January 2011

An Early Look at the “Others” in the A.L. Central

baseball-caps-american-league-central-division-main.jpgThe White Sox go into the upcoming season as one of the favorites to win the A.L. Central, but it’s not going to be a cakewalk. The Tigers have improved, the Twins have lost a number of key components but are always strong and the Indians and Royals seem to be making strides as well.

The following is a thumbnail rundown of the Sox’s Central opponents and how they’re constituted going into the new season–in order of their finish in 2010. As we all know, the Pale Hose finished in second place behind you know who.

Twins
Our perennial nemesis has suffered a number of key losses, primarily Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch in the bullpen, second baseman Orlando Hudson, shortstop J.J. Hardy and infielder Nick Punto. But we know full well, they’ll be a contender once again. Minny still has All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, outfielders Denard Span, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer, reliever Matt Capps, re-signed DH Jim Thome and starter Carl Pavano and are counting on comebacks from Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and Pat Neshek. The Twins could get a huge boost if Japanese export Tsuyoshi Nishioka pairs up successfully with Alexei Casilla in the middle of the infield.

Tigers
C-DH Victor Martinez, reliever Joaquin Benoit and free agent outfielder Magglio Ordonez were the key additions over the winter. Along with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer at the top of the rotation, the monster bat of first baseman Miguel Cabrera and the solid play of third baseman Brandon Inge and shortstop Jhonny Peralta, these Tigers will be growling. Detroit is also counting on a young group headed by outfielders Austin JacksonBrennan Boesch and Ryan Rayburn and second baseman Will Rhymes. A comeback by reliever Joel Zumaya would also be a key factor in their run at the division title.

Indians
The Tribe has a long way to go and were silent over the winter in terms of major acquistions. Cleveland appears to have a young, improving pitching staff with folks like Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco, and some good young players like shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, first baseman Matt LaPorta, outfielder Michael Brantley and arguably their best player, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. A big question mark centers around erstwhile star centerfielder Grady Sizemore and if he recovers from his injury problems. Based on the current roster, it’s improbable that they could gain on the Sox, Twins and Tigers in the standings.

Royals
We’ve been waiting a long time, but it finally appears as if KC is on its way with several blue-chip prospects. In fact, six of MLB.com’s Top Prospects are in the Royals system. Part of this youth movement has come from the Zack Greinke trade, which brought the likes of shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. Other “can’t missers” include first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and hurler Mike Montgomery. That’s the good news. The bad news is that odds are that very few, if any, will make an impact in 2011. In the meantime,  the Royals will have to count on a group of players led by Billy Butler in the field and starter Luke Hochevar and closer Joakim Soria on the mound to get them out of the cellar. Their odds to escape aren’t very good.

Former Sox Slugger Gus Zernial: The Man who Introduced Joe to Marilyn

bb-sakoguchi-164.jpg

Former White Sox slugging outfielder Gus Zernial, who once held the club’s single-season home run record with his 29 in 1950, died last week of congestive heart failure at the age of 87. 

For you younger fans unfamiliar with the name, the man affectionately called “Ozark Ike” broke in with the White Sox in 1949, played with the Pale Hose the following year and part of 1951 before he was traded to the Philadelphia A’s in a three-team trade which brought Minnie Minoso to Chicago from Cleveland. In all, he clouted 237 homers in 11 major league seasons with the Sox, A’s (both in Philly and Kansas City) and Tigers. He was an All-Star in 1953 as a member of the A’s.
Zernial also has a unique distinction that goes beyond baseball. He was the man who introduced Joe DiMaggio to Marilyn Monroe. It has been reported that DiMaggio saw that Zernial posed with Monroe for 20th Century Fox publicity photos (Gus is the catcher in the above illustration) and wondered how Zernial made it happen. Joe then got in touch with Marilyn via the former Sox outfielder–and the rest is history.

SoxFest Day 3: Weekend Ends With Sox Fans Excited About Upcoming Season


fjfMuwhX.gif

It was a weekend Lovefest at SoxFest.

