The 2009 season didn't go exactly like the White Sox planned. After winning the AL Central in 2008, the Sox won just enough games to stay in the race in the first half. Acquiring Jake Peavy and later, Alex Rios, was supposed to put them over the top, but the Sox faded badly down the stretch.
Entering 2010, it appears that the Sox will be in the race again, largely because of their deep and talented starting rotation.
However, the Sox still have plenty of questions that they have to answer before there are any talks of a playoff appearance.
If you follow the Sox at all, you've probably heard more than you would like about their designated hitter.
Rather than signing a proven, veteran hitter to fill the role full time, they have opted to rotate multiple players at the spot. Andruw Jones, Mark Kotsay, and Omar Vizquel will apparently get the bulk of the at-bats, with other starters getting the occasional start at DH when they need a rest.
Given that the offense could use another productive hitter on paper, this looks like a major cause for concern. Giving extra at-bats to bench players could cause considerable harm for an offense that doesn't seem to have much margin for error.
Maybe this approach will help keep their position players fresh—or they'll get an unexpectedly good year from one of the previously mentioned players. However, right now, it looks like arguably the biggest question mark on the White Sox roster.
Quentin is easily the most enigmatic player on the Sox roster. I don't think anyone knows exactly what to expect from him this year.
He is a supremely talented hitter who is capable of being an impact player. With plenty of power, a solid batting eye, and the ability to make consistent contact, he can put up MVP-caliber numbers if things go well for him.
However, things haven't always clicked for Quentin. He's battled a multitude of injuries that have limited his at-bats. His batting average also fluctuates quite a bit given that he's not really a singles hitter.
If Quentin can bounce back and produce anything close to his 2008 season, the Sox offense probably won't be as bad as everyone thinks. If he continues to miss games and struggle with his consistency, it could be a long season for the Sox offense.
On pure talent, Rios might be the most gifted hitter on the team. His performance last year tells a totally different story, though.
He finished with a .247 batting average and a .296 on-base percentage on the season, and he was even worse after he was claimed by the Sox.
Rios has never had the greatest plate discipline, but in the past, he has hit above .290 with very good gap power. He's also a solid base stealer, with a career success rate of 77 percent.
Whether Rios can get back to his All-Star form is another story. He didn't look anything like the player that posted an OPS above .850 two years in a row.
The Sox need Rios to be a productive player—given that he is one of the few hitters on the roster that can be a difference-maker.
Although the starters generally kept the Sox in the game, the bull pen didn't do a very good job closing the door. Now two of their more effective relievers, Octavio Dotel and D.J. Carrasco, are gone.
Matt Thornton is the one sure thing in the bull pen. He has been one of the best setup men in the league the last two years, posting an ERA below three both seasons while striking out well more than a hitter per inning.
Although he didn't perform to his usual standards last year, I still consider Bobby Jenks a solid reliever.
After that, things get more sketchy. Scott Linebrink was quite bad in the second half, and Tony Pena didn't exactly endear himself to Sox fans after he arrived. New addition J.J. Putz was elite a few years ago, but he has struggled with injuries the last few years.
One thing working in the team's favor is that middle relief is wildly inconsistent. Maybe the Sox will get lucky with a career year from one or two of the their relievers—much like they did in 2005. Theoretically, the pen should also have to pitch fewer innings with improved rotation depth.
That said, the Sox can't afford to throw away games in the later innings again.
While the top four starters in the rotation look pretty solid, there is still some uncertainty with the fifth spot.
Given that the Sox are chasing a team with a stronger offense that has had their number during the last several years, they can't afford to be throwing away starts like they were at times with guys like Jose Contreras and Carlos Torres starting games.
Freddy Garcia will likely get the call to start the season. He was solid in nine late-season starts last year, especially for a fifth starter. That said, with his reduced velocity, he might not be able to get through the whole season as an effective starter. Daniel Hudson is waiting in the wings, but trusting a youngster in a playoff race can be hazardous.
While they can still have a good season without strong production from the fifth starter spot, the Sox won't have much margin for error if some of the previous issues don't go their way.