The 2012 Chicago White Sox: Question Marks Galore and Very Few Answers
Let's face it: Most Sox fans are not very optimistic about the upcoming campaign.
Coming off a very disappointing 2011 season, this year's club will hardly resemble White Sox teams we've come to know and love. OK, maybe love isn't the right word. Nonetheless, the team lost crucial members of the organization including Mark Buehrle, Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos. Not to mention, that Ozzie Guillen fella is out of town.
Despite these subtractions, the feeble AL Central can be had if certain factors go the South Siders' way. As you will see, the White Sox have many more questions than they do answers. Read on, Sox fans, you will surely be entertained.
Success Starts at the Top: Can Alejandro De Aza Perform for an Entire Season?
Remember all those times where Juan Pierre got on base, swiped a bag and scored on a timely hit? Wait, that rarely if ever happened.
The 2011 club was anemic at scoring runs, averaging just over four runs a game. That won't cut it in the American League. For the team to have any offensive success, it starts from the top with De Aza.
In 54 games last season, the 27-year-old put up a .400 OBP, while maintaining a .329 batting average. OK, I know these stats were compiled in garbage time. Even if De Aza hits .270 with a .365 OBP, it's still better than being stuck with Juan Pierre—a guy who never learned how to take a walk.
Coupled with the fact that he's above average defensively, De Aza was definitely deserving of the opportunity to start. Given the opportunity, let's see what the guy can do with it.
Best-Case Scenario: De Aza hits .285 with an OBP around .365 and allows Sox fans to forget about Pierre.
Worst-Case Scenario: He turns out to be just another Dewayne Wise.
Gordon Beckham: Boom or Bust?
Right now, it's looking like the 25-year-old former first-round selection is another Brian Anderson.
Need I say anymore, Sox fans?
In the man's defense, he can definitely glove it at second base. With any type of decent offensive statistics, he would have ran away with the American League Gold Glove Award for second basemen.
Unfortunately for Beckham, he couldn't hit a beach ball the way he was seeing the ball last year. Ever since his solid rookie campaign in 2009, Beckham hasn't made the necessary adjustments to succeed against big league pitching. He's a huge fan of swinging at fastballs at his eyes or looping curve balls in the dirt.
Maybe he thinks it's fun?
In all seriousness, this is a make-it or break it year for the former Georgia Bulldog. He needs to focus on keeping his head down and just making solid contact. It doesn't sound that hard to correct as I write about it.
Best-Case Scenario: Beckham hits .285 with 20 bombs and 70 RBIs and becomes the new face of the franchise.
Worst-Case Scenario: Brent Lillibridge is the starting second basemen.
Can Alex Rios Get His Head out of the Clouds and Play Some Baseball?
Whenever the Sox played the Jays when Rios was on Toronto, he would absolutely murder the ball. Naturally, Kenny Williams had to bring him to Chicago in 2009.
After struggling mightily upon his arrival, he actually compiled a pretty solid 2010 campaign hitting .284 with 21 home runs and 88 RBIs.
Too bad he's making over $12 million a year and decided not to try the entire 2011 season.
He was atrocious both offensively and defensively, looking lost at the plate while managing to misread fly balls in the outfield. I guess the lights were in his eyes. He's just a frustrating player for any fan—a true five-tool talent with a bad attitude and an even worse work ethic.
Kenny Williams would probably like to take a mulligan on that one.
Best-Case Scenario: Rios decides that he's interested in playing decent baseball and hits .275 with 20 long ones and 18 stolen bases.
Worst-Case Scenario: Rios is still on the team at the end of the season.
Can John Danks Step Up and Be the Ace He Was Just Paid to Be?
"Perhaps the most puzzling move of Kenny Williams' offseason was the extension given to John Danks." — Everybody who's ever talked about five-year, $65 million extension.
I'm going to try and make sense of it. Given what C.J. Wilson received this offseason (five years, $77.5 million), it seems like a pretty reasonable deal.
Unfortunately for Williams, this move sends mixed messages to fans who thought they were in store for a complete franchise renovation.
For this Sox fan, Johnny Danks wasn't the ace I had in mind. He doesn't have that overpowering fastball. His off-speed isn't significantly above average, and he keeps his changeup up in the zone way too often. Sounds like a mediocre American League pitcher.
Given the weak starting pitching free agent market, Williams could have probably pried some decent prospects off some team in dire need of serviceable pitching. That didn't happen and my season ticket money is now paying a guy who started off last season 0-8.
Best-Case Scenario: I'm wrong, he goes 16-10 with a 3.59 ERA and I buy a John Danks jersey to contribute more money towards paying his deal.
Worst-Case Scenario: He starts off this year roughly and his confidence is completely shaken. I can't even bear to predict his stat line and the Sox have acquired another terrible back-loaded contract.
Can Jake Peavy Ever Stay Healthy?
Probably not. This is the part where I'm suppose to say that this is the year where he wins Comeback Player of the Year and whirls an All-Star season. If he starts 20 games, I'll consider 2012 a success for the corpse of the old Jake Peavy.
