Tuesday, November 30, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
With the official opening of baseballs Winter Meetings just a week away and little movement by the Chicago White Sox, heres a peek at the current state of affairs for the 2011 club:
CHICAGO Just one week from the Winter Meetings, White Sox general manager Ken Williams is keeping his plans for the 2011 squad as close to the vest as ever. So close to the vest, in fact, that hes not even admitting yet that he has a plan heading into next week (telling MLBs Scott Merkin, I will expound on any thoughts, ideas, formulation of plan or plans then).
Fine and good, but even Williams would admit that the White Sox are still unsettled in some key areas: catcher, first base, designated hitter and closer, with viable questions at third and in right field, as well as an anticipated surplus of one potential ace-level starter.
Yesterday, Merkin also cited a major-league source who denied the White Sox ever made a formal offer to new Detroit Tiger Victor Martinez, who could have been an ideal fit for the 2011 White Sox. Pale Hose faithful had better hope that, if true, its some kind of face-saving maneuver over being reportedly outbid by just 500,000 per season for a player who could have slipped into either one of the teams gaping needs at catcher and first (likely a bit of both).
Even when Williams could have been expected to mellow down, hes pounced (case in point: Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome in 2006, with the bloom still on the World Series trophy), so the Winter Meetings are indeed Williams time to shine, and even with the omnipresent budget restrictions, the decade-tenured GM generally has excelled. So with that in mind, lets anticipate where Williams fingers will do their walking.
Chisox stalwart A.J. Pierzynskis potential suitors are drying up with recent backstop signings, making the White Soxs gamble in not offering him arbitration (and a salary commensurate to or higher than last years 6.75 million) look smart. However, with Martinezs bolt to Motown and an inviting right-field line to offer, the Boston Red Sox still loom as a promising possibility for Pierzynski. Pierzynski is certain