With the 2012 season now in the books for the Chicago White Sox, it's time to look ahead to next season and what they can do to improve upon this year's unexpected success.
By now most people are aware that A.J. Pierzynski probably won't be back, and the same goes for Jake Peavy, Kevin Youkilis and possibly Gavin Floyd, but for the most part the White Sox should return the core of this year's team.
If Pierzynski and Youkilis don't return, then the White Sox certainly have question marks at catcher and third base that they will have to address.
If Peavy and Floyd don't return, then they must fill those spots in the rotation as well.
They should retain the majority of the bullpen with the possibility of a few minor adjustments. The good news is that they had several rookies contribute this season, and that only makes them stronger going into next year.
And then there's the case of the bench. There will be spots available going into next year, and there are definitely some guys on the current roster who played well enough in September to at least get another look in spring training.
The hope for the White Sox is that they take the success that they had this year and build on it in order to take the next step into the playoffs in 2013.
Here's a look at each position heading into next year.
It seems likely that we have seen the last of A.J. Pierzynski in a White Sox uniform, which means it's probably time for Tyler Flowers to take over full time behind the plate.
Flowers is solid defensively and has big power at the plate, but the problem for him is making contact. He struck out 56 times in 136 at-bats this season, which is an alarming rate. Over his brief career he has struck out nearly 40 percent of the time.
However, as a backup, he hasn't had consistent playing time, and the White Sox are hopeful that those numbers may change a bit as he gets more experience at the plate.
They are happy with the way he calls games and how he handles the pitching staff, which are areas where Pierzynksi was often criticized.
If Pierzynski isn't back next year, it will mark the first time someone else will be starting behind the plate since 2004.
Re-signing him is still an option, but A.J. will be 36 when next season begins. However, he is coming off a monster season at the plate with 27 home runs and 77 RBI, so is he really slowing down?
It will be a tough decision, but if he's gone, his presence in the lineup and in the clubhouse will certainly be missed.
Paul Konerko will be 37 by opening day of next season and coming off surgery to repair a bone fragment in his left wrist.
So the question is, does he have anything left?
Well, he started out this season on fire, but he cooled down starting in June and never really got back on track. Although, he still ended up hitting .298 with 26 home runs and 75 RBI even with sitting out for a stretch with a concussion as well as battling with his wrist issue.
He has said that he hasn't even thought about retirement and is just looking forward to next season with this team because he really enjoyed this season despite the final outcome.
Konerko will be in the last year of a three-year contract next season, and so it will more than likely be his last on the south side.
The good news is that he will have a healthy left wrist from the start next year and will have a lot to play for. He may also see increased time at DH with Adam Dunn getting more starts at first base, which should help to keep him fresh.
So does the White Sox legend have one more big year left in him?
Gordon Beckham had another outstanding season defensively at second base and should return for another next year.
Although his .234 average still isn't where he'd like it or where most people expect it to be, he did increase his power numbers this year, hitting 16 home runs and driving in 60.
To Beckham's credit, he did hit the ball hard for much of the second half of this season but just didn't have much luck finding the gaps.
If he can remain steady with the power numbers and get the average to at least .250, I think Sox fans will take it considering the stellar defense that he provides.
In terms of offense, he may not become what many thought he was going to be when he was drafted, but he can still be a solid second baseman for the White Sox for years to come.
After having a sub-par season offensively—at least according to his standards—Alexei Ramirez has vowed to work hard to improve his game this offseason.
Actually, Ramirez's numbers weren't all that bad as he hit .265 with nine home runs and 73 RBI.
The 73 RBI were the second highest of his career, but the nine home runs and .265 average were the lowest of his career.
Defensively, he had his best season statistically, committing only 12 errors with a .982 fielding percentage.
There's really no doubt that Ramirez is the White Sox' long-term plan at shortstop and has been solid each season since his rookie year of 2008.
The fact that he wants to work harder to get better this offseason is a good sign and should make White Sox fans very happy.
Hopefully the results will come with it.
Third base is definitely one of the big question marks facing the White Sox this offseason.
It seems unlikely that they will pick up the $13 million option to keep Kevin Youkilis, which means that they will need to fill a hole at the position.
Brent Morel—who began the 2012 season as the White Sox starting third baseman—spent most of the season trying to recover from his lingering back problems.
And when he was on the field, he wasn't good. Morel hit just .177 with no home runs and five RBI in 35 games.
Orlando Hudson was brought in to help fill the void before Youkilis arrived, and he wasn't much better—he won't be around next year. The only other guys on the roster who can play third are Jose Lopez and Ray Olmedo, neither of whom are solutions to the problem.
So the White Sox will probably have to address the third base issue via trade or free agency unless Morel shows dramatic improvement in spring training.
It's certainly concerning and something that I'm sure White Sox management is already discussing.
The White Sox are pretty much set in the outfield for next year, and that includes the return of left fielder Dayan Viciedo.
Viciedo had a solid season in his first full-time stint in the majors, hitting .255 with 25 home runs and 78 RBI.
I think the White Sox would just like to see a little more consistency and discipline at the plate from the slugger, who has a tendency to go into long funks.
