Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Chicago White Sox

This Year in Preview is a team effort, with AK47 taking the Intro, Key Departures and Additions and Conclusion, and (sic) coming in for the Talent en Route and 2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook.  And now, AK...

My hatred of the White Sox is well documented on this blog. If you want to read more about that, go herehere (a little language on that one, sorry), or here (ok, hate is implied there). They are, however, a major-league baseball team and thus we are obligated to cover them in our analysis of all 30 teams. I will try to be as objective as I can, but really that's not a promise of anything. One final thought before I begin, I hope A.J. Pierzynski gets punched in the face again this year....ok, i think I can contain myself.


Key Departures:
The White Sox and Kenny Williams were pretty active this off-season mostly out of necessity. Towards the end of last season it was very evident just how old this team was getting, and some moves needed to be made to bring in some younger talent. Here are a couple of the bigger name departures:

Jim Thome (DH) - traded by the Sox last season to the Dodgers, signed as a free-agent this past off-season with the MINNESOTA TWINS! Thome is one of the best people in baseball, I've seen numerous interviews with this guy and he is as genuine as they come. I'm glad he's now a part of the Twins and I'm laughing at the Sox for letting him go because he is exactly the left-handed power bat they now lack. At this point in his career he's only valuable as a DH, but I'll take 20-30 HRs from the DH slot any day.

Jermaine Dye (RF) - unsigned free-agent; Dye is kind of a sad case. A few years ago, Dye was about as consistent as they come and was an all-star back in 2006. Towards the end of last year however, the wheels feel off in every way possible. He couldn't hit, he wasn't fielding his position well, and at 35 we may very well have seen the last of Dye in the major leagues.

Other scrubs that departed the White Sox include: Dewayne Wise CF (free agent, signed minor league deal with Phillies), Scott Podsednik LF (free agent, signed with Royals), D.J. Carrasco RP (free agent, signed minor league deal with Pirates), Octavio Dotel RP (non-tendered, signed with Pirates)

Key Additions:
You know how I mentioned earlier that the Sox were getting old and they needed to bring in some young talent? I don't think Kenny Williams got that memo, here's the list of gray-hairs they brought in during the off-season:

Omar Vizquel (SS) - free-agent from the Rangers; you have to respect Vizquel for his long career and one of the best gloves that the short-stop position has ever seen, but at 42 years old, this guy has what, maybe 1 year left in him? It will be good for Gordon Beckham to learn from a guy like Vizquel, but an old, very light-hitting Vizquel is going to have a hard time staying in the lineup if you ask me.

Andruw Jones (OF) - free-agent from the Rangers; I'm not kidding when I tell you that I heard White Sox beat reporters the other day say that the Sox are excited about this guy. They are either delusional, or are personally injecting Jones with steroids. For the past three years, Jones has played in an average of about 100 games per year with a putrid .207 BA, and a total of 46 HRs and 151 RBI. Oh, and that's including a year where he played almost every game, if you take out that season, it gets much worse. Jones is going to be 33 this year, and barring some sort of miraculous resurrection of his career, he appears to have lost his former ability to mash. This is a big gamble for the Sox, per usual I hope it doesn't pay off.

Juan Pierre (CF) - trade with the Dodgers; the trade for Juan Pierre suggests to me that the Sox are not going to be putting Jones in Center Field, which is probably a good thing for him. Pierre gives you three things; 1) consistency, the dude does not get hurt very often, between 2003 and 2007, he played in every single game. 2) speed on the bases, he averages 44 SBs per 162 games. 3) a quality lead-off hitter; his career average is .301, his career OBP is .348 and he's got the speed, this will be good for a team that will inevitably struggle to score runs.

Mark Teahan (3B) - trade with the Royals; Teahan makes sense offensively (i guess), but defensively this move is laughable. Last year, Gordon Beckham, who looks like one hell of a talent, struggled at 3rd base. So this off-season the White Sox brain-trust decided to put Beckham back at his natural 2B spot. Then they bring in Teahan to play 3rd base,...he has less than a 95% fielding percentage playing 3rd and has committed over 50 errors in just over 1000 chances. Add to that a sub.750 OPS bat, and I foresee the White Sox fans not being terribly pleased with this guy.

Other additions: J.J. Putz RP (free-agent from the Mets); Freddy Dolsi RP (waiver claim from Tigers)

Talent En Route, via (sic)

Last year the White Sox graduated one of the best position player prospects in baseball in Gordon Beckham to their MLB team. Accordingly, the high-end talent is a bit depleted from their system.  They still boast a few promising names, however.

Daniel Hudson is a big right-hander who shot up through the White Sox minor league system in 2009, posting good numbers at each level of the minors. Hudson profiles as a #3 starter at best, and the White Sox's rotation is crowded to start 2010.  We may see him get a chance if someone goes down due to injury, or the White Sox could choose to use him in the pen.

