For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat. If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers. We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.
Chicago White Sox
85-77, second in the AL Central
The White Sox fans must have had some mixed emotions after last season was over. On the positive side, a team that wasn't necessarily expected to be in the mix led the division for most of the summer. As late as September 25, they were tied for the divisional lead. Like Baltimore, this was a tale of a team catching a lot of people by surprise.
The problem was, like Baltimore, they ran out of gas too early. Detroit continued to make up ground on them and, like the tortoise, slipped past them right at the finish line. Which left those on the south side to wonder, what if?
It's unlikely that anyone will be selling Chicago short in 2013, but to find out just what this team is going to be like, I've got a couple of bloggers to fill you in. James Fegan is the head man over at Southside Showdown, part of the FanSided network. He's on Twitter @JRFegan. His Aerys Sports counterpart is Cheryl Norman, who writes at South Side Hit Girl and Tweets @cherann23.
Come with us as we talk about a White Sox icon and one of the game's hot young pitchers.
SS: B-. It sounds harsh, but whenever I read through the grade parameters college professors would put on their syllabi, 'C' is always what they designated as the appropriate mark for not doing anything poorly, but not doing anything exceptional either. The White Sox deserve a little extra credit for good execution of a plan that does little beyond maintain their status quo.
Jeff Keppinger is a fine stopgap solution to the third base crevasse, Matt Lindstrom is a good low-cost middle relief solution and Jake Peavy was re-signed below-market. All of this--along with allowing A.J. Pierzynski to walk--fits along nicely with a plan where nothing is done to significantly change the White Sox station in the AL Central. They (rightly) don't feel confident enough about this group to add payroll recklessly, but have no desire to full-gut rebuild. But at least their mildly irritating plan is well-executed.
SSHG: I would give the offseason as solid C. The biggest change / move was that Rick Hahn was promoted to General Manager, which is something I and a lot of fans had been clamoring for. As for players, Jake Peavy was brought back on what may turn out to be a very reasonable deal, Gavin Floyd's optino was exercised and the team brought in Jeff Keppinger. There was also the recent addition of Matt Lindstrom as a backend bullpen guy. As for departures, a ton of fans have been extremely upset that AJ Pierzynski was not brought back. I'm okay wtih his not returning because it just didn't make a ton of sense economically (though he didn't get a ton from Texas either.) However, now there are more outs than last year in the lineup and that doesn't bode well for a park that plays like a bandbox in the summer. Could more have been done? Perhaps, but in looking around at the various holes the team had, there wasn't really a lot that I thought would be great for filling those holes, at least not at the prices the Sox appeared willing to pay. Hopefully I am proven wrong and the few moves that did occur in the offseason prove to be the ones necessary and those not made show that there was a reason they weren't made.
C70: Can Chris Sale find a way to improve upon last season?
SS: It's probably a foolish bet to think that Sale will break through to some higher level of effectiveness--to where he'll be more dominant than he was in the middle of the year. Where he could improve, or rather, see better results, is if experience, or his new strength-training allows for improved health over the season.
Last year, Sale's performance dipped in correspondence with bouts of tenderness in his elbow, or stretches of velocity loss. They rested him when necessary, up until the point where late September came and there were neither days off to spare for Sale, nor juice left in his arm. More innings, pitching closer to full-strength, is the path to a better year for him.
SSHG: I think the biggest thing Chris can do to improve upon last season is to just last longer. Last season was the most he had ever pitched and while the team was watching his innings pitched and did a pretty good job making sure he stayed healthy, he still was spent by season's end. Some might even say his less than stellar September didn't help the team win the division. I think he can repeat what he did last season and with more maturity, thanks to last season, he can definitely improve by just doing what he did, but for a longer period of time.
SS: Part of me hopes so. Another year requires another contract, and every time the White Sox are called upon to assess how much longer they can entrust the most important offensive position on the diamond to their aging captain lessens the chances that Konerko retires in a Sox uniform.
