Sunday, February 20, 2005

No One Said it Would Be Easy: Part Three

This week I’m going to conclude the series I began a little over a week ago in which we’ll take a quick pre-Spring Training look at the Twins’ competition in the AL Central. Two Fridays ago it was the Detroit Tigers, and last Monday I broke down the Cleveland Indians. Today it’s the team that everybody loves to hate, the Chicago White Sox.

Today’s Topic:The Chicago White Sox

Key Acquisitions:
A.J. Pierzynski (C, F.A. from S.F.)
Luis Vizcaino (RP, acq. via trade w/Mil.)
Jermaine Dye (OF, F.A. from Oak.)
Scott Podsednik (OF, acq. via trade w/Mil.)
Tadahito Iguchi (2B, F.A. from Japan)
Orlando Hernandez (SP, F.A. from NYY)
Dustin Hermanson (RP, F.A. from S.F.)

Key Losses:
Carlos Lee (OF, traded to Mil.)
Magglio Ordonez (OF, signed w/Det.)
Jose Valentin (IF, signed w/L.A.)


2004 Season: 83-79 9 GB Twins

Pre-Spring Training Outlook:
The Pale Hosers from the South Side have been one of the biggest conundrums in baseball the past few years. On paper they’ve always been impressive with plenty of power hitters, an impressive starting rotation, and what should be a solid bullpen. However, each year they find a new way to lose to the Twins.

In 2005 the shoe is on the other foot. The Sox finally realized the sit-back and wait-for-the-three-run-homer approach wasn’t working. So oft-maligned G.M. Kenny Williams used this past off-season to revamp his roster to better reflect the managerial style of Ozzie Guillen. Gone are big boppers Lee, Mags, and Valentin; taking their place are speed-and-contact hitters like Pierzyski, Podsednik, and Iguchi. Dye, with 23 homers in 2004, is arguably the team’s greatest power threat behind Paul Konerko.

Williams also sought to emulate the Twins’ success by building a deep starting rotation. In addition to returnees Mark Buehrle (16-10, 3.89 ERA in 245.1 IP), Freddy Garcia (3.81 ERA), Jon Garland (12-11, 4.89 ERA), and Jose Contreras, the Sox signed Orlando “El Douque” Hernandez to a two-year, $8 million contract. Personally, I think it is foolhardy to give a pitcher pushing 40 (he’s technically listed at 35 years old, although few actually believe that number) 8 million dollars for 15 starts with moderate success. Yet, that is exactly what the ChiSox did. If healthy, El Douque could conceivably stretch his 2004 numbers (3.30 ERA, 8.9K/9IP) but that is a tremendously HUGE “if”. His signing was a big risk for Williams, one that could prove invaluable or could just be a big waste of money.

Despite the latter situation being more likely in the case of Hernandez, this rotation is still pretty decent. Buehrle and Garcia form a very solid 1-2 punch, and Garland could emerge as a respectable number three guy. I’m not very high on Contreras despite his terrific stuff. He has to prove that he can succeed consistently at this level before I give him any credit.

The White Sox bullpen falls under the classic category of “good-but-not-great”. Shingo Takatsu (19 for 20 in save opportunities last year) is the rare closer who gets the job done without an overwhelming fastball. Williams was smart to get Vizcaino in the Carlos Lee trade, as the Dominican flamethrower has an excellent arsenal of pitches. Damaso Marte is also one of the premier bullpen lefties in the league and always pitches well against the Twins. Hermanson had a good year in San Francisco last year, even serving as their closer for a spell, although his upside is limited.

Prediction:

While you have to admire the Sox for realizing their flaws and moving on, this team doesn’t have the players to finish ahead of both the Twins and Indians in the division. While the Twins have been perfecting their “good pitching and small ball” approach for the past four years, the White Sox seem to believe they can simply bring in a motely collection of assorted ballplayers, throw them on the field together, and win. It doesn’t work like that. The White Sox don’t stand out in one particular area, and have neither the offense nor starting pitching to win the Central in ’05. I’m predicting a .500 record and third or fourth place finish in the division.

Next up: the Kansas City Royals

-Ryan Maus
twinsfan21@msn.com

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