The 2008 Chicago White Sox were the beer league champions of Major League Baseball. They led the American League in Home Runs, fifth in runs scored, and second in slugging percentage, all good things. However, add the fact that they finished dead last in triples, second to last in stolen bases, eleventh in batting average, and tenth in hits, and that equals a team that lived and eventually died by the long ball.
In the off season before the World Series winning season of 2005, Manager Ozzie Guillen and General Manager Kenny Williams met to discuss what type of team they wanted to put together for that season after a 2004 season that was similar to this 2008 season, a lot of home runs, not a lot of stolen bases, defense, and hitting for average.
They came up with the Grinder Ball blue print, or Ozzie ball as White Sox fans like to call it. It meant a team with Home Run potential up and down the order, but still with slots for guys who are "grinders." A grinder is a guy who is a pesky hitter at the plate, his for a good average, gets on base in anyway possible, and when on base, is a threat to steal.
They traded their MVP of the season before in mashing Left Fielder Carlos Lee to the Milwaukee Brewers for journeyman reliever Luiz Vizcaino and a late blooming Center Fielder Scott Podsednik. He then signed veteran second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, a Japanese rookie import, looking to play in the MLB. He also signed fiery Catcher AJ Pierzynski, and clutch playoff performer Orlando Hernandez.
However, the greatest acquisition made that winter, was the under the radar signing of Right Fielder and eventual World Series MVP Jermaine Dye.
Those changes along with the pitching rotation and lineup they already had lead to a world championship. Kenny Williams has seemed to use that offseason as a model for this years offseason. Only this time, he is replacing major positions with youthful grinders the defending AL Central champions groomed themselves.
Gone are beloved veterans like Third Baseman Joe Crede, Shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and the often inconsistent Juan Uribe and Pitcher Javier Vazquez. They also said bye to future hall of famer and mid season treasure Ken Griffey Jr.
In comes new and fresh players. Josh Fields will most likely take over third for his mentor Joe Crede. When Crede went down in '07, Fields took over amicably hitting 23 home runs, batting .245, and playing more than capable defense at the hot corner despite being moved around in the minors. There should be no let down with the departure of the clutch king Crede.
Chris Getz and Jayson Nix will compete for the second base job, with Getz the favorite to win the job. Getz is a speedy base runner who hits for average, which is exactly what the White Sox need. Also, taking over in Center Field will be Jerry Owens. Owens also played very well when he has been given the opportunities to play. He is also a grinder type player and stolen base threat.
Kenny also did a great job of ridding the club house of problem players. Orlando Cabrera constantly butted heads with his manager and teammates throughout his short lived stay in Chicago, and now he departs through free agency to make room for second year phenom Alexei Ramirez.
Nick Swisher, known for his late season collapse and complaints of playing time, was dealt to the Yankees for Jeff Marquez, who will compete for the fifth starting spot in the rotation, Utility man Wilson Betemit, and another minor leaguer.
Last and the Sox fans' biggest pain, Javier Vazquez was finally dealt and to the Atlanta Braves for catcher of the future Tyler Flowers, Infielder Brent Lillibridge, and pitcher Jo Jo Reyes.
There are many questions surrounding the 2009 White Sox already. Can the youth come through the way management hoped? Who will round out the rotation behind Buehrle, Danks, and Floyd, and can they handle it? Will Ramirez, Quentin, Dank, and Floyd come down to earth or are they special players? Is Jermaine Dye going to be here this season?
The truth is, for those who think the south siders are taking a step back, guess again. They still have a ton of power from Quentin, Konerko, Thome, Dye, and Ramirez. They will struggle at times, as expected with youth, but not only will they be competitive by the all star break, but Kenny Williams has added pieces that can be used to move by the trade deadline to bring in the pieces that are missing.
For those of you that are questioning moving Jermaine Dye, or why there is so much inexperience and youth on this team, remember 2005. Kenny Williams always seems to have a method to his madness, and the fans owe it to him to wait patiently to see his plan unfold. This season should be an exciting and mysterious season.
The ChiSox may finish as World Series Champions again, but they could also be a team that loses 100 games. I guess its time to grind it out and watch.