Realistically, he'll probably throw three good games in April, struggle in May and get hurt in June. Maybe, we'll see him back in August for a spot start or two and then the White Sox training staff will recommend that he's shut down for the rest of the year.
Yep, that sounds about right.
Like I said earlier, it's unfair to expect All-Star-caliber pitching from a guy who used to rely on his fastball and now has trouble hitting 90 mph consistently.
Best-Case Scenario: He pitches the whole season, maintaining an ERA around 4.00 with 13 wins.
Worst-Case Scenario: I'm asking the same question next season.
Who's the Closer with Sergio Santos Now Pitching for Toronto?
For a team going into "rebuilding mode," having a bona fide closer is far from necessary. Given the flexibility of Santos' contract, it was a bit of a surprise to see him go. Nonetheless, the White Sox don't have a closer set in stone.
They could try the Matt Thornton experiment again or overpay a guy like Ryan Madson. More realistically,
I say they hold an open competition between the likes of Addison Reed and Hector Santiago and see that Reed will probably be your opening day closer. For a team with so many other issues, the ninth inning is the least of their worries.
Best-Case Scenario: Reed wins the job out of spring training and saves 32 out of 37 opportunities, while maintaining an ERA near 3.50.
Worst-Case Scenario: The White Sox are so bad they don't need to worry about this position.
Can Tyler Flowers Actually Prove Himself as a Major League Catcher?
Let's face it, this should be A.J. Pierzynski's last year with the White Sox. If Flowers has any potential at all, he'll be the starter by June.
Pierzynski's best offensive contributions (.287 BA, eight home runs, .323 OBP) don't make up for the fact that he couldn't throw out a runner in quicksand let alone at second base, catching just 20 percent of opposing base runners. That just won't cut it in the major leagues.
Flowers isn't necessarily the best defensive catcher, but he can rifle the ball down to second. If he can cut down on his strikeouts, there's a chance he can be an above-average major league catcher. Unfortunately, that's a big "if."
Best-Case Scenario: He hits .265 with 17 homers and guns down 35 percent of opposing base runners.
Worst-Case Scenario: He can't figure out how to put the ball in play consistently and the Sox are forced to resign Pierzynski for another year.
Can Dayan Viciedo Be a Middle-of-the-Order Force?
Since his signing in December of 2008, Sox fans have yearned to see what Viciedo can do given a full major league season. Throughout his stay in the White Sox minor league system, he has crushed both Double-A and Triple-A pitching. Shipping out Carlos Quentin to San Diego, it's time for Viciedo to show what he's really made of.
In limited major league action last season, the youngster hit only .255 with one HR. Those numbers aren't necessarily discouraging, but they do raise eyebrows.
Personally, I think that Viciedo's success is one of the more realistic things on this list. But he's young, and there are always flops.
For the Pale Hose's sake, Viciedo really needs to pan out.
Best-Case Scenario: Viciedo hits .295 with 28 HRs and 102 RBIs.
Worst-Case Scenario: He can't make the proper adjustments as pitchers figure him out and he hits .250 with 17 bombs.
Can Adam Dunn Forget About Last Season?
The mere thought of 2011 shouldn't be discussed with the former All-Star ever again. It's in everybody's best interest to forget just how terrible he was.
In all actuality, Dunn might be one of the most important players in the division. If he somehow figures out how to hit again, the White Sox can be relevant. Keep in mind, the Sox were just three games out of the lead in August, while having the worst four- and five-hitters in baseball.
If Dunn hits .220 last season, the White Sox would have won the division. Until he proves he can hit again, Sox fans should assume the worst and be happily surprised with any success the big guy has.
God, I'm a pessimist.
Best-Case Scenario: He hits .245 with 37 long ones and leads the Sox to a division title.
Worst-Case Scenario: He tries to break Mark Reynolds' strikeout record of 223 whiffs.
The Answers: Consistencies Within the White Sox Organization
Here are the few things you can count on:
1. Paul Konerko will continue to hit for the next couple seasons. Maybe not at last year's pace, but still pretty well. I say his 2012 line looks something like this: .295 BA, 26 HRs and 95 RBIs.
2. Alexei Ramirez goes through hot and cold streaks all season, finishing about somewhere between .270 and .280 while clubbing 16 to 20 HRs and playing a solid shortstop.
3. Brent Morel hits about .260 with a slugging percentage too small to see on this page. His defensive skills, however, are definitely a plus.
4. The rest of the rotation: Humber, Sale and Floyd win about 36 to 40 games collectively, while maintaining an ERA near 4.10.
5. Kenny Williams makes a couple more moves that make baseball people (GMs and fans) scratch their heads.
6. Robin Ventura is a safe manager for this club. Much quieter than Guillen, but something the organization needs.
7. All in all, the White Sox can win the division if about 75 percent of these questions are answered and the players perform. If not, it could be another long year for the South Siders.