The 2011 season is upon us, and although every fan on Opening Day has a delusional feeling about his or her team, only one will come out on top.
Expectations are high on the south side of Chicago, but "All In," the White Sox 2011 slogan, could also be called "A Lot to Lose."
There is a lot of talent and a lot of money put into this White Sox squad. There is absolutely no hint of "Ozzie Ball" or "Small Ball" on it, which is why it has a very good chance to win the American League Central.
For a squad that looked to be starting a rebuilding process, with third or fourth place in the division being its highest hopes, to then suddenly bring back Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and sign Adam Dunn and Jesse Crain in free agency in a matter of a couple weeks is simply astonishing, especially for a team that usually doesn't bank on the free-agent market.
I'm not sure people realize how close the White Sox were to having Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios as their No. 3 and 4 hitters, which is not bad, but certainly not capable of winning a division.
The White Sox certainly aren't perfect. There's a new guy at third base, Konerko is old and just got paid, Dunn is in the American League, Jake Peavy's absence leaves a revolving door possibility at the fifth starter role, there's a new closer and, as always, there's Ozzie.
Let's look at the worst-case scenario for the White Sox.
And please, don't call me a "hater" simply because I'm pointing out things you've put in the back of your minds, praying they'll just go away.
Pessimism is the secret to never being disappointed.
In 70 MLB plate appearances, Morel struck out 17 times, had a .271 OBP and had 15 hits.
Yes, he has a career .305 average, .354 OBP and .464 slugging percentage in three years in the minors. In AAA he batted .320 with a .348 OBP and a .503 slugging percentage, but on all levels he benefited from an elevated BABIP.
In AA his BABIP was .385, while in AAA it was .363 in 2010.
He's had a lot of lucky bounces.
As for the fielding everyone is talking about, Morel was simply mediocre. He had a -1 UZR and a -8.40 UZR/150, which is far better than Mark Teahen, but still not worth a guy possibly hitting .230.
Yes, the White Sox have four guys (five if you count Jake Peavy), who can have ERAs lower than 4.00, but they also have five guys who can give you ERAs above 4.00.
Mark Buehrle is coming off his worst ERA season (4.28) since 2006 (4.99), when people blamed the lack of small ball for the team not making the postseason when it was the starting rotation that was truly awful. Buehrle had more hits and walks combined (395) last season than he's had since 2006 as well.
If Buehrle pulls the "athlete playing for a contract," he could be awesome, but if he pulls the "athlete ready to retire," he could just cruise by.
Is this the year John Danks is finally recognized as the White Sox ace?
Well, he may have to be if Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson falter. He's never had an ERA below 3.72 when he's pitched over 200 innings. Not exactly what you want from your No. 1 starter.
Is this the year Gavin Floyd puts a full year together? Well, he hasn't yet.
Yes, in 2008 he had a nice season with a 3.84 ERA, but no pitcher left more men on base that season. It's good that he left men on base, but a couple different swings of the bat or bounces of the ball and your ERA goes above 4.00, just as it has in the last two seasons for Floyd. It's best not to put men on base at all.
Last season, in 10 starts in April and May, Floyd surrendered 41 runs. In June and July, in 11 starts he gave up 18 runs. Finally, in August and September/October, in 10 starts he gave up 33 runs. He will need to be consistent if the White Sox want to be playing in late October.
Which brings us to Edwin Jackson—a guy who can make a no-hitter look hideous. Jackson was great with the White Sox, sporting a 3.24 ERA in 75 innings, as opposed to a 5.16 ERA in 134.1 innings with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
One would think a full year with pitching coach Don Cooper will make Jackson better, but what about a full year at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field?
Be sure not to keep tabs on Daniel Hudson, who the White Sox traded for Jackson. All he did was go 7-1 with 70 strikeouts in 79.2 innings after leaving the south side. Oh, and Hudson just turned 24 this month.
And then there's...
Peavy is coming back from an injury no pitcher has ever come back from. Does anyone really expect him to be decent?
He's made 20 starts with the White Sox since coming from San Diego. Not so great, considering the White Sox paid him $15 million for last season and $16 million for this season.
Peavy is a huge investment for the White Sox, so they will be taking their time getting him back.
So who is the fifth starter? Who will the White Sox rely on if Peavy takes a long time to get back or, more importantly, gets hurt again?
The former third overall pick in 2004 has appeared in 26 MLB games with one start, sporting a 5.26 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP in 51.1 innings for the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals.
I suppose that is okay if he is doing a couple spot starts, but what if Peavy goes down for a long period of time?
There doesn't seem to be a good backup plan. I don't consider Tony Pena or plugging Chris Sale in a rotation spot after starting him in the bullpen to be viable plans either.
This is probably the most far-fetched accusation because Thornton was built to close. Most of his work is in pressure situations, so what makes the last three outs any different?
But what if?
Thornton has 17 career saves to go along with 21 blown saves. If he collapses as the White Sox closer, their options are Chris Sale and Sergio Santos, who have 75 innings of MLB pitching experience put together, and Jesse Crain, who has three career saves in 382 innings pitched.
Not to mention, who is to say that if Thornton does falter in the closer role, he can just hop back into the eighth-inning role with no problem?
Pitchers love routine, and if you suddenly change it, as we saw last year when Bobby Jenks was M.I.A. and the entire bullpen moved up an inning and imploded, they could lose their minds.
Adam Dunn has never been part of the American League. We've seen this movie before, where Player A dominates the National League, which has very good pitching in the ace positions but is clearly not as deep as the AL rotations, and then comes to the AL and can't hit.
Dunn is switching leagues, just signed a big contract and is on a team that is expected to win. He has roamed from mediocre team to mediocre team, never making the playoffs and never with a giant contract hanging over him. He has all of that this season.
On a positive note (I know I don't usually provide those), Dunn has hit .247 with a .362 OBP and a .523 slugging percentage with 36 home runs in 567 plate appearances against the American League in his career.
Not quite the .260 and 40 home runs the White Sox are expecting, but still very good.
It's safe to bet there is no way Paul Konerko matches his season from last year. Oddly enough, that was in a contract year, and Konerko got that big contract he was looking for, possibly the final contract of his career.
He's 35, he's won a World Series and he just received a three-year, $37.5 million contract. What's not stopping him from relaxing a bit?
Yes, athletes want to win, but they are also human beings. If you were given a guaranteed contract that would take you to your retirement, would you work harder?
Okay, I have a positive note on this one too. Last time Konerko received a big contract was after the 2005 season. Konerko not only received the contract but was given Jim Thome in his lineup.
Konerko hit .313 with a .381 OBP, 35 home runs and 113 RBI.
Konerko just received a new contract and was given Thome's long-lost brother in Dunn.
See, I provide some hope.
But to end on a negative note: In all this, I failed to mention the Minnesota Twins and the White Sox inability to ever beat them...just saying.