that his elbow and shoulder will continue to cooperate.
The Quentin trade came two days after Danks' deal, the Frasor trade three days later, and confusion permeated those who follow and love the White Sox. Williams always has something up his sleeve; it just seemed like he was wearing sleeveless shirts. Rebuild or don't. Going halfway isn't an option, just as going .500 signifies little beyond mediocrity for a team of the White Sox's revenue base.
[ Fantasy: Five Pressing Questions for Chicago White Sox ]
Reality hit when the team said it couldn't afford Mark Buehrle as a free agent. He went to the Marlins for four years and $58 million after a dozen seasons and a World Series victory with the White Sox. He should've been with Chicago for his whole career. He isn't because hard as they try, the White Sox still aren't exactly sure who they are.
So, they're not quite the Mets or Dodgers, not yet, and, hell, they're not even the worst team in their city. But the White Sox do enter this season as one of baseball's most intriguing units, if only to witness the vast culture change between Guillen and first-time-anywhere manager Robin Ventura and whether he can help cull comeback seasons out of a lineup of underachievers.
The first was Dunn, who had one of the worst seasons in baseball history. Among those with at least 496 plate appearances – which was Dunn's exact number, sparing him the ignominy of qualifying for the batting title – Dunn's .159 batting average was the worst of all time. It's not even close, frankly – 20 points worse, in fact, than Rob Deer in 1991. How low was it? The lowest in 11,312 seasons with at least 496 plate appearances.
Rios wasn't quite as bad, though his .265 on-base percentage even made Dunn throw a little Nelson Muntz "Ha ha!" Rios' way. Gordon Beckham did everything he could to emulate Rios and Dunn on the field and Justin Bieber off it. The White Sox majored in underachievement, which is why of all the teams toward the bottom of these rankings, they have perhaps the greatest chance to outplay preseason expectations. Dunn and Rios and Beckham – hell, just one of them – could bounce back and help significantly.
Still, the White Sox dumped enough talent – and, as they continue to dangle Gavin Floyd, threaten to dump even more – that one or two more moves almost automatically damns them to lean times. The White Sox's farm system is a desert with no mirage, so the idea of this project taking years is not far-fetched. As smart as it is to move Chris Sale to the rotation and give him a gander there, and as good as reliever Addison Reed is going to be – lots-of-saves good – those two alone cannot drum up good feelings.
The White Sox's car is sitting on the shoulder of the highway right now, 2005 long gone from its rearview mirror, the engine smoking, a couple tires punctured, Reinsdorf and Williams standing to the side with their thumbs in the air. Both want to get the hell out of where they are. Only neither is quite sure exactly where that is.
There's only so much a manager can do, so the idea that Robin Ventura will waltz into the White Sox's clubhouse and change a culture built in many senses around Ozzie Guillen is fallacious at best. Nobody can be Ozzie, and anyone who tries to emulate him even in the slightest sense will not have the meld of hubris and carefreeness that make Ozzie's antics work. Though nobody said so, Reinsdorf brought in Ventura to be the anti-Ozzie – the guy who gets along with management and pitching coach Don Cooper, who brings gravitas as well. How that translates – or, more accurate, if it translates – will be the ultimate judge in a question that could vex the White Sox for a long time.
White Sox in Haiku
The White Sox rebuilding with
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