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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In some circles, the perception is the White Sox haven’t done enough this offseason to remain competitive.
The belief is such: Sure, the South Siders spent $53.3 million this offseason to resign pitchers Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd and add reliever Matt Lindstrom and infielder Jeff Keppinger -- but they didn’t resign A.J. Pierzynski.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers, the defending American League champions, brought back Anibal Sanchez and added Torii Hunter to an already-potent lineup. Even last season’s AL Central also-rans, the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals, added Nick Swisher and James Shields to their rosters, respectively.
But while some of White Sox fans are in full-fledged panic mode as spring training begins -- pitchers and catchers report to camp and hold their first workout on Tuesday -- the front office is confident its offseason moves have the team right back where it was last season when the South Siders spent 117 days in first place last season.
That assurance also carries over to the clubhouse, where veteran Paul Konerko believes many of last year’s rookies will improve upon an already strong performance.
“You’re never a finished product, but we certainly have a lot of guys that are still getting better and they were pretty good last year,” Konerko said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. Those teams got better. The Tigers were already a great team…But there’s a general feeling we’ll get through (anything we lack) and we’ll be all right.”
[Related: Konerko opens up about future]
As the White Sox open camp, it’s apparent the club lacks two attributes: Experience at catcher and a third left-handed bat for the lineup. The fact that Pierzynski, who had a career year in 2012 with 27 homers and 77 RBIs, provides both has stuck with some fans. They wanted their World Series hero and resident bad boy back on the roster and understandably so.
But as general manager Rick Hahn has stated repeatedly this offseason, at what cost?
Hahn believes if the White Sox are to contend this season, they need an elite pitching staff to do so. Instead of signing Pierzynski or Kevin Youkiliis, Hahn opted to resign Peavy and Floyd and add Lindstrom to an already strong stable of relievers.
With all the uncertainty that still surrounds last year’s opening day starter John Danks and whether or not he can contribute this season, the White Sox chose to load themselves with arms.
“We’re not really that inclined to make ourselves weaker in that area given the ballpark we play in,” Hahn said. “The differences between a good offensive club and bad offensive club blur a little bit in a hitter’s park. You can really get beat when you have a bad pitching staff or a subpar pitching staff. You need an elite pitching staff to survive in the American League and to survive in our ballpark and we feel we’ve put that together, that one through 12 can compete with anybody.”
But some fans still won’t be appeased by the team’s lack of a left-handed bat.
One report this offseason suggested the Sox had asked the Arizona Diamondbacks about outfielder Jason Kubel, whose bat slipped in the second half of last season. Kubel managed to hit 30 home runs in a hitter-friendly park last season, but his signing would mean the veteran would have to platoon with youngster Dayan Viciedo, a move that perhaps would stunt Viciedo’s growth.
While manager Robin Ventura said he understands why some fans are upset with a perceived lack of moves, he’s happy Hahn chose the path he has. After all, last season the White Sox addressed their needs as they went along with the additions of Youkilis, Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano and have flexibility to do the same in 2013 if needed.
“It’s a fair assessment,” Ventura said. “They’re going to look at spending a lot of money…It doesn’t guarantee anything. But I like the pieces we got. For us, it’s those things. For me, I like that kind of movement rather than just spending money so everyone can say, ‘Oh, we’re excited about spending a lot of money.’ As far as talking with Rick and going over things, spending money wisely. Don’t just spend a lot of money and get people hyped up selling tickets. We want to be better and you want to spend it wisely.”
At SoxFest last month, Hahn also agreed with the assessment of some fans. He knows where they’re coming from and said it’s hard to see an eight-year resident like Pierzynski leave town. But if the team’s pitchers can stay healthy, and given they led the American League in defense last season, Hahn thinks this mix has a strong chance to compete because of their ability to prevent runs.
“All those guys will always have a special spot for each of us, not to mention a guy like A.J. who was with us for eight years and had a tremendous amount of success,” Hahn said. “All of us had that fan reaction when he winds up somewhere else. Ultimately, it’s on us to do what we feel like is the best in terms of maximizing wins over a longer period of time than responding emotionally or with sentimentality. It’s something we are aware of, but it’s not something that drives decision-making as much as what we feel will maximize our wins.”