2012 Chicago White Sox: Ozzie’s Out, Robin’s In, Are We Ready?
The Chicago White Sox had a prodigious payroll and high hopes in 2011 but crashed and burned quickly as some of their best, or at least highest paid, players had miserable campaigns. The Sox finished 79-83, which was good for third place in the American League Central, 16 games behind the division champion Detroit Tigers and walked off into winter looking lost and a little sad.
Now it’s 2012 and the Sox have a new manager and a new outlook but…many of the same old problems. And so far, the spring has not been kind to skipper Robin Ventura’s crew as the Medias Blancas are just 6-11 in Cactus League play. It’s true that no one really cares about spring training records but winning always feels a little better than losing, doesn’t it? With Ozzie Guillen gone it will be much quieter on the South Side in 2012. But while Ventura is not a guy who will light up Twitter he’s also not one to take losing lightly.
So here we go.
The starting rotation for the 2012 White Sox hopes not to be dominated by the ghost of Mark Buehrle who, like manager Ozzie Guillen, left for the Miami Marlins. Southpaw John Danks appears to be the ace of pitching coach Don Cooper’s staff. He’s coming off an 8-12 season with a 4.33 ERA in 27 starts but Danks, who’s turning 27, has always had good stuff and in an offseason when the Sox trimmed payroll Danks was given a five-year contract extension.
Gavin Floyd appears to be the South Side Number Two. At 29, the right-hander is a reliable innings eater who occasionally flirts with dominance. He was 12-13 last year and is 50-45 since 2008. Like Danks, he’s a potential All-Star but, like all pitchers, needs a little more run support.
Remember Jake Peavy? The 30-year-old right-hander won a Cy Young with the Padres in 2007 and the Sox have been waiting for him to recapture that form since he came to the South Side in 2009 but he’s been crushed with injuries and underperformance. Will he ever stay healthy and regain that voodoo we all knew so well?
Twenty-nine-year-old right-hander Philip Humber was a nice surprise for the Sox in last year’s first half but faded after the break and has never thrown more than 163 innings in a season. The Sox hope he’s a reliable back end guy.
At six-feet-six and 180 pounds Chris Sale is the lankiest of lefties and the White Sox are banking that he’ll end up being the most lightning of starters. Sale has been great out of the bullpen and if he can be just as good in his first year as a starter it could turn anxiety into excitement on Chicago’s South Side this season. Sale’s first two spring starts this year were disastrous but he went six scoreless innings in his third start so he remains a work in progress.
Young RHP Nestor Molina could make an appearance in the starting rotation this year and righty Dylan Axelrod showed promise as a brief starter last year but appears more likely to be in the bullpen, at least to start, in 2012.
The Sox traded away closer Sergio Santos in their most curious move of the offseason and hope 23-year-old lefty Addison Reed will take over and so far this spring he looks up to the task with an ERA of 1.69 and a WHIP of 1.31. If so, veteran southpaw Matt Thornton and sturdy righty Jesse Crain will be in their setup roles – in which they perform well. The Sox also have 10-year veteran Will Ohman in relief but the rest of the spots are up for grabs with Axelrod, Zach Stewart, Gregory Infante, Brian Bruney, Hector Santiago, Donnie Veal and Eric “Some Kind of Wonderful” Stults among those fighting for a paycheck.
First baseman Paul Konerko is the rock of the White Sox organization and is coming off another great season (.300 BA, 31 HR, 105 RBI) and is underappreciated defensively. But he’s 36.
Twenty-four-year-old Brent Morel takes over at third base. He’s good with the glove but hit just .245 with 45 RBI last season but 19 of those RBI came in the final month when he boasted a slugging percentage of .593 and an OPS of .893. Was he getting better? Or was it easier to swing when the pennant race was over? This spring he’s hitting .333 but hey, who’s this 31-year-old Dallas McPherson? He’s old but he’s hitting .357 this spring so who cares?
