Sunday, May 06, 2007

White Sox Preview

I'd love to cover about 3 different stories from this weekend, but they'll need to wait because GameDay's Dugout Splinters are due tomorrow. For today, we'll run with a preview of the next team to come to town, the Chicago White Sox.

The Offseason

Going into the offseason, the White Sox were perceived as needing to fill some holes in their offense in order to give a core group of players that was in danger of moving beyond their playing primes another chance at a champioship. Maybe more challenging, they needed to do so without increasing their payroll significantly, in part because it had surged up and extra $30 million after the team won the 2005 World Series. It didn’t happen, and by the end, White Sox GM Kenny Williams was under significant fire for moves that emphasized pitching over offense, and future performance over present competition.

He certainly seemed to start well enough. The one thing the White Sox could afford to move, both in terms of talent and payroll, was a member of their expensive starting pitching core. After all, the White Sox had fireballer Brandon McCarthy stuck in long relief last year because they couldn’t find room for him in the rotation. When the Phillies expressed interested in pitcher Freddy Garcia, who was scheduled to make $10 million this year, Williams was well on his way to solving his problem.

Except that the White Sox didn’t get the offense they needed in the trade. Instead, they got back a minor leaguer that they had traded away the year before in the Jim Thome deal, and Gavin Floyd, a 24-year-old starting pitcher who had bounced back and forth between Philly and (AAA) Scranton for the last two years.

And that wasn’t the trade that really had everyone scratching their heads.

That distinction belongs to the second big trade the White Sox made. Remember McCarthy, who was going to step into the rotation to replace Garcia? Well, he’s in the rotation, but it’s the Texas Rangers rotation, because he was traded for yet another minor league starting pitcher. They received John Danks, who was the shiniest bauble in the Rangers minor leagues, but he still only had a half-year in AAA under his belt. Suddenly he and Floyd were the leading contenders for the fifth spot in the rotation.

The White Sox had gone from having six starting pitchers to having four, and they still hadn’t filled the offensive hole in center field. And while they had started restocking a minor league system that they had previously depleted in trades, they hadn’t done anything to help this group of players get back to the offseason.

And so Sox fans waited for the big free agent signing and it finally came in the person of – Darin Erstad? The 32-year-old fits Ozzie Guillen’s scrappy mold, but he also spent most of last year injured, and hasn’t been much of an offensive asset since 2004. They got him for a great price, and he’s been well-received, but when a guy has a incentive clause written into his contract for winning ‘Comeback Player of the Year’, you can understand that fanst might not be overly excited about him.

What’s Not Working

In Williams’ defense, despite some holes, the White Sox offense wasn’t a problem last year. After all, they finished third in the American League with 868 run, 67 more runs than the Twins. Unfortunately it’s a completely different story. The White Sox are last in the American League in offense, and it threatens to be the facet that keeps them out of the postseason. For instance, Jermaine Dye was a legitimate contender for MVP last season. This year, all anyone can talk about is his struggles (.217 BA, 757 OPS).

And he’s the top of the class.

Paul Konerko has been even more disappointing (.204, 657). Twins fans are upset about the start of Nick Punto (.231, 628), so you can imagine how apoplectic Sox fans are about the brutal start of third baseman Joe Crede (.208, 536). Our old friend AJ Pierzynski just had a big game this weekend, but his production (.227, 719) is still down from the rest of the season. (And, of course, he’s also only thrown out 3 of 15 stolen base attempts. If the Piranhas get on base this series, you can expect some fireworks.)

In the beginning of the season, there were some White Sox that were hitting, but they’re hurt. Jim Thome was on fire, but has been on the DL with a rib cage injury since the end of April, so the Twins won’t need to worry about him slugging the ball over the baggy. And they won’t need to worry about Scott Podsednick running rampant on the base paths, because he’s laid up with a strained abductor muscle.

What’s Working

All that, and this team is still a .500 ballclub? Yep.

They’re still solid defensively. Their starting rotation has been fairly average, with the exception of a huge huge bounce-back season by Mark Buehrle. Their bullpen has been excellent, with Bobby Jenks doing a great job of closing out games (and more importantly, staying healthy). When the offense gets healthy and back on track (and it will, they just are not this bad), this team is going to be truly scary.

Twins fans need to hope it doesn’t happen this week.

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