He was better than expected defensively in left field and showed off his great arm several times.
Viciedo is only 23 years old, and the future looks pretty bright for him.
The White Sox may bring back Dewayne Wise as a fourth outfielder as he performed well after coming back to the team this year, but they still have Jordan Danks and several young prospects in the farm system who may have a chance to contribute as well.
Alejandro De Aza got his shot to start in center field in 2012 and proved that he is more than capable of handling the duties of hitting lead off.
De Aza was a spark plug for the White Sox offense for most of the season hitting .281 with nine home runs, 50 RBI and 26 stolen bases.
When De Aza was out at times this season with various injuries, the White Sox offense seemed to scuffle a little bit and become a little stagnant. So his presence in the lineup makes a difference.
He also did a great job in center field all season, committing only three errors. He did play a lot of left field towards the end of the season with the addition of Dewayne Wise, but there's really no doubt that he will be the White Sox starting center fielder heading into next season.
I really don't think that there's any doubt that Alex Rios was the MVP of the 2012 Chicago White Sox.
He also has to be in the conversation for comeback player of the year with the season that he had.
Rios hit .304 with 25 home runs and 91 RBI, which were all career highs. He also stole 23 bases, which was second on the team, and scored 93 runs, which led the team.
He did all of this coming off of a 2011 season where he hit .227 with 13 home runs and 44 RBI.
Rios also played well in right field and much better than he did in center field in 2011.
He just looked more comfortable in right field and at the plate all season. He was arguably the one guy on the White Sox who hit the ball hard all year long.
Now it's just a matter of being able to follow up his solid season with another one.
In 2010 Rios had a nice season and then fell off the table in 2011—let's hope that's not the case this time.
Like Alex Rios, Adam Dunn definitely enjoyed a comeback season in 2012 after his absolutely abysmal year in 2011.
Dunn hit .204 with 41 home runs and 96 RBI. Granted, the .204 average is still very low, but he did what he's supposed to do, which is hit the ball out of the park and drive in runs.
He did come up one strikeout short of setting the all-time record for one season, which does tell you that he can still improve at the plate, but if he puts up power numbers like he did this year, the White Sox will live with the low average and strikeouts.
It's likely Dunn will see more action at first base next season to give Konerko more breaks, and he actually did a nice job over there this season when given the opportunity.
One guy the White Sox may also think about bringing back is lefty Dan Johnson, who finished the season with a three-home-run performance in Cleveland. He gives them some left-handed power off the bench and can fill in at both DH and first base.
One thing is for sure, we definitely know who the White Sox No. 1 starter will be going into the 2013 season.
Chris Sale had a breakout season going 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and established himself as one of the elite pitchers in baseball.
The hope is that he can come back next season, build off of his success and continue to get better.
Sale is only 23 years old and looks to be the White Sox ace for years to come.
After Sale, there are some question marks.
Former No. 1 starter John Danks should be fully recovered from shoulder surgery and ready to go in spring training, and the White Sox will be counting heavily on him as probably their No. 2 guy.
After Danks, there are some question marks.
With a $22 million option on Jake Peavy's contract, it seems highly unlikely that the White Sox will bring him back unless he comes back for less money as a free agent, which is possible but not likely.
On top of that, Gavin Floyd has a $9.5 million option on his contract, and there is a good chance he won't be back as well.
The good news is that Jose Quintana pitched well enough this season to establish himself as a part of the White Sox rotation for next year, which could give them three lefty starters.
They may even have another lefty starter if Hector Santiago gets a shot in spring training after having some nice outings at the end of this year.
From there, it's really a wide open race to finish out the rotation, with several guys probably in the mix.
Honestly, it would be best if the White Sox could find a way to bring back either Peavy or Floyd just to give them another veteran with experience in the rotation, but that remains to be seen.
The White Sox bullpen looks pretty strong going into next season.
They will return closer Addison Reed, who now has one full season of closing games under his belt after saving 29 games in 33 opportunities this year. His 4.75 ERA is definitely high for a closer, but hopefully he can improve on that as he gets more experience closing games.
Also returning will be setup man Jesse Crain, who battled injuries throughout the season, but was still solid going 2-3 with a 2.44 ERA and help opponents to a .171 batting average.
Nate Jones will be back after having an outstanding rookie season, going 8-0 with a 2.39 ERA.
Lefty Matt Thornton will also return, but the Sox will be hoping for better results. Thornton had one of his worst seasons since joining the White Sox, going 4-10 with a 3.46 ERA. Thornton's ERA has gone up each of the last two seasons, and next year may be his last in a Sox uniform as he will be a free agent after the season.
After being almost unhittable since he was called up this season, it would seem almost certain that lefty Donnie Veal will also be back in the bullpen next year. Veal had a 1.38 ERA and allowed only five hits in 13 innings as a left-handed specialist. He also had 19 strikeouts and allowed only four walks in those 13 innings.
The only real question facing the White Sox is whether to pick up the $10 million option to keep Brett Myers, whom they acquired midseason.
It would be nice to retain Myers, but with the emergence of guys like Brian Omogrosso and Dylan Axelrod, it isn't absolutely necessary.