Second baseman Gordon Beckham and Shortstop Alexei Ramirez are either good, awful or somewhere in the middle. They’re good with the glove but can’t hit, especially in clutch situations. Beckham is regressing badly at the plate, hitting a miserable .230 with an .OPS of .296 in ’11. Ramirez should be OK but Beckham is on the hot seat and could be on the bench, in the minors, or out of town by July unless he bounces back. And who knows? Maybe the Sox will look to new names even earlier than that. Thirty-year-old shortstop Ray Olmedo is hitting .462 this season and 22-year-old infielder Eduardo Escobar is hitting .355. How much are these guys making? Not much.
The White Sox outfield could look like musical chairs this season with Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo and Alex Rios expected to each find starting spots when the music stops. Expect De Aza to be in center, Rios in right and Viciedo in left but Ventura isn’t afraid to mix things up, and with the versatile, if enigmatic, Kosuke Fukudome on the roster and able to handle right field or center, there could be quite a bit of shuffling. The Sox are crossing their fingers that Rios bounces back from a terrible 2011 and De Aza and Viciedo have lots of potential but have never played a full season. And then there’s 25-year-old Jordan Danks, John’s younger brother, who has long been expected to do something and this spring finally is, hitting .350 in 20 at-bats. If Rios weren’t making $12,000,000….but he is.
Designated Hitter Adam Dunn is coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in major league history, .159 BA, .277 slugging, 11 HR, 42 RBI. In fact, Dunn’s .159 batting average was the lowest of any American League regular since the DH was born in 1973. Ow! Of all the “ifs” being spoken on the South Side this spring none is bigger than “If” Dunn can regain the slugging form from his NL days then the Sox have a chance in 2012. Dunn is hitting .286 with two home runs in 21 at-bats this spring and reports say his bat speed is bouncing back. “If” so….we’ll see. Another disastrous season from Dunn will put the White Sox closer to last place than first and could cost GM Kenny Williams his job.
Fukudome is a good (and cheap) option as a fourth outfielder and the same can be said for Jordan Danks and the spunky Brent Lillibridge who can play just about every position except pitcher and catcher and has a knack for the big hit. Tyler Flowers is an up-and-coming catcher who should get a lot more starts this year to rest the legs of 35-year-old A.J. Pierzynski.
Martinez, Escobar, McPherson and Dan Johnson all have promising bats and could see South Side action this summer. The Sox are still waiting for outfielder and 2009 first round pick Jared Mitchell to reach his potential and a .300 average in 20 spring at-bats provides some hope in what could be his last chance.
So where are we? What will happen? Does none of it matter as long as the White Sox are better than the Cubs?
Prognostications regarding the 2012 White Sox can’t help but spark the ridiculous. If Adam Dunn can triple his RBI output they’ll be good. Well duh, right? What team wouldn’t improve if its starting DH had a miraculous turnaround? But Dunn was so bad last year, as were second baseman Gordon Beckham and outfielder Alex Rios, that it’s not crazy to believe they could all make vast improvements this year. If so, and if new manager Robin Ventura knows his stuff, the Sox will have an offense to match what should be a solid pitching staff and might make a run. But probably not. Hoping three guys can bounce back and some newcomers and veterans can hold their own all for a rookie manager? The playoffs, even with an extra team, seem like a longshot for Chicago’s South Siders in 2012.
In one of the most curious developments for the White Sox and perhaps for any major league team this spring, slugger Paul Konerko said the Sox can have a successful season even if they don’t reach the postseason. Huh? With the departure of Guillen and Buehrle to the Marlins, Konerko, Pierzynski (and pitching coach Don Cooper) are the only guys left from Chicago’s 2005 World Series winner. So, maybe what Paulie is saying is that those Fall Classic expectations that have been with the Sox every year since 2006 are now finally gone. And maybe, just maybe, they can just settle down and play without worrying about ghosts. Maybe it’s time for an almost new set of players – and manager – to create expectations and a legacy of their own.