Chicago White Sox: 2008 Preview
Just two seasons removed from winning their first World Series in 88 years, and coming off a strong 2006 season that left them outside of the playoffs despite winning 90 games, the White Sox floundered to their first losing season since Williams became the club's GM.
Williams looked to fill the hole in center field with seven-time Gold Glover and Sox nemesis Torii Hunter. The deal seemed imminent until the Angels stole Hunter away from the Sox with a monster five-year deal worth $90 million.
The Sox then turned to a familiar face to fill the hole in center, aggressively courting fan favorite and former Sox Aaron Rowand. The Sox were prepared to give Rowand a four deal, but Rowand wanted five, and when neither side was willing to budge, Rowand got his five-year deal from the San Francisco Giants.
That leaves the center field job to Jerry Owens, who has battled injury problems, and will start the season on the 15-day DL. He has plenty of speed and figures to fit in the leadoff spot when healthy.
Despite losing out on Hunter and Rowand, the Sox were able to acquire a veteran outfielder in Nick Swisher. Ozzie Guillen has said during Spring Training that when Swisher played against the White Sox, he "hated playing against him." Ozzie won't have to worry about that anymore, as Swisher will patrol left field and likely bat second in the White Sox order.
Should Swisher get on, he figures to be driven in frequently by the big bats the Sox have in the middle of their order.
Thome, Konerko, Dye, and Pierzynski underperformed as a group last year, but Thome had a personal highlight in hitting his 500th home run. If these hitters return to their normal production, the Sox should be in good shape offensively.
In the infield, the Sox upgraded at shortstop with the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera via trade. He's a Gold Glover, and also could hit in the two-hole.
The move forced the Sox to move Juan Uribe to second base, where he faced competition from Cuban defector Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez showed plenty of upside this spring, with soft hands, plenty of speed, and the ability to hit the ball to all fields. He gives Guillen plenty of options in the middle of the infield.
The Sox have an embarrassment of riches at third base with veteran Joe Crede and promising youngster Josh Fields. Fields saw extended playing time last season after Crede's back surgery in mid-season. GM Kenny Williams tried to move Crede, who can play Gold-Glove caliber defense when healthy to open the spot for Fields, but no move has been made as of yet. Crede has won the starting job, and Fields will most likely start the season at Triple-A Charlotte.
On the mound, the starting staff appears to be set with Mark Buehrle getting the Opening Day nod once again.
Javier Vazquez is coming off a strong 2007, and Jose Contreras will look to return to the form that made him one of the most dominant pitchers in early 2006. John Danks will start in the fourth spot, with Gavin Floyd getting the fifth starters' spot.
While the starters did their job, Buehrle threw a no-hitter last year to highlight their efforts; the bullpen was nothing short of a disaster, aside from closer Bobby Jenks.
Williams brought in Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink to fill some gaping holes in the bullpen, and hopefully bridge the gap from the starters to Jenks at the back end. Getting the ball to Jenks in the ninth with the lead will be key to the Sox success this year.
This White Sox club has loads of talent and the potential to make the post-season.
It won't be easy, as the Sox reside in the toughest division in the tougher of the two leagues. The Tigers reloaded, and the Indians are strong again as they look to repeat as AL Central champions.
The White Sox can be a good ball club, but in the AL Central, good may not be good enough.
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