Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011
Posted: 9:56 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox InsiderFollow @CSNChi_Beatnik
With just 23 games remaining and eight games back, manager Ozzie Guillen and GM Ken Williams might not want to admit it, but the Chicago White Sox are playing for second place this September, rather than challenging the first-place Detroit Tigers.
But as never is the case, theres much more to play for than just first runner-up in the AL Centralthe Pale Hose have a number of issues to resolve as they point toward a 2012 season where they hope All-In will play like more than a catch phrase.
How different will the 2012 White Sox look?
Honestly, not much. Going All-In for 2011 largely pulls 2012 along with it, as the White Sox have little salary to shedChicago is already committed to an 89 million payroll, and thats for just 11 players. Letting Mark Buehrle and Juan Pierre leave could push the payroll down a spot from this years, but truly, All-In was a two-year commitment.
But didnt owner Jerry Reinsdorf lose a ton of money this year?
The White Sox will certainly fall well short of the 2.6-2.8 million fans the Chairman felt he needed to draw to break even on the season, given 128 million payroll, the biggest in White Sox history.
But All-In wasnt just born from Williams desire to spend money or Reinsdorfs to waste itthe owners thinking is that with time not getting any shorter, its time to commit to a World Series contender more strongly than ever. So you shouldnt hear much handwringing or poormouthing from the executive suite at U.S. Cellular Field.
Who could be dealt, to improve the team, trim payroll, or both?
Theres no deal that will do both; any payroll trim will come at the cost of young talent inserted as a sweetener or in a straight dump by cutting a player, which is ulikely to happen on Reinsdorfs watch.
The closest area of expendability comes in right field, where Carlos Quentin will see a significant raise on his 5.5 million salary in his final year of arbitration. Dayan Viciedo is ready to supplant CQ in right field, but theres nothing that says the two sluggers couldnt both occupy corner spots next season.
Big-ticket items like Jake Peavy (17 million), Adam Dunn (14 million) and Alex Rios (12.5 million) are untradeable, unless the White Sox want to eat half of any of those contracts or wedge a prime prospect into the deal. And they dont have enough prime prospects for wedging.
Who has the inside track for No. 5?
One of the interesting battles shaping up in September involves Phil Humber and Zach Stewarts fight for the fifth spot in the 2012 rotation. But that presupposes a number of things.
One, the White Sox would be smart to re-up Buehrle for whatever contract length he desires. Every season of his recent four-year, 56 million deal hes given the White Sox more value than hes been paid in salary.
Two, presuming Matt Thornton returns, Chris Sale is ticketed for the starting rotation, destined to flabbergast far more batters with his changeup as a starter than a reliever.
But if it came down to Humber battling Stewart, spring training efforts pending, Humber has earned the spot. He was the most dominant starter for the White Sox in the first half of 2010, and while wholly speculative, it wasnt until the team decided he needed to be skipped in the rotation in July that trouble started brewingin his first 15 starts, Humber sported an amazing 60.5 game score, while over his last seven, hes fallen to 43.7.
The closers job is absolutely Sergio Santos to lose. Yes, the first-timer has had a few notable flameouts and sports an .848 (28-for-33 save percentage, lower than that of Bobby Jenkss .871 (27-for-31) in 2010. But Santos has peripherals that put even Jenks, an experienced closer, to shame, including just 8.3 percent of inherited runners scoring (13 percent for Jenks) and 1.80 average leverage (pressure) faced (1.737 for Jenks).
And even if Sale doesnt join the starting rotation, theres little evidence he should supplant Santos as the teams closer. The leftys save percentage is mere points higher (.857 in just seven chances) and his inherited runners scoring (22.6 percent) and first batter average (.122 for Santos, .292 for Sale) is far superior.
Dayan Viciedo is ready to start every day in 2012, but will he be replacing Carlos Quentinin right field or can the two sluggers occupy both corner outfield spots? (US PRESSWIRE)
If anything, Santos has faltered most when inserted in traditional closing roles, like starting the ninth. The young fella thrives on high-leverage pitching, where there is less time to think and more to simply erase the hopes of batters. Something for the Chicago brain trust to grow on for 2012.
Which kids can play?
As the White Sox continue to attempt challenging for a Central crown in 2012 with a mix of veterans and young guns, the second half of the season, and September in particular, has been telling for the White Sox.
Tyler Flowers, Alejandro De Aza, and Viciedo all appear to be ready to contribute solidly to Chicago in 2012, if not as starters, as key contributors. Of the young players with the White Sox all season, Brent Morel has leapfrogged Gordon Beckham offensively, but both are slinging leathersomething that would have overshadowed their offensive woes had players like Dunn and Rios performed to expectations in 2011.
There may not be a fountain of youth on the White Sox, but theres a trickle, and if all things are equal with the teams vets, theres a wave of complimentary players who can aid a pennant push in 2012.
Does 2012 promise hope, or horror?
As usual, it depends on your perspective. From a sheer talent standpoint, there is tons of room for optimism.
But from a shifting-on-the-fly managerial standpointand that goes for field managing and general managing alikethere is reason for despondency. Because the same solutions that could be found in 2012the De Azas, Humbers and Viciedos of the clubwere solutions available in 2011 to rescue a lost season, as well.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.