This is a rebuilding year for the Chicago White Sox. Kenny Williams let Mark Buehrle go in free agency, traded Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin and put a few others on the trading block. Kosuke Fukudome was their lone major league free-agent signing. Expectations are low for this team.
Still, hopes can be set high.
The White Sox are in a new era, and success might not be instant. They're letting go of the baggage of the Ozzie Guillen era and walking on after 11 years with Mark Buehrle. Players like Dayan Viciedo, Chris Sale and Alejandro De Aza are becoming starters.
If several things go right, the White Sox could have a season worth talking about.
Here are the following keys to a big season for the White Sox.
Adam Dunn is trying hard to forget 2011. While his slash line of .259/.292/.277 and 11 home runs of 2011 is a lurid memory to White Sox fans, he seems to have let it go.
It showed this spring as he took more walks. Dunn has walked 14 times in 69 plate appearances and hit six home runs in 55 at-bats.
Dunn seems determined to come back as the player who hit 30 home runs and walked 100 times seven times in his career.
That's the kind of production the White Sox need from him. If he can knock the ball out of the park regularly and get on base at a .380 clip, the White Sox could be a winning team.
White Sox fans were very upset that Dunn didn't play up to his ability in his first year as a South Sider. He'll have to do much better to be worth the $14 million he'll receive this year.
The chances are good that he can come back. All he has to do is carry over the preseason rhythm.
Paul Konerko had career years in 2010 and 2011. He had 39 home runs and 111 RBI while posting a .394 OBP and a .977 OPS in 2010. In 2011, he hit 31 home runs and knocked in 107 while posting a .388 OBP and a .906 OPS.
Those numbers came at ages 34 and 35.
White Sox fans must wonder whether he can keep it going at age 36. Many players fall off by that time these days. Chipper Jones was the only full-time player (36 or older) last season with an OPS of .800 or higher. Players don't seem to juice up and post big seasons after age 35 like they did in the thick of the Steroid Era.
As Konerko winds down his career, White Sox fans hope that he can go out on a high note in these last couple years. He'll need to bring something close to the production he had last year to help the White Sox to a good season. To see him hit 30 home runs with an .850 OPS would be pleasing.
Since Konerko remains fit and sharp, so it isn't out of the question. Still, he has to fight hard throughout the season against Father Time.
Alex Rios had a dismal season last year, just like Adam Dunn. He had a .265 OBP, lowest in the majors, and his 13 home runs was the fewest since his second season. Some might argue that because his OBP was 27 points worse than Dunn's, Rios had the worse year.
The White Sox need Rios to get on base at a reasonable rate this year if they hope to do anything of note; he needs to reach at least a .310 clip. Chicago is also hoping to get a few more home runs out of him.
He'll be returning to his natural position, right field, which Robin Ventura told ESPNChicago could make Rios feel more comfortable.
Something has to put Rios at ease if he's going to be a decent player again.
Likewise, something has to happen with Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham. Beckham has floundered since coming out strong his rookie year. He had 10 home runs and a .298 OBP last year after putting up nine home runs and a .317 OBP the year before.
He's tried everything to get back to his rookie form: he tried adjusting to pitchers, he tried going back to what worked in college, he tried loosening up his approach.
Beckham lost weight in the offseason. Hopefully, that works. He needs a decent offensive game to compliment his excellent defense.
Brent Morel needs to show he's a decent hitter for a full season. He ended up with 10 home runs and 41 RBI after a strong September in which he had eight dingers and 19 driven in. In no month prior to that did he knock multiple balls out of the yard. Also, his OBP was below .300 in three of the five months before that.
His OPS never cracked .700 before his .893 September split.
If Morel can come up with a full season in which he knocks it out on a weekly basis and comes up with a .700 OPS, it would be a boon to the White Sox.
All these three players have to do is have an average year for the White Sox to be satisfied.
Chris Sale was anointed a starter by Kenny Williams in the offseason after two years in the bullpen. Some might wonder if he can make it in the rotation after pitching from the bullpen. However, those observers know little of Sale's background.
Sale was a starter coming out of Florida Gulf Coast University. He totaled 136.2 innings between college, the minors and the White Sox major league club. His 71 innings in 2011 were anything but a step back.