Optimism reigned as it was obvious that the “All In” approach to the 2011 season has made a huge impact on Sox fans.
The annual Pale Hose celebration ended Sunday just in time for fans to get home or go to the nearest watering hole to watch the Bears-Packers title game. But regardless of the football fever in Chicago, thoughts were also focused on February 17 when the Sox pitchers and catchers report.
More News & Notes…

* The most interesting tidbit to come out of Sunday’s sessions was Ozzie revealing that he chose to audition Chris Sale as the club closer at the end of the season even though Bobby Jenks was healthy enough to pitch. 
* It was obvious from those fans in attendance over the weekend that the White Sox faithful is sick and tired of losing to the Twins. The consensus from the Sox, whether it was the Chairman or the players, is that tighter defense and being more fundamentally sound in all phases of the game are the keys to detroning Minnesota in the A.L. Central.
728x90_cws_st_now2.jpg

SoxFest Day 2: The Chairman Explains “All In” Philosophy and Konerko Bullish About 2011

jerry-reinsdorf.jpg

The most fascinating news item coming out of the second day of SoxFest was Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf‘s explanation of why the Sox took the “All In” route in 2011 as opposed to entering the season with a younger, less expensive product.
Reinsdorf, who has been given a bad rap over the years for NOT spending, went above and beyond this offseason by increasing the payroll by more than $20 million.
Here are some of the comments from the man who has won seven titles–six with the Bulls and in 2005 with the White Sox–courtesy of MLB.com’s Scott Merkin:
“Last year was a difficult year. We weren’t as good as we thought we could be. Our attendance was down. Financially, it came out OK. 

“Thinking about this year, we had to make a decision for the long term: Were we better off to try to get better or were we better off to use this as a rebuilding year? That’s the thing that took us a long time to make up our mind.

“Finally, I just decided like two days before the Adam Dunn signing, ‘Let’s go for it.’ Let’s hope if we spend the money, the attendance will pick up and once we committed to Adam Dunn, then we had to be all in. Then it had to be (Paul Konerko) and we had to bring A.J. back.”

More from SoxFest:

* Another inside tidbit that was revealed yesterday involved Pierzynski. Apparently he was a phone call away from signing with the Dodgers, but because LA ownership was unavailable to approve some the of language, A.J. changed course and accepted the Sox offer through his agent. Because of the delicate nature of the circumstances, Pierzynski even called Reinsdorf to make sure the offer was real.
* In addition to relating the story behind his signing, A.J. endorsed another Sox offseason signing (via Merkin): “I told (Don Cooper), ‘We need another lefty. We need another lefty. We need another lefty.’ Going out and getting Will Ohman was huge. He can get lefties out. Look at our division with Mauer, Morneau, Choo, Sizemore…You have to have more than one lefty available to go through a lineup three times. People look at the eighth inning, but what about the sixth inning when you have the bases loaded with two out and Joe Mauer up and you have an extra lefty. Will Ohman is that guy.”

* Kenny Williams indicated that outfielder Alejandro De Aza, infielder/outfielder Brent Lillibridge and Dayan Viciedo, who is now learning how to play the outfield in addition to his previous experience at the two infield corner positions, will be fighting it out for the final utility spot on the roster. Williams also offered that De Aza is better than people think he is.
* Ozzie predicted that Carlos Quentin will revert back to his 2008 form when he was vying for the league MVP award before an injury cut his season short with a month to go. CQ slugged 36 homers, drove in 100 runs, batted .288 with a .965 OPS in ’08.
* Sox captain Konerko sees good things ahead for the 2011 Sox, as reported by Mark Gonzales in today’s Tribune: “Everyone has their opinions on who is good and who isn’t in baseball, and people have their advice and thoughts. But you’d be hard-pressed to say, ‘there’s a gaping hole there’ or ‘this is a real problem that is going to affect them.’ We’re pretty solid everywhere you look with everything you need.”

58961279.jpg

Day 1: SoxFest More Like an OzzieFest

58945929.jpg
The first day of the annual SoxFest celebration turned out to be quite a day for the Sox skipper.
A group of fans broke out into a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in honor of Ozzie’s 47th (celebrated on Thursday), a brand new website, ozzieguillen.com, was launched and, most significantly, the Sox picked up Guillen’s option for 2012.
The extension wasn’t a sure thing as we all know. After a hellish (Ozzie’s sentiments, not mine) summer where he bickered with GM Kenny Williams, dealt with his son Oney‘s annoying tweeting (my view, not Ozzie’s) and was on the verge of being traded to the Marlins, Guillen’s future was certainly in doubt. But when all was said and done, Williams had his back.
“I’ve never doubted the man’s managerial ability and the ability to pull people together,” Williams said at SoxFest, according to Mark Gonzales of the Tribune.  “Listen, we all can get off track a little bit, and we (did) last year. All I want us to do is to get back on track and focus on the baseball team and the fans. They’re hand in hand. Everything else, I want out of the equation.

