Chicago White Sox: 10 Questions Facing the Pale Hose Entering the 2012 Season
After a tumultuous offseason, Kenny Williams, Robin Ventura and the Chicago White Sox enter the 2012 season with a lot more questions facing them than answers.
Nobody, not even Williams I think, is quite aware of whether the team is rebuilding or whether it is "retooling" and hoping for the absolute best from everyone who is a part of the franchise.
Personally, it seems to me that the Sox are setting themselves up for disappointment (I hope I'm wrong). I honestly don't see the point of mixing in a slew of low-profile prospects with a variety of veteran players, many of whom struggled heavily the previous season.
The most common outcome of this situation is mediocrity, which is the worst possible situation a team can face, as it doesn't find itself contending for a playoff spot and end up with only a mid-first round pick in next year's draft.
A definitive route has to be established eventually; the White Sox are either "all in" as contenders or they are rebuilding around their younger talent for the future.
Unfortunately, waiting for that route to be established may require a lot of patience from White Sox fans.
Although there are probably at least 100 questions running through a diehard White Sox fan's mind on a daily basis, here are 10 basic recurring questions that the members of the organization will hopefully answer by the end of the season.
What Is the White Sox's Five-Year Plan?
Kenny Williams' main objectives entering the 2012 offseason were to cut the team's payroll to an affordable amount and to strengthen the team's farm system.
Although he didn't manage to get rid of the biggest contracts on the team, he did save the organization some money by trading away Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin and Jason Frasor, in addition to allowing free agents like Mark Buehrle and Juan Pierre to walk away in search of greener pastures.
In return for Santos, Quentin and Frasor, as well as the departed manager Ozzie Guillen, Williams did manage to add a few decent prospects, but none of the names he acquired were top-tier prospects (Nestor Molina being a possible exception).
In addition, he shopped around players like Matt Thornton, Gavin Floyd and John Danks in attempt to receive some type of value for them, in the form of prospects, while ridding the team of their salaries.
This led everyone to believe that the White Sox were in full rebuilding mode; that is until Danks was signed to a long-term, expensive contract extension.
After a controversial, yet fairly quiet offseason, many questions remain.
How do the White Sox plan to fix what is considered by many the worst farm system in all of baseball?
Who do the White Sox want to keep as a part of their long-term future and who do they want to get rid of?
How much do the White Sox want to spend in free agency over the next couple years until Alex Rios' and Adam Dunn's hefty contracts expire?
These are all questions I hope White Sox' front office members have discussed and answered privately amongst one another, as the answers to these questions will have a huge impact on the team's success over the next five to 10 years.
How Short Is Kenny Williams' Leash?
Kenny Williams has been in the hot seat ever since the 2011 season ended!
The fact that he has consistently traded away his team's top prospects for major league-ready talent has led many to believe that he is incapable of rebuilding a team.
Holding that reputation has been fine with him up to this point, as he has not had to rebuild during his decade long tenure with the team.
However, his main objective this offseason, for the first time in his general managerial career, was to cut the team's payroll.
Some controversial moves on his part have led many to believe that Williams is torn between starting a rebuilding process and continuing to attempt to put a contending team out onto the field.
The only problem with the latter is that the White Sox will need about a dozen things to go from awful to good if they even want to think about celebrating a Central Division championship in September.
Popular opinion is that it's time to start the rebuilding process, and the question on many White Sox fans' minds in whether Williams is the right man for the job.
He has stolen a few good, under-the-radar, major league-ready players away from opposing teams, mainly Carlos Quentin and Matt Thornton come to mind. However, the lack of talent coming up through the White Sox system via the draft and the limited amount of top prospects the White Sox possess have many fans feeling really discouraged about the team's future.
If Williams wants to stay as the White Sox general manager, he will have to prove quickly that he is capable of rebuilding the farm system and bringing it back up to respectability, or else he will be replaced.
The amount of time he will be given an opportunity to do so is up to Jerry Reinsdorf's patience.
How Will Robin Ventura Perform as a Rookie Manager?
When Kenny Williams named Robin Ventura the new manager of the Chicago White Sox during the start of the offseason, many were surprised by the decision, mainly because he has no coaching experience at the major league level whatsoever.
To be completely honest, I wasn't sure what to think of this signing when the news first broke. Furthermore, I really didn't care at all.
My opinion has always been that the players are the ones who win the games and the coaches are just there to make sure nothing gets completely out of hand. Yes, I'll definitely agree that the previous sentence shows my complete ignorance on the topic of coaching.
I'm very aware of the fact that the coaches probably have a huge impact on the way their players play the game; however, because I am completely oblivious to the type of impact they have and the extent of that impact, I choose to believe that impact is non-existent until I study the topic of coaching more.
