Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
As the coals in the hot stove are just beginning to get stoked up, its time to rank the current Chicago White Sox, in order of importance for 2011 and beyond. Its not intended to be a strict list of merely the best players, or best values, on the White Sox. Rather, it takes into account team depth, the free agent market, or answering the question of which player would hurt the most not being on the team?
This is meant as a precursor to longer, individual profiles that will appear on CSNChicago.com between now and the end of the year. Thus the list could take different shape over the coming weeks, due to current players being cut loose or new ones acquired.
Perhaps in a nod to the ever-changing baseball world in which we live in or, more likely, his incendiary talent this years most important White Sox player wasnt even a blip on the radar for the teams fans a year ago.
1. Chris Sale, P
Sale is not the best White Sox player yet. But in just 21 games last season, he established himself as a potential superstar. Hes the most important White Sox player in 2011 because of his flexibility hes a potential starter, setup man, or closer. Talk about a Sale the 21-year-old lefty will fill a crucial slot on the team for peanuts, and for a guy who provided 2.6 million in value (estimated salary values all via FanGraphs) in just his short stint with the club last season, the value of this Sale is immeasurable.
2. Alexei Ramirez, SS
Many naysayers last spring barked and yelped about moving Ramirez back to second base and installing Gordon Beckham at short. Defensively, Ramirez shut those yakkers down with a 10.8 Ultimate Zone (Fielding) Rating (UZR), 14th in baseball and second among shortstops behind Brendan Ryan of the St. Louis Cardinals. Ramirez is arguably the best two-way shortstop in the majors, and sported the fourth-best WAR for shortstops (3.2 on FanGraphs, 3.8 at Baseball-Reference). For a team with a stretched budget, getting 15.2 million in value for 1.1 million (Ramirezs salary in 2010, as well as 2011) is extraordinary and puts Ramirez on the short list of great values in all of baseball.
3. John Danks, SP
Danks tied with fellow rotation mate Gavin Floyd as the 21st-best starter in all of baseball in 2010, giving the White Sox 17.4 million in value at a cost of just his 3.45 million salary. Danks led the White Sox in quality start percentage (66 percent, 13 percent higher than the league average) and pitched more innings (213) than any pitcher on the staff. Doubtlessly the White Sox will pray Danks signs an extension this offseason that buys out some arbitration years and gives them some cost certainty.
4. Gavin Floyd, SP
Floyd had nearly as good a season as Danks and forms the right side of a lefty-righty pairing that should carry the White Sox rotation into at least the middle of the decade. Being a good and righteous soldier, Floyd quickly signed a multiyear offer from the White Sox last March (Danks and Carlos Quentin were offered similar extensions, but refused them), and while the four-year deal escalates healthily, Floyds 17.4 million value well outpaced the 2.75 million he made in 2010.
5. Matt Thornton, RP
Thornton remains a godsend for the White Sox bullpen, and becomes harder and harder to take for granted with every terrific season he has. In 2011, Thornton will be ever more important to the team as its potential closer (the veteran was eight of 10 in save opportunities in 2010, a worse mark than the beleaguered Bobby Jenks, who converted 87 percent). Named an All-Star for the first time, Thornton provided 8.9 million in value (sixth-best among relief pitchers) off his 2.25 million contract and ranked fourth among all relievers with a 3.0 WAR.
6. Alex Rios, OF
Rios 2010 season didnt stack up to the 2007 and 2008 campaigns he put together with the Toronto Blue Jays, but his bounce-back campaign makes him a crucial cog in Chicagos future. Rios rewarded GM Ken Williams for his faith by giving the White Sox 14.8 million in value in 2010, well outperforming his 9.7 million contract.
7. Gordon Beckham, 2B
Continuing Chicagos adherence to the strength up the middle adage is the presence of Beckham, the first player listed here who didnt drastically outperform expectations in 2010. Beckham, in fact, was a bit of a disappointment, with a slow start offensively (he chased his .807 OPS with just a .695, for starters) and injury woes late in the year. He remains a consummate Chisox, with a humble and hard-nosed approach to the game. Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen would like nothing more than to pair Beckham with Ramirez as Chicagos keystone combination for another decade or so.
8. Mark Buehrle, SP
Talk about a guy whos easy to take for granted; this veteran lefty provided the White Sox 15.2 million in value, 32nd in baseball, and cant edge higher than No. 8 on this list. But it is Buehrles very reliability that qualifies him as less important than the other members of the White Sox core. Plus, with a 14 million salary, the lefty, like Beckham, didnt drastically outperform expectations.
9. Sergio Santos, RP
If Santos seems unnaturally high as the ninth-most important White Sox, you may be right. But the second-year fireballer will be counted on for an even more major role in 2011 the best guess being a split of the closer duties with Thornton. For all the hand-wringing over whether Santos can handle closing, the key read is this: He wants to close, and fearlessness plus 95-mph gas could carry him. Even in 2010s setup role, Santos outperformed his contract by some 3.5 million.
10. Jake Peavy, SP
Peavy takes the No. 10 spot as much for what he possibly wont contribute as what he will. With a 16 million salary in 2011, Peavy is almost assured to be Chicagos priciest player and the most expensive fifth starter in the majors. If he manages to continue healing quickly, not miss much of spring training and pick up where he left off in 2010, his excessive contract wont outperform him. But if Peavy is unable to perform, Chicagos hopes for a Central Division title could be crushed under the weight of his deal.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.