“And I wanted to get that (option) thing behind and move on and enjoy the game. I always enjoy the game. Go about my business the way I always do. We know it was a tough season last year. We just put everything behind, and everything goes well.”
More from SoxFest:
* It was apparent that the GM was unhappy with his pitching coach Don Cooper‘s comment that he would prefer that Chris Sale prepare for a single role as opposed to preparing to be a starter and reliever. Here’s Williams’ view: “…to have Sale prepare as a reliever and take away one or two of his pitches, because that’s what guys tend to do, I don’t think it’s wise. My pitching coach will ultimately fall in line with his general manager and his manager. Coop should probably speak to us before he speaks to you guys.”

* Sale’s immediate future, of course, will depend largely on Jake Peavy‘s progress. Reports range from he’ll be ready on Opening Day to him stepping into the rotation by May 1.
* Mark Buehrle is the latest Sox star to be headed into his “walk” year. Where does he stand? “If I have a good year and something happens, there’s an opportunity out there to sign and I’m open to it. I’ll talk with the wife and play for a couple more years, possibly. So we’ll see. It’s a long year. If I decide to retire at the end, I’ll retire. If not, I’ll sign somewhere.”

* With third base (Brent Morel, Mark Teahen, Omar Vizquel) and first base (Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn) spoken for, Williams indicated that Dayan Viciedo is spending time learning how to play outfield to give him a shot at the Opening Day roster. The GM says Viciedo has done well so far.

58945940.jpgMatt Thornton, decked out in a Brian Urlacher jersey at yesterday’s SoxFest, shows where his football loyalty lies.

Breaking News: Joe Crede Signs with Rockies

Crede_2_12K_BW_Spts_t440.jpgWe’ll never know what kind of career Joe Crede would have had if the talented third baseman hadn’t been saddled with back problems.
He played parts of nine seasons on the South Side, showed good power–especially in the clutch–and his defense at third was on par with anyone in baseball. To White Sox fans, who witnessed his career, especially his contributions as a key member of the 2005 World Champions and his career year in 2006, he will always hold a special place despite the fact he never reached full-fledged star status.  And no one will ever forget his late season game-winning home run against the Indians when the Sox were on the abyss in ’05 and his perhaps series-saving, game-winning double to win Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Angels after A.J.’s miracle dash to first base.
After an injury-plagued 2009 and a season without baseball in 2010, Crede is primed for a comeback with the Rockies. I know Sox fans are with me when I say that we hope he makes it back with flying colors–even though it won’t be in the Pale Hose’s black and silver.

One Big Happy Family

johndanks-whitesox-bluejays.jpg
Yesterday was the deadline for clubs and their arbitration eligible players to make a deal before having to confront each other in a formal hearing.
The White Sox were able to sign three key players to one-year pacts before going into what most times is a contentious process.
* John Danks agreed to a $6 million contract. He made $3.45 million last year.
* Carlos Quentin agreed to a $5.05 million deal. He made $3.2 million in 2010.
* Tony Pena agreed to a $1.6 million pact. He made $1.2 million in 2010.
The Sox payroll is now at $124 million, already a $20 million increase over last season. Maybe this will quiet Jerry Reinsdorf‘s critics, who have made it their mission to criticize the Chairman for being cheap.
Sox Note of Note: SoxFest is this weekend so there will undoubtedly be a great deal to report on Monday.
                                                                                                 

tony-pena-57-mlb.jpg

carlos-quentin-20-mlb.jpg                                                      
 
                               
                                                                                  

SoxWorld Says…

Chicago-Bears.jpg

What Will the Sox Look Like on Opening Day?

It’s much too early to speculate on the 2011 White Sox opening day 25-man roster. Too much can happen during the remainder of the offseason and six weeks of spring training.

That said, I’m going to take a shot at it anyway. It’s what a blog is for, right? So, with a disclaimer that things can, and inevitably will, change from now until we face the Indians in Cleveland on April 1, here’s how I see the Sox as I sit here on January 12.

PITCHERS (11)

Los+Angeles+Angels+Anaheim+v+Chicago+White+zqhySgaO0S5l.jpg
Mark Buehrle
John Danks
Edwin Jackson
Gavin Floyd
Jake Peavy
Will Ohman
Tony Pena
Sergio Santos
Jesse Crain
Chris Sale
Matt Thornton
Although it may be a long shot, I’m counting on Peavy beginning the season in the starting rotation and Sale in the bullpen on an 11-man staff. If Peavy isn’t ready, Sale could begin the season as a starter and the Sox could add Lucas Harrell, Anthony Carter, another minor leaguer or someone now outside of the organization to the pen. One of those could also start the year in Chicago if the club goes to a 12-man staff.


