The pot is simmering on Chicago's south side.
On Wednesday evening, the White Sox lost a well-pitched game from John Danks 2-1. Detroit's Justin Verlander continued his dominance of the American League, going all nine innings despite being over the mythical 100-pitch plateau after eight innings.
Verlander was still hitting as high as 98 on the radar gun in the ninth, displaying why he's perhaps the best pitcher in baseball right now (no offense to Roy Halladay or Zach Grienke).
But the focus of the local Chicago media wasn't how good Verlander was, but rather the continued implosion of the White Sox. Every day brings a new issue to the forefront, and every game highlights something else this team doesn't do well.
Last week, manager Ozzie Guillen was blasting Alexei Ramirez for not being able to get a bunt down to move a runner. Before that, he was indirectly throwing Josh Fields under the bus for being mediocre defensively while batting near the Mendoza line.
Wednesday saw perhaps the biggest issue to date bubble to the surface, as maybe the best Sox hitter was forced to leave the game early with an apparent hand injury. Paul Konerko has been dealing with thumb and wrist issues for a couple of years, and was jammed by a nasty pitch from Verlander and appeared to have his right arm go numb.
With Carlos Quentin already missing extended action because of a foot injury, the loss of Konerko would be devastating.
It would also raise the question: how soon is too soon to pull the plug on the 2009 White Sox?
The Sox have a number of players that could be intriguing trade candidates down the stretch, and an equal number of prospects that could spark interest from management (some already have) for the future.
Jermaine Dye, RF
The MVP of the 2005 World Series has been nothing but great since Williams brought him in prior to that season. He still plays good defense and hits the ball well to all fields. He's making $11.5 million this season with a $1 million buyout of a mutual option for 2010 (in which he would make $12 million), making him a potentially hot name this July.
There are a number of teams that would be considered buyers that could use a strong bat in right field, especially one that comes with a limited financial obligation. If Vlad Guerrero's health doesn't improve in Anaheim, or the Braves continue to have doubts about a long-term relationship with Jeff Francouer, Dye's name could be on the lips of a number of executives.
Jim Thome, DH
This might be the most fascinating name on the Sox that could become available. Thome continues to climb the all-time home run list while being the best body double for Mr. Incredible in the game. He's still hitting well (and far), making his bat on the left side of the plate valuable.
After Wednesday's game, Guillen said Konerko would miss time and that, though Fields would start Thursday's game at first, he was backing away from his original stance that Thome wouldn't play in the field when the Sox visited National League teams for Interleague play.
If Boston has long-term concerns about David Ortiz's health, a smart option might be to bring in Thome, who, like Dye, has an expiring contract. Thome would be a perfect replacement for Big Papi if needed, but would also make a solid designated hitter for almost any American League team.
AJ Pierzynski, C
Pierzynski was brought in after a dirty experience in San Francisco, none of which was his fault (the Giants traded pitchers Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan to the Twins in the package for him). He's handled the Sox pitching staff exceptionally well, but continues to find his way into the heart of "misunderstandings."
His teammates would line up to take a bullet for him, and his pitchers all swear by his game-calling. He's been another stroke of genius by Williams.
But the Sox have a couple options of note behind the plate that might make the relatively affordable Pierzynski popular. The Sox traded for Ramon Castro a couple weeks ago, and acquired a highly touted prospect names Ty Flowers from the Atlanta Braves as part of the Javy Vazquez deal before Spring Training.
If the Sox are going to buy into a youth movement, Pierzynski's contract ($6.25 million per season for 2009-10) could put him on the short list for buyers looking for a veteran behing the dish with championship experience.
Octavio Dotel, RHP
Dotel has had his ups and downs with the Sox, but still has good stuff. He makes the short list of potential trade bait simply because every team in the playoff hunt is eager to pick up an extra arm in the bullpen for the stretch run, and Dotel has an expiring contract.
These four players could have some value on the trade market and Williams has never been scared away from pulling the trigger on a deal that could improve the short and long term futures of the ball club.
Clayton Richard has thrown well in the rotation since being sort of traded to the Padres for Jake Peavy. Gordon Beckham is now getting his chances in Chicago, and will likely get an extended look at third base if Fields is required to play first in a long Konerko absence. Chris Getz has already played most of the young season at second base as well.
Earlier this week, the Sox promoted another former top draft pick, Aaron Poreda, and plan to use him out of the bullpen for the time being. He's a big lefty who throws in the mid- to upper-90s and has two good breaking pitches to compliment his huge fastball.
The youth movement has already started in US Cellular Field, the big question now is whether or not Williams fully commits to the future at the expense of the present and deals some of the team's veteran leaders to continue stockpiling quality depth in the organization.