Growing up, I was always ready for fireworks and hijinks from the Chicago White Sox. Bill Veeck and the exploding scoreboard. Disco Demolition Night. Ballplayers in shorts. LaMarr Hoyt. Ozzie Guillen. A.J. Pierzynski. Wheeling, dealing Kenny Williams. There was always something going on with the ballclub on the South Side.
It's a different era now. Guillen left a year ago, AJP signed with Texas three weeks ago, and the Pale Hose haven't made any kind of a splash in the current offseason (meanwhile, names like Myers, Liriano and Youkilis headed out of town). No one sees a spike at the ticket office after signing Jeff Keppinger. Maybe new GM Rick Hahn is hesitant to shake things up; meanwhile, Williams has been kicked upstairs to a VP position. (My ears did perk up when I saw familiar names Ruben Sierra and John Shelby on the transaction log, but it's Ruben Sierra Jr. and John Shelby Jr. - a couple of non-prospects. So it goes. I'll spend the rest of the day counting deadhead stickers on Cadillacs.)
Perhaps the goal is for the current White Sox to fully adopt the personality of their field manager, Robin Ventura. Keep your head down, show no emotions. Stay the course. Vanilla all the way. Be that as it may, the White Sox still get a Pressing Questions, like the other 29 clubs. Let's toss around some Q and A.
What's the spin on Chris Sale's second-half slump?
Anyone who snagged Sale in advance of 2012 had a glorious run through the first half of the year (10 wins, 2.19 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 98 strikeouts). Sale's numbers didn't exactly collapse in the second half (4.03 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 94 strikeouts, seven wins), but we have to at least examine the ratio drops and try to explain them.
There's one angle that says we shouldn't worry about Sale's second-half regression. His strikeout and walk rates both improved after the break, and he was dealing with spikes in the luck stats (his HR/FB and batted-ball rates both jumped in the final three months). That said, Sale also had a velocity dip in the second half, which might have paved the way for him to become less fortunate. And his heavy reliance on his slider (he threw it 26 percent of the time last year, 29 percent for his career) could be worrisome down the road.
It's in my wiring to be skeptical with young breakout stars, so I'll probably steer clear of Sale this spring unless the price is surprisingly affordable at the table. You're most welcome to disagree, of course. My skepticism on Sale last year produced nothing but regret.
Jeff Keppinger and Tyler Flowers are stepping into regular gigs. Any interest?
Those in the mixed-league crowd can move along to the next whiskey bar. These guys aren't going to be on your radar. But if you're in the AL-only chase (or maybe a gigantic mixed league), we need to at least kick the tires on Keppinger and Flowers. (Kick like a Vinatieri today, gamers. I don't want to see any Crosby or Akers out of you.)
Keppinger is coming off a surprisingly useful season as Tampa Bay's utility man, slashing .325/.367/.439 with nine homers in 385 at-bats. Keppinger manned three infield spots, crushed left-handers as usual, and was notably capable against righties for a change. The Rays were wise enough to see this season for what it was, a mild fluke from a ballplayer who turns 33 in April. The White Sox, unfortunately, came running with a three-year, $12 million contract and a full-time job at third base (even with Keppinger breaking his fibula in a November accident, the White Sox were undeterred in their pursuit). Bill James projects a .290/.342/.392 year for Keppinger, with seven homers over 473 plate appearances. Seems reasonable. Season to taste.
Say this for Flowers, he's capable of reaching the seats now and again. He's collected 12 homers over 246 at-bats the last two years. But a .205/.307/.388 slash line isn't going to play in any format, and he has notable gaps against right-handed pitching (.586 OPS) and on the road (.521 OPS). It turns into one of those long-running themes for mono leagues: are you better off with a zero at the second catching spot, or a marginal counting-stat contributor who sabotages your batting average? Look for a few homers, and an average tax, from Flowers in 2013.
What happened to Paul Konerko in the second half?
Although Konerko hit an acceptable 12 homers after the break, it came tied to a mediocre .263/.333/.437 slash and disappointing run-production numbers (26 runs, 33 RBIs). But a wrist problem had a lot to do with the numbers giveback, and the issue has been surgically repaired. Although Konerko turns 37 before the season, I don't see any reason to shy away from him at the table. A solid .285-78-30-100 type of season appears likely.
Is Ken Harrleson the most annoying thing in the history of annoying things?
Yes. Hell, yes. There is no debate on this.
Any optimism for Gordon Beckham?
I'm not seeing it. Maybe he needs a new city, a new background, a fresh start somewhere. The images from that magical 2009 debut keep getting hazier and hazier.
Beckham did slightly increase his walk rate last year, and he took his strikeout rate down over four percent. More contact, always a good thing. That said, while we don't want to be dismissive of a 16-homer year from a second baseman, it came tied to a .234 average and five piddly stolen bases.
It's interesting to note that Beckham had a productive run batting first or second last year, collecting 28 runs, eight homers and 28 RBIs over 50 games. When Ventura kept Beckham in the No. 9 slot, the returns were anemic: .281/.291/.344. If Beckham comes out of the chute in a favorable batting slot in April and shows something, maybe I'll consider a kick-the-tires pickup in the opening weeks. But I'm not going to highlight his name in March. He needs to force his way back into the roto conversation.
Deep Dish: John Danks is coming off shoulder surgery in August; so far, so good. He's been throwing for a couple of months now. If he can demonstrate a return to health, he'll quickly go into Chicago's trade talks (they've also been shopping Gavin Floyd this winter) . . . Dayan Viciedo had no problems with lefties in 2012 (1.033 OPS), but right-handers ate his lunch (.225/.271/.380). The White Sox will put up with his hacking (28 walks, 120 strikeouts) in exchange for the power potential. He's also stuck in left field for the time being, while Adam Dunn continues to lock up the DH spot . . . Don't let the 4.75 ERA and 1.36 WHIP discourage you; Addison Reed is a capable closer. He converted 29-of-33 chances in his first full season, striking out 54 batters in 55 innings. He needs to cut the homers (six) and trim the walks (18), and if he can better command his slider, his strikeout rate should improve. If you're working this position on a budget, I'll sign off on the 24-year-old righty . . . It would be a stretch to call Alejandro De Aza an electric leadoff man, but he posted a credible average (.281) along with 26 steals and nine homers last year. It's encouraging to note that a so-so efficiency record on the bases (he was caught 12 times) didn't force a red light from Ventura. De Aza turns 29 in April so we're probably looking at the peak of his returns, but you could do a lot worse for your final outfield spot . . . Alex Rios was a bargain just about everywhere in 2012; some owners ignored his .237 BABIP while a few others focused on his bloated contract, then walked away. An 86-point jump in hit rate fueled part of the comeback (and Rios enjoyed the highest HR/FB clip of his career), but let's also credit Rios for spiking his line-drive rate and running the bases smartly. It's probably a mistake to bid off of the 2012 stats, but Bill James has Rios projected for a 20-20 season in 2013 (and a .297 average), and I doubt you'll have to pay a lot for it in March . . . What's that, we didn't discuss your favorite player? That's what the comments are for. You're in the game, coach.