That personal bit aside, Konerko has repeatedly said that his willingness to play equates to his willingness to endure the "grind" of off-season preparation, and also referred to the 2012 as a frustrating season where he never felt locked in. A smoother, more productive 2013 and a White Sox team that looks poised to compete in 2014, can only help make him more willing. An injury-plagued slog that ends in the team selling off assets probably means retirement.
SSHG: Last year in a baseball? Probably not. Last season as a member of the team at 35th & Shields? Possibly. It's no secret, Paul is getting old as he will be 37 when the season begins. Depending on whether he wants to turn into a full-time DH eventually, he may end up playing a several more years. This is not to say his defensive skills have diminished to the point where he needs to not play the field. He is hardly that kind of liability now. However, just looking at his age, he might start to feel he is done there.
Whether his last few years will be with the White Sox, if I had to bet money now, I'd say he was done. Not that I ever want him to leave, but the last time his contract was up, he was very close to leaving for the Anaheim Angels. Granted, now that possibility is off the table now that they have Albert Pujols, but there might be a team closer to his off season home in AZ that he might want to play for. Ultimately, it may come down to money whether Paul will remain with the White Sox. If that is the case, then given how Jerry Reinsdorf feels about Paul, he could very well stay. But just in case, I am going to prepare as though he could be moved at the trade deadline or not return at season's end.
C70: What rookie will have the biggest impact in 2013?
SS: The problem with the White Sox as an organization is that no one who can make an impact is very close to joining their major league roster. A mid-season injury in the infield could easily make Carlos Sanchez part of the regular lineup, but Beckham and Ramirez tend to stay healthy unless someone throws a baseball at them. From there, it's a question of which bullpen arm is more likely to string together a slate of 30-40 encouraging innings.
For fun, let's say Andre Rienzo earns a mid-season callup, and becomes an exciting, boom-or-walkathon arm in the bullpen.
SSHG: I'm going to have to pass on this one. Given the "abuse" of the minor league system over the years, I haven't really paid much attention to the minors since most guys I figure will never make an appearance on the South Side. However, my guess would be that the rookie will be a pitcher.
C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
SS:86-76, 2nd place. They'll overachieve enough to draw away scrutiny from the fundmental flaws in the infrastructure.
SSHG: As much as it pains me to say, I think the Sox may finish with a sub 500 record this season. While I don't think AJ Pierzynski's production last season was something to be replicated again, that is a lot of production lost from the lineup. Additionally, who is to say that Alex Rios will have another year as good. So far he has been good then bad then good then bad again in his time as a White Sox player. If he has an off year, then things will definitely be not good. Final record perhaps 79-83 with a second place finish.
C70: What one thing from your team are you looking forward to watching?
SS: As a White Sox fan, I want to see the young core grow and produce, and show that they can take the burden off the 30-and-above members of the team. Chris Sale starts are must-see TV, but Dayan Viciedo at-bats need to reach the same status. I eagerly awaited all of his trips to the plate last season, but there need to be less of them that end with my hands on my face, or opening a beer.
SSHG: I am kind of looking forward to seeing just exactly how the pitching staff does with Tyler Flowers as the back stop for the majority of the season. Last season with the number of rookie pitchers, I think AJ got too much credit for helping the guys along. Especially since there was not a huge difference between when he caught a game versus when Tyler caught a game. Not to mention some pitchers in particular seemed to do a LOT better with Tyler than AJ. I am also looking to see whether the projected lineup as it stands now will get better at delaying getting to 27 outs. There are a lot of guys who make outs too easily and if they can somehow learn to delay it better, that would definitely help with making sure this team has a fighting chance of winning more than 80 games in 2013.
My thanks to James and Cheryl for their insights. Of course, a lot of Cardinal fans root for the White Sox, being that "enemy of my enemy" thing, so we'll see how much excitement that side of Chicago has in 2013!
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball