There is no stove hotter than the one burning on the south side of Chicago this winter. Coming off of an improbable division title, the White Sox are a team some people would expect to return most of their lineup.
Despite making the playoffs for just the fifth time since 1959, last season’s White Sox were a flawed bunch. At no time were those flaws more apparent than in their first round series against the Rays. After four games the younger, faster, and better defensive team won and went on the win the pennant.
The ink had hardly dried on the season when the rumors started flying. Paul Konerko to the Angels? Javier Vazquez anywhere but here? Jim Thome shipped out? For now, nothing has happened to change the roster, and Kenny Williams seems to be putting on his best poker face by saying he is confident in his youngsters stepping in to fill the voids at third and second base.
Anyone who has followed Kenny Williams knows that anything is possible. Vazquez, Nick Swisher, and now Jermaine Dye have all been reportedly put on the trading block. It would not be surprising if at least two of the three will be gone by March.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s examine the pressing issues facing Kenny Williams and the White Sox.
With Alexei Ramirez’s impending move to shortstop, second base is the position that Kenny Williams is most likely to fill with an in-house talent. He has praised Chris Getz whose speed and grinder mentality would be a good fit. The recent acquisition of Jayson Nix would provide insurance for Getz. Orlando Hudson’s name has surfaced as well.
The reason I believe Williams will go in house at second is because it is a position where he can get away with youngster who struggles at the plate. Both Nix and Getz can field the ball and between the two of them one ought to be able to hit at least .250 or so.
Another possibility to keep in mind is that Kenny Williams shakes everybody up and makes a trade for an All-Star-caliber shortstop like Miguel Tejada, or Bobby Crosby. I for one would not put him past him.
In the American League, it is essential that you get offensive production from this position. The annual Paul Konerko for Chone Figgens rumors have started again and this year they may be true.
Figgens has speed and can play a few defensive positions in an above average but not great manner. His ability to play third and center field would Ozzy the depth and flexibility that he is great at taking advantage of.
Getting rid of Konerko could pay off if his offensive numbers are truly declining. On the flip side, the Sox would have to hope that Nick Swisher’s numbers bounce back from last year and he provides the offensive production necessary out of the first-base position.
Cuban talent Dayan Viciedo is the wild card on the table. If Ramirez’s production convinced Williams that Cuban League talent transfers well to the South Side he may fork over the dough and make Viciedo the third baseman of the future. That could free Williams up to trade Fields or move him to first.
The downside of signing Viciedo and trading Fields is that the Sox wouldn’t have any insurance at third if the Cuban star struggles making the adjustment. Each player is unique and he may not translate to the big leagues as quickly as the "Cuban Missile."
Nothing is guaranteed but between Fields, Figgens, and Viciedo one of them will be the White Sox starting third baseman.
Center is the annual concern or the Sox since the departure of the severally overrated Aaron Rowand. I know Rowand has improved a lot since leaving the Sox, but he was simply not a star player for the White Sox and I wish more fans could admit that.
This is another position where if Williams is serious about going young he can hope between Brain Anderson and Jerry Owens that he has a real big league starter.
If the Sox get a leadoff type hitter than Anderson may have the inside track in that particular competition if indeed it plays out that way. Willy Tavarez’s name has been thrown out there as well.
Last year the Williams gambled on hoping the young Anderson, Quentin, and Owens trio would produce a starter and we know how that turned out. Maybe he’ll see if lightening can strike twice.
Clayton Richard could fill this void if Javy Vazquez stays on the team. If Vazquez is traded than Richard would slide up to number four and William would have two slots to fill with youngsters. Maybe he will decide to trust Richard and hope between Lance Broadway, Aaron Poreda, or a yet to be determined youngster he gets his fifth starter.
This plan is risky but if it works out the Sox could end up with four young talented young starters to anchor the staff for years to come.
There are plenty of free agent pitchers that could put the Sox staff over the top but to pony up for the likes of A.J. Burnett or Derek Lowe Williams would surely have to clear out some contracts like Konerko or Dye.
This is the hardest spot to predict other than that I would imagine Richard at least gets every opportunity in the world to break camp as one of the starters.
Veterans on the block
Trading the undisputed team leader and franchise is no light matter. The White Sox would need to get a substantial return; Chone Figgens alone might not be enough. Konerko’s contract is huge though and moving him would free up a lot of space for a big name free agent.
Dye would probably fetch an even bigger return than Konerko. But Dye’s bat was huge in 2008 as well as 2006. When he is at his best he is the most dominant hitter on the Sox as he hits for both power and average. Keeping him around in right field for one more year would allow the Sox to let Thome go after the year and move Dye into the DH spot.
I have to believe Williams traded too much for Swisher last offseason to trade him now while his value is so long. He is still young, can play several positions and gets on base. He could be the bounce back story of the year for the Sox.
I was as upset as anyone last season when Vazquez single-handedly tried to end the White Sox season. But you can’t hide the fact that for his salary Vazquez is a very good bottom of the rotation type pitcher.
If Williams trades him he better have something in the works to make sure his staff doesn’t fall apart. Javy might not be a star but he is a solidifying element to any rotation.
Well I am sure in a few weeks a lot will have changed. I will end the article with a radical “I if I were the GM” lineup…
Chone Figgens 3B
Nick Swisher RF
Carlos Quentin LF
Miguel Tejada SS
Jim Thome DH
Alexi Ramirez 2B
Josh Fields 1B
Brain Anderson CF