COMMENTARY | In 2010, Chicago White Sox starter John Danks posted career-highs in wins (15), strikeouts (162), innings (213), WHIP (1.22) and opponents' batting average (.237), all of which led the team. As a result, he was chosen to be the team's opening-day starter for 2011. No person in the organization felt stronger about that than Mark Buehrle, the man who had that honor the previous eight seasons.
Danks went on to reject the honor in favor of Buehrle, but the recognition was a clear sign of a passing of the torch. For years, Buehrle was the ace of the White Sox rotation and a fan favorite to everyone in Chicago. But from 2008-10, Danks posted double-digit wins and a sub-4.00 ERA in each season, putting him in line to surpass his fellow lefty.
Now, 2011 didn't go quite as well for Danks, thanks to a lack of run support and a faulty bullpen that couldn't hold leads. But despite his 8-12 record, then-White Sox general manager Kenny Williams (currently executive vice president) rewarded him with a five-year, $60 contract in December of 2011. In addition to that, Buehrle was allowed to sign with the Miami Marlins, thus officially making Danks the ace of the staff.
With a new contract and a new role atop the rotation, Danks managed to make just nine starts because of shoulder troubles that eventually led to season-ending surgery.
Unexpectedly, without Danks, the White Sox put together a great performance last season that fell just short of a division title. The biggest reason for their success was a starting rotation led by a surprising Chris Sale and a healthy Jake Peavy.
Coming off of a strong rookie year out of the bullpen, Sale was envisioned as Buehrle's replacement and pitched beyond expectations. The young lefty went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and 192 strikeouts in 192 innings. He finished sixth in the American League Cy Young voting.
Peavy, a Cy Young Award winner in 2007 with the San Diego Padres, finally put together his first healthy season since joining the White Sox in a mid-season trade back in 2009. The right-hander went 11-12 but posted a 3.37 ERA and led the team with 194 strikeouts. He re-signed with Chicago back in October for $29 million over two years.
The rest of the rotation was made up by a combination of Gavin Floyd, Jose Quintana, Hector Santiago, Francisco Liriano, and Philip Humber. Floyd had his usual average season, going 12-11 with a 4.37 ERA. Quintana, an unknown in the White Sox farm system, pitched well in place of Danks but wore down by season's end. He finished 6-6 with a 3.76 ERA. Santiago made a few spot starts in the final month of the season, going 2-0 in 5 starts.
Humber pitched a perfect game in his second start of 2012 and then proceeded to pitch his way out of the rotation and into the bullpen. Liriano was acquired midseason to help the White Sox make up for Humber's struggles but proved to be just as erratic in Chicago as he was with the Minnesota Twins. Neither man will be a part of the White Sox in 2013.
If the White Sox repeat the production they had last season, they will not make the playoffs. As the offseason continues and new general manager Rick Hahn explores ways to improve the roster, the only big change at this point in time is the return of a healthy Danks. At his best, he is one of the top left-handed starters in baseball. Coming off shoulder surgery, it is unclear if will get back to that level.
The White Sox slugged home runs with the best of them behind the bats of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Paul Konerko, and A.J. Pierzynski. But when the ball wasn't flying out of U.S. Cellular Field, runs did not cross the plate. The way this team is built, pitching is key. When the young arms of Sale and Quintana wore down at the end of the season, the White Sox couldn't hit their way to victories. The bullpen was taxed as well because of so many appearances in relief of the young, inexperienced arms of the rotation.
So as the White Sox blew the AL Central lead they held over the Detroit Tigers for two months, you can only wonder what difference an established veteran arm like Danks could have made. With the Tigers' addition of Torii Hunter, a returning Victor Martinez and money to spend on arms, it will not be any easier in 2013 for the White Sox.
James Poellnitz is a Lewis University journalism graduate with a love for the Chicago White Sox and an even bigger love for baseball. He resides in Chicago and has been covering the White Sox and Major League Baseball as well as the NFL and NBA for various blogs since 2009.