Tyler Flowers is another name to watch.  Flowers was the big chip that came from Atlanta in the Javier Vazquez deal, and posted a .302/.445/.548 in AA and a .286/.364/.438 in AAA.  Flowers should take AJ Pierzynski's spot on the team when ole AJ leaves via free agency after the 2010 season, so look for him to spend the year in AAA.

Another name to watch in 2010 is CF Jordan Danks, not to be confused with the White Sox's southpaw John Danks.  Danks was Chicago's seventh round pick in 2008, and tore it up in High A, to the tune of .322/.409/.525. He was promoted to Double A, but struggled due to a wrist injury.  Danks is a big guy, 6'4", 210, but moves well and is speedy.  The knock on him is that scouts don't believe he'll end up hitting for power.  Danks will start 2010 in Double A or Triple A.  

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook, via (sic)
The White Sox have acted like a dumbed down version of the mid-00s Yankees as of late, picking up overrated, expensive veterans and sending away cost-controlled talent.  I'm thinking of course of the acquisitions of Alex Rios and Jake Peavy, and the jettisoning of the underrated and very valuable Nick Swisher.  I just wanted to say that by comparison, and in full recognition of the fact that Rios had an off-year by his standards, that Swisher was worth 3.6 WAR in 2009 and Rios was worth -0.1 (cumulative for time spent with Jays and Sox).  

In 2008, the White Sox Opening Day payroll was a record high $121M.  A year later, they reduced it down to $96M, but made several in-season and off-season acquisitions that will bump it higher in 2010, to at least $101M. 

Beyond that, the White Sox have a minimum of $66M committed to the payroll in 2011.  Of that amount, 30M will go to Peavy and Buehrle (16M and 14M, respectively) and Rios and Pierre will receive 20M (roughly 12M and 8M, respectively). The White Sox will also have to factor in significant arbitration raises to John Danks, Bobby Jenks and Carlos Quentin, which could easily push their payroll up to $70M.  Paul Konerko, JJ Putz, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones and AJ Pierzynski will all become free agents after 2010, so let's go around the diamond and look at where the White Sox may attempt to make free agent signings.  

C - As discussed above, Flowers should be able to takeover full-time catching duties in 2011.  AK, you're going to have to find a new whipping boy.  Might I suggest Rios?  

1B - Konerko will be gone, so the White Sox will either have to re-sign him or pursue another 1B on the market. 

2B - Gordon Beckham is one of the game's best young position players, and will do just fine at 2B in 2011. 

SS - Alexei Ramirez is the SS for the forseeable future. 

3B - Mark Teahan is scheduled to play 3B for the Sox in 2010, but if Cuban prospect Dayan Viciedo improves on his lackluster professional debut, the Sox could have a cheap source of talent at the hot corner in 2011.  

LF - Juan Pierre is under contract through 2011. 

CF - Rios is the CF of the future, and will make over 50M from 2011-2014.  

RF - Quentin is under team control in 2011. 

DH - The Sox can use a rotating DH in 2010, with Rios, Quentin, Jones and Pierre able to rotate the OF positions.  Kotsay can also spell Konerko at 1B when Konerko needs a rest.  Nevertheless, there isn't a clear, solid DH option in place for 2011. 

SP 1-5: Peavy, Buehrle, Danks and Floyd are all under contract for 2011. 

So, that leaves 1B, 3B and DH as potential free agency targets for the White Sox.  I would have recommended that they never pick up Rios or Pierre, and spend that 20M elsewhere.  Damon would have been a good value signing.  Possible 1B targets for the White Sox in 2011 include Berkman, Pena, Dunn, Konerko, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena.  Also, Albert Pujols.  Possible 3B targets for the Sox are Adrian Beltre, Brandon Inge, Mike Lowell and Aramis Ramirez. On the DH side, we will see Matsui, Big Pop-Up David Ortiz, Thome, Vlad and the newly-svelte Matt Stairs hit the market.  

My instinct is that the White Sox won't pursue any big name in free agency, but will re-sign Konerko and hope that Viciedo can give them decent production.  If not, I expect them to pursue someone via trade.  I would also expect them to try to get a cheap option for SP5 if their minor league system can't produce an MLB-ready 5th starter.  They've handicapped themselves from a payroll side by acquiring Peavy, Rios and Pierre, but they play in a big enough market that their payroll should be able to support a few more acquisitions in 2011.  Kenny Williams is a crazy cat, so I'm sure the White Sox won't be quiet.

If I might recommend something, I would offer that the White Sox should trade Bobby Jenks.  He'll make $7.5M in 2010, and will only become more expensive in 2011.  They have perfectly fine options in Scott Linebrink (who isn't cheap at $5M) and Matt Thornton.  Jenks is expensive, inconsistent at times, and injury-prone.  If the White Sox want to increase payroll flexibility, they should deal Jenks.  

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