This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on January 23, 2013 and ending on February 22, 2013 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, offseason changes since and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We started in the AL East, previewed its NL counterpart, and now go back to the AL and tackle the Central in alphabetical order. Next up, the Chicago White Sox.
2012 finish: 85-77 (2nd place, AL Central)
RHP Matt Lindstrom, RHP Ramon Troncoso, OF Ruben Sierra, Jr., 3B Jeff Keppinger
LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Phil Humber, RHP Brett Myers, 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Jose Lopez, 2B Orlando Hudson, 3B Kevin Youkilis, C A.J. Pierzynski
Why they will improve this year
Even though the Sox lost a few guys who were key to last year's surprising run under rookie manager Robin Ventura, they seem to have a roster just as capable of returning to the playoff race. None of the pitchers they lost will hurt terribly, and they found an adequate replacement for the rental of Youkilis in Keppinger.
If Chicago can get full, healthy seasons from their ace Chris Sale and No. 2 guy Jake Peavy, then they will have one of the dirtiest tops of the rotations in the AL. Last year, Sale was a legitimate Cy Young candidate until he started wearing out down the stretch (2012 was his first full year as a starter in MLB).
Peavy will hopefully stay off the disabled list this year, something that has troubled him in years past because of his quirky delivery. And I'm expecting a bounce-back campaign from John Danks in the No. 3 spot in that rotation.
The pitching isn't fantastic, but it might be good enough to keep the Sox in the hunt in 2013. If the three guys I just mentioned all put together even above-average seasons respectively, the ChiSox should make a jump from ninth in the AL in ERA last year to a more respectable, possibly playoff-bound ranking.
Why they will regress this year
Pierzynski wasn't just a great hitter for them last year—he's always been a solid game-caller and defender, boasting a career .995 fielding percentage. The fire and veteran leadership he brought to this squad will be hard to replace. And yes, that actually does matter in baseball.
Even though Pierzynski enjoyed a breakout year in the power department last season, he was good for 12-15 homers and about 75 RBI every season. Tyler Flowers and Hector Gimenez will not be replacing Pierzynski in any way, shape or form. Even if you combine them.
So when looking at the Sox lineup for 2013, you lose that veteran bat in Pierzynski, expect a better year out of Alexei Ramirez, can count on (health pending) production from Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, hope for another 25 homers from Dayan Viciedo and 25 steals from Alejandro De Aza. That's a whole lot of waiting, wishing and hoping.
The pitching staff is a whole different issue. While I do fully expect productive seasons from Peavy and Sale, I can't say the same for the rest of the rotation. The depth, consistency and make-up just isn't there for Chicago this year. And even in the bullpen, you can love Addison Reed and the addition of Matt Lindstrom all you want, but they still have a ways to go to become an elite unit.
The outlook for 2013
Before last season, I chose the White Sox to finish in last place in the AL Central. Clearly, I messed that one up. So you can choose to take my words with a grain of salt, but I did very well in most of my predictions. And this season, I see a similar outcome in Chicago.
Not last place, mind you, but a fourth-place finish is very possible, and I'll even venture to say that third is a best-case scenario for Ventura's team. I do think the offense will score runs, and I do think the top of the rotation will have solid seasons. But I can't count on Alex Rios to put up the same numbers, or for the veterans to stay healthy, or for De Aza and Viciedo to repeat (or improve upon) last year's numbers.
I'm fine with going out on a limb in my preseason predictions, but in the case of the 2013 White Sox, the branch is far too delicate to stand on. It is this writer's opinion that the White Sox overachieved in 2012 and will drop down below .500 this year.
The worst-case scenario for the Sox is that injuries strike the rotation and the heart of the order and the season is lost by August. I think the team has enough fight to stick around a little longer than that, but still expect about 75 wins and a fourth-place finish in the Central. It doesn't help that the Royals, Tigers and Indians all seem to have improved their teams.
Potential changes before Opening Day
According to Chicago Tribune writer Mark Gonzales (h/t MLBTradeRumors.com) on Twitter, rumors about the Sox trading away Viciedo were never true. But he added that nobody is "untouchable." We had heard whispers of potentially moving Viciedo and/or De Aza, which didn't come to fruition.
There is still time left, though, and the White Sox do possess some high-potential hitters who haven't quite panned out or are are just starting to hit their strides. If they could move one or both of them to acquire a consistent outfield bat or a veteran starter to slot in the middle of the rotation, the team would look a little more promising.
Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn are both out there still, and though they cost a first-round pick, they would add extensive punch to the roster. At the very least, the fact that GM Rich Hahn said the White Sox would add payroll if they are in contention in 2013 should be promising to the fans.
Biggest surprise: Alexei Ramirez
Biggest disappointment: Dayan Viciedo
Bold prediction: Sale wins 20 games, finishes top three in the Cy Young voting
1. Alejandro De Aza, CF
2. Jeff Keppinger, 3B
3. Adam Dunn, DH
4. Paul Konerko, 1B
5. Alex Rios, RF
6. Dayan Vicideo, LF
7. Alexei Ramirez, SS
8. Gordon Beckham, 2B
9. Tyler Flowers, C
1. Chris Sale, LHP
2. Jake Peavy, RHP
3. John Danks, LHP
4. Gavin Floyd, RHP
5. Jose Quintana, LHP
Projected finish: 74-88, 4th place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.