He did nicely in the bullpen in 2011, striking out 79 batters and putting up a 2.79 ERA.
Thus, he's primed to make it as a starter.
The White Sox are looking for someone to replace the reliability that Mark Buehrle showed in his 11 full seasons on the South Side of Chicago. Sale has to be that guy. He may or may not be able to start off pitching 200 innings like Buehrle did, but he could at least get 180 this year and work from there. He strikes out more batters than Buehrle, which could be big in key situations throughout the season.
Sale seems to be able to keep his ERA below 4.00 like Buehrle usually did. If he can keep it below 3.50, that would be an added bonus as it would put him among top-tier starters in this new pitcher's era.
A strong year from Sale could be just what the White Sox need to start the post-Buehrle era.
The White Sox look to have just about a full rotation of capable starters. Gavin Floyd can be relied upon for control and at least 180 innings (he walked only 2.1 batters per nine innings last year). He also pitched more than 185 innings in each of the last four seasons.
John Danks was solid and durable before having an off year in 2011. He had three straight years of sub-4.00 ERAs and more than 190 innings pitched from 2008 to 2010.
He should return to form as he becomes the ace in 2012.
Phil Humber had a strong first half in 2011 with a 3.10 ERA before sputtering in the second half and finishing with a 3.75 ERA in 163 innings. He could be a nice starter who can get below 4.00 and pitch 190 innings.
Chris Sale looks to become a superb hurler who can pitch at least 180 innings.
On the back end, Jake Peavy might come up with one good month, but will be ineffective and hurt much of the year.
Four out of five isn't too bad. A good team just needs four reliable starters. Zach Stewart can eat the rest of Peavy's innings if Peavy can't make it through the whole season healthy.
The White Sox need Danks, Floyd, Sale and Humber to be healthy and effective this year. They'll be counting on Danks and Sale to be especially strong, and they'll also be hoping Humber can duplicate his first-half success from last year. If that happens, and if all four of these guys can put up 180 innings, the White Sox will be in good shape.
The first year is a rough one for a manager. The game can seem a bit fast in those first dozen games guiding the team from the dugout. Managers don't often step right in and become great managers, especially if they never coached professional baseball like Robin Ventura.
Ventura's a smart, hard-working man who's very capable. Hopefully, those traits carry over into managing.
Ventura had sound managers in his playing career. He played under Joe Torre, Bobby Valentine and Jeff Torborg.
He'll have to take what he learned from those minds and others to get his grounding.
Furthermore, he'll have to land on solid ground as his first season starts. Ventura will need to keep players honest and focused on winning, while also continuing that spring training focus on fundamentals. Good baserunning and sound fielding were sometimes lacking in the Ozzie Guillen era.
One wouldn't expect too much from Ventura in his first year as manager. A winning season in his rookie year would be a blessing.
Sabermetricians often say that the playoffs are a crapshoot, and that's proven to be the case.
Often, teams like the 2006 and 2011 Cardinals go into the playoffs with poor records and win it all. In 2010, the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers made the World Series after not being overly impressive in the regular season.
If the White Sox make the playoffs, they can make noise if they just do the right things.
Prediction: 78-84 (Third in the AL Central)
The playoffs aren't close for the White Sox, and the World Series is even farther away. The White Sox can work for it, but they won't make it.
Dunn and Konerko could come up with strong years this year. That isn't out of the question.
However, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham won't have good campaigns. Also, one gets hopes up about Brent Morel. His September was an outlier. It would be nice if he hits 15 home runs, but it isn't a great possibility.
The starting rotation should be fine. Danks and Sale will likely be good this year, and Gavin Floyd could come up with a decent season while pitching his usual amount of innings. That is, as long as he doesn't get traded.
Robin Ventura will have to go through his growing pains. He'll make some good decisions and some bad ones this year. Maybe he'll show flashes of promise.
Overall, this is a rebuilding year. The White Sox will see what they have in Dayan Viciedo, Tyler Flowers, Alejandro De Aza and Addison Reed. They'll watch Sale grow into a front-end role in the rotation. Players like Nestor Molina will see their start in the majors.
This won't be the happiest of seasons for the White Sox, but it'll be nice to watch.