In the first part of this article, I covered what the Sox are likely to do with their position players over the next few years. In Part Two, it's the pitching's turn.
I'll be using a different format since the roles of young pitchers aren't necessarily set in stone and they could easily go through multiple starters.
Likely to be in the rotation—John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Mark Buehrle
I personally don't see these guys going anywhere for the foreseeable future, though one never knows with the cost of high-end pitching.
Barring a trade, Danks and Floyd should both be in the Sox rotation in 2012. Floyd signed a four year extension this offseason that included a club option for 2013, and 2012 is the last year of arbitration for Danks.
After 2012 will be another story as both could be due for large extensions. The Sox will probably do everything they can to keep them, especially the way they've pitched.
That said, in the past the team has also been hesitant to give long term deals to starting pitchers. It's conceivable that both could price their way out of Chicago depending on what other salary commitments they have.
Buehrle's contract is up after 2011, but he was relatively easy to re-sign on his last extension, even giving the Sox a hometown discount. He will be 33 in 2012, but he doesn't rely on his stuff to get outs, which should allow him to be productive well into his thirties.
Buehrle is a team and fan favorite, so unless their team costs skyrocket he will probably be back.
Strong candidates to be in the rotation—Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda
Both of these guys are young and talented, but the Sox already tried to trade them once in the failed Jake Peavy trade. Still, young pitching is in high demand, so they will probably hang around unless the Sox can acquire an impact player. Both are hard-throwing lefties with questionable off-speed pitches.
Poreda relies heavily on his fastball at the moment, which can hit the mid-90s on the radar gun with good sink. He's still refining his slider and changeup, which is why he's still in the bullpen.
Richard regularly works in the low-90s and also has a slider and changeup. Right now he is far more effective against lefties (.205 batting average against) than righties (.308 batting average against). He uses his slider effectively against lefties, but chooses to use his changeup, which need work, more against righties.
If they fail to win a rotation spot long-term, both could end up being their primary lefty out of the bullpen.
High-ceiling prospects—Dan Hudson, Dexter Carter, and Charlie Shirek
None of these guys are widely regarded as can't-miss prospects at the moment, but all of them have a good combination of talent and production.
Hudson is probably the most promising at the moment. The former fifth round pick out of Old Dominion was recently promoted to AA after dominating at the lower levels.
Thus far in the minors he's posted a 3.14 combined ERA with an eye-popping 190 strikeouts in 155 innings. According to scouting reports, he does most of his damage with a low-90s fastball with late life and a solid hard breaking ball (reports vary on whether it's a slider or a curve).
It sounds like he could use a dependable third pitch, and his control has also been only decent so far.
Hudson isn't the only former Old Dominion pitcher that's doing well in the Sox system. After an erratic career in college, Carter is joining his former teammate in moving up the prospect rankings.
Dexter hasn't advanced quite as far as Hudson (currently in A-Ball), but he's still performing well, with a 3.06 ERA minor league ERA and 186 strikeouts in 150 2/3 innings.
Carter has always had the stuff to dominate, but his control hasn't always been there. When he's on, he can be almost unhittable with a mid-90's fastball and a hard breaking ball.
However, his control is still average at best. If he can keep his walks down as he advances through the organization, they will have a potentially dominant pitcher in the rotation or bullpen.
Though he may not look as dominant on paper, Charlie Shirek probably isn't too far behind the previous two arms in terms of potential. His strikeout rates aren't terribly impressive, but he does boast a 3.57 minor league ERA and has good control.
Part of the reason his strikeout numbers are low is that he is a sinkerball pitcher. His best pitch is a low-90's sinker that forces a lot of groundball outs. He also throws a slider and change to complement it.
Sinkerball pitchers are often hard to predict, but if he can maintain the low home run, walk and groundball rates that he has shown thus far he will be an asset to the Sox.
There are a number of other lower ceiling prospects that could be a factor like Jeff Marquez, Jack Egbert and Brian Omogrosso as well as some lower level guys that have yet to truly dominate. There are too many to discuss in this article.
I won't guess who will fill out the pen three years into the future, as there is far too much turnover in those roles to do it accurately. This is especially true since the Sox only late-inning reliever that is under 30 is Bobby Jenks.
I'll start by discussing Jenks. While I would think the Sox will try to keep him, he's about to become a lot more expensive. He already signed a $5.6 million deal this season to avoid arbitration, and that number is not likely to go down the next two seasons.
He'll also be a free agent in 2012, where he could get a multi-year deal in the $10 million range. I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that the Sox will try to trade him for some elite prospects in the next year or two, especially if the team starts to struggle. However, it wouldn't surprise me if they came to terms on a long-term extension either.
Some of the spots will likely be filled by youngsters that were mentioned above, and there will certainly be some acquisitions as well.
Wildcard—Will they acquire an ace?
As I mentioned earlier, the Sox already tried to acquire Peavy from San Diego. I don't think that will be their last attempt at acquiring an elite starter.
The Sox have numerous large contracts expiring over the next few years, including those of Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Jose Contreras this off-season. They also have Floyd and Danks under their control for relatively low prices for the next several years.
It seems that they should have a fair amount of payroll flexibility in the coming years, which could allow them to add an impact player. I would guess that they will target a high-end right handed reliever given that Buehrle and Danks are both lefties as well as their two best in-house options to fill the back end of their rotation.
Overall, the Sox have a very nice core of pitching that gives them an awful lot of flexibility in building their roster. Even with an offense that has struggled most of the year, the Sox have remained competitive because of the production from their starters and their multitude of options in the bullpen.
They're one of only a handful of teams that don't desperately need to add a high-end starter to be competitive.