Getting back onto the topic of Ventura, as shocking as the signing was to many, I trust in Williams' decision making until the day he resigns as the White Sox general manager or is fired. He must have seen some coaching potential in the former third baseman since he decided to name him the manager of a major league franchise.
In terms of the direction this team is going in, a rookie manager is exactly what the White Sox need. The White Sox are rebuilding, regardless of what anyone tells me, so the pressure will be off of Ventura when it come to expectations.
Similarly, the young players will feel less pressure to perform well, as they are are not playing for a manager with a reputation of being a constant winner.
This match could be just what the White Sox need, as they have been known to perform a lot better over the last decade when the expectations are low.
Who Will Be Gone by the End of 2012?
It's no secret that Jerry Reinsdorf and the White Sox are attempting to shed salary!
Unfortunately, the only way they will do that is if they trade their high-priced players away.
If the White Sox find themselves out of playoff contention when the trade deadline rolls around, they'll probably put a majority of their expensive players on the trading block.
The guys most likely to be traded, if they're performing up to their typical standards, are A.J. Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez, Matt Thornton, Gavin Floyd and the newly re-signed John Danks, as they'll provide contending teams with the most value at reasonable prices.
If the White Sox are really lucky, they'll find a team willing to take on Alex Rios' and/or Adam Dunn's hefty contracts, but that will only be the case if those two players are performing at least somewhere close to their standards, which seems unlikely at this point.
Jake Peavy, whose in the same boat as Rios and Dunn, is more likely to find a suitor for his talent if he's healthy and performing anywhere near his Cy Young level, as his contract expires after the upcoming season.
I don't see the White Sox attempting to deal any of their younger talent, simply because they're attempting to rebuild the roster, which is the case, regardless of how much they deny it.
Of course, if they're in serious contention for the American League Central Division championship, all that could change.
What Will the White Sox' 25-Man Roster Look Like?
Before every season begins, each team has to decide what its 25-man roster will look like.
Before the final decisions are made, the coaches of every team have to decide whether they'd like to carry seven players out of the bullpen, an extra batter/fielder, or whether they want their starters to pitch every sixth day instead of every fifth day.
A majority of the active roster is already penciled in for the White Sox for the upcoming season.
Barring any injuries or setbacks, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, Phil Humber and Chris Sale will fill out a fairly solid five-man rotation. It is very doubtful that the White Sox will depend on a six-man rotation like they did for a part of last season.
The starters offensively are expected to be Alex Rios, Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo in the outfield, Brent Morel, Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko in the infield and A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate with Adam Dunn as the designated hitter.
The backup catcher position is Tyler Flowers' to lose, leaving three or four spots open for the rest of the field. Kosuke Fukudome and Brent Lillibridge aren't going anywhere either, which means that Eduardo Escobar and Dan Johnson better hope that the White Sox only carry six bullpen pitchers, or one of them will be out of luck.
That is unless both of them are out of luck, considering the fact that Jim Gallagher, Dallas McPherson, Delwyn Young, Trayce Thompson, Jordan Danks, Jared Mitchell and Tyler Saladino all will be given their opportunities during spring break to be a part of the White Sox' active roster when Opening Day rolls around.
The bullpen basically has four spots penciled in, as Addison Reed, Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain are expected to compete for the closer role and Will Ohman pitching as the lefty specialist.
The candidates for the other two to three spots include Hector Santiago, Dylan Axelrod, Brian Bruney, Zach Stewart and Eric Stults. All of them have a legitimate chance to claim one of those roster spots.
Was John Danks Really Worth All That Money?
Back in December of 2011, John Danks and the White Sox agreed on a five-year, $65 million contract extension.
Not bad for a guy whose production dropped a fair amount from his previous three seasons, as he posted a 4.33 earned run average while only winning eight games, compared to 12 losses.
In my estimation, those numbers are good enough for the third spot in the pitching rotation, and not for a guy set to earn $65 million over the next five years.
In comparison, Gio Gonzalez (a former White Sox prospect), who posted a 3.12 earned run average with a 16-12 win-loss record, agreed to a five-year, $42 million extension with the Washington Nationals earlier this offseason. That's severely less money handed over to a player with severely better numbers.
Granted, Danks has pitched five consecutive seasons with at least 25 starts, compared to just two by Gonzalez; however, Gonzalez posted better numbers in both of those seasons than Danks ever has.
In an effort to prove he is worth the money, Danks is going to have to step up and become the ace for a ballclub that desperately needs one after the departure of Buehrle.