CATCHERS (2)

610x.jpg

A.J. Pierzynski 
Ramon Castro
It’s very reassuring that A.J. is back and Castro is arguably the best backup catcher in baseball.

INFIELDERS (8)

fspCqxpK.jpg
Paul Konerko
Adam Dunn
Gordon Beckham
Alexei Ramirez
Brent Morel
Omar Vizquel
Mark Teahen
Brent Lillibridge
Like most Sox fans, I’m not crazy about either Teahen or Lillibridge even in backup roles. But versatility is the key. Teahen can play third, first, right and left and Lillibridge can play center in addition to second, short and third. It is possible, but unlikely, that the Sox can move Teahen’s hefty contract, which would give Dayan Viciedo a shot to make the April roster. If that doesn’t happen, Viciedo–he of the electric bat–will have trouble making the team unless his defense has improved enough to beat out Morel (pictured above) or the Sox feel they can do without Lilli. Viciedo is also the odd man out at first with Konerko and Dunn firmly entrenched.

OUTFIELDERS (4)

GYI0061767758_crop_450x500.jpg
Juan Pierre
Alex Rios
Carlos Quentin
Alejandro De Aza
If the White Sox start the season with 11 pitchers, there seems to be room for another outfielder. I’m not that confident that De Aza would be the guy, but he would add speed and defense. Then again, the Sox could look elsewhere for another outfielder. If the team goes with a 12-man pitching staff, De Aza or another outfielder wouldn’t be in the mix with the South Siders counting on Teahen and Lillbridge, if they are both still around, to be the backups. Something else to think about is the possibility of Quentin being traded.

There’s a long way to go, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it–at least for now.

Sox-Wise and Otherwise: Ohman, Alomar, Vizquel, Soriano, Baines and McEwing


cleveland-double-play-duo.jpg
76Fox.jpg

My weekly offseason opinions and observations about the White Sox and more…

* SoxWorld has been quiet since Oneygate II, but now we hear that lefty middle reliever Will Ohman is about to join the South Siders. An eight-year veteran, Ohman spent five years with the Cubs, had stints with the Braves and Dodgers and posted a 3.21 in 68 games with the Orioles and Marlins in 2010. He is a specialist against lefthanded hitters, who hit only .229 against him last season. While the Pale Hose has lefties Matt Thornton and Chris Sale at the back end of the pen, they were in need of a situational lefty. Ohman will fill that role.

* Despite his less-than-stellar performance in parts of two seasons (2003-04) with the White Sox, there is no doubt that Roberto Alomar is a Hall of Famer. And if he ever retires, his double-play partner and current White Sox infielder Omar Vizquel will join him in Cooperstown. Along with the combination of Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, both Hall of Famers, the Alomar-Vizquel combo was the best double-play duo I ever saw. All of them are pictured above.
* Speaking of the Hall of Fame, it comes as no surprise to me that Harold Baines is now off the ballot, failing to get the necessary five percent of the writers’ vote. It’s not that Baines doesn’t deserve more support, it’s just that it’s a burden the Sox and their fans have carried for a long time dating back to Billy Pierce and Minnie Minoso. We simply don’t get the love from the voters. That said, things will surely change in a few years when the Big Hurt is on the ballot.
* Although rumors have spread that the Sox have been on the trail of ace reliever Rafael Soriano, the latest is that their interest has waned. It’s likely that the fact Soriano’s agent is Scott Boras and the subsequent asking price are the reasons why. The Sox are pretty close to their salary limit with all the spending this offseason and they still have to deal with the arbitration eligible John Danks, Carlos Quentin and Tony Pena.
* It didn’t get much notice at all, but Joe McEwing‘s appointment as manager of the top Sox farm club in Charlotte may be more significant than it seems. Ozzie‘s contract is up at the end of this season. Who knows?, if the Sox don’t live up to expectations and McEwing distinguishes himself…
For those of you not familiar with McEwing (pictured below), he was a hard-nosed utility player who played nine years in the majors with the Cardinals, Mets, Royals and Astros. A fan favorite, he sported a lifetime batting average of .251, but his hustle and versatility made him a valuable commodity. His promotion is a result of impressing the Sox brass the past two seasons at Class A Winston-Salem.
rookie-of-the-year-first-time-manager-joe-mcewing--1.jpeg
                                 

mlblogs_100_icon (2).gif
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.