In order to prove he's an ace, he will have to drop his earned run average to a sub-3.50 while winning somewhere between 14 and 18 games a year.
Can he do it? Lets just wait and see!
Will the Fans Show Up at All?
This is probably the easiest of the 10 questions to answer!
The White Sox enter the 2012 season with very little hope to compete for a Central Division championship, much less a World Series championship.
It is a well-known fact that a majority of White Sox fans are only willing to spend money on the team if a contender is put on the field.
Not only that, that team also has to play like a contender, and not just be built like one, which was the case in 2011.
If the White Sox start out the season very slow and continue to play at that pace throughout a majority of the season, like most experts predict them to, many fans will not be attending White Sox games this season.
If the White Sox are able to scrape together more wins than losses in April and May, maybe the seats won't be completely empty in June and July.
Only time will tell!
Will the Bullpen Finally Be Managed Better?
I was a big fan of Ozzie Guillen and his open personality during his tenure with the White Sox, but the way he would manage the bullpen at times, and the pitching staff in general, infuriated me to no end.
If you're a White Sox fan reading this article, consider this question: How many times did Ozzie Guillen leave his pitcher in the ballgame one batter too long?
There were moments, especially by the end of his tenure, where I would sit in front of the TV and scream at Guillen to take his pitcher out (yes, I'm aware of the fact that he probably didn't hear me) or else he would regret it at the end of the at-bat.
Wouldn't you have guessed it, I was right more often than not, and my knowledge about the fundamentals of the game doesn't extend too far!
I sincerely hope that Robin Ventura manages his pitching staff a lot better in these situations, as I don't know how much more of the same I can handle.
Will Peavy, Dunn And/Or Rios Have Bounce-Back Seasons?
A big part of the team's success this upcoming season will depend on bounce-back seasons from Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy.
After struggling upon his arrival to the White Sox in 2009, Rios provided the team with a very solid 2010 season. However, he struggled heavily in 2011, hitting only 13 home runs (his lowest output since 2005) and stealing only 11 bases (career low), all while compiling a .227 batting average (another career low).
Whether it's a lack of confidence or a lack of enthusiasm that he needs to work on, hopefully he figures it out, as the White Sox will need those numbers to improve drastically if they want to have any chance of competing for anything other than last place in the division.
After seven consistent seasons of playing at a high level, Dunn managed to put together one of the worst seasons ever by a major league player in 2011.
After hitting at least 38 home runs and knocking in at least 92 runs for seven consecutive years, Dunn's production dropped to only 11 home runs and 42 runs batted in during the 2011 season, in addition to holding an abysmal .159 batting average.
The White Sox could definitely use a bounce-back season from him, as they don't possess too much power from the plate besides Konerko and potentially Dayan Viciedo.
Finally, Peavy's injury problems have forced to him to miss many starts over the past three seasons, as he has only started a combined 51 games over that span.
Prior to his injury-plagued seasons, he started 27 games for the San Diego Padres and posted a 2.95 earned run average during that season, a very successful season.
Even if he's healthy, it's unreasonable to think that he will return to his old form; however, it is not unreasonable to believe that he could win at least 12 games and post an earned run average anywhere between 3.50 and 4.00.
How Will the Young Players Perform?
It's no secret that the White Sox will open up the 2012 season with a lot of young, inexperienced players on their roster.
Dayan Viciedo, who batted .255 during the 2011 season, and Addison Reed, who struck out 12 batters in just 7.1 innings last season, headline a group of youngsters who will play key roles in the organization's ability or inability to succeed this upcoming season.
Other young headliners, from an offensive standpoint, include Brent Morel, the starting third baseman who hit eight home runs and walked 15 times in 100 at-bats during the month of September, and Tyler Flowers, who is expected to back up A.J. Pierzynski at the catcher position and showed the potential he possesses last season, when he hit five doubles and five home runs in only 110 at-bats.
There's also the 27-year-old Alejandro De Aza, who exceeded everyone's expectation mightily in just 152 at-bats throughout the 2011 season when he hit 11 doubles, three triples, four home runs, stole 12 bases and held a batting average of .329.
From a pitching standpoint, Chris Sale is set and ready to make his major league debut as a starter. After saving eight games last season and compiling a 2.79 earned run average, the White Sox will expect a lot from him throughout the 2012 season.
Hector Santiago, Dylan Axelrod and Zach Stewart are all expected to contribute to the youthful White Sox team at some point throughout the long season as well, whether it's starting games or coming out of the bullpen.
If a majority of these guys perform up to their abilities throughout the 2012 season, White Sox fans will at least gain some hope in terms of the team's future, and maybe the team will enjoy a bit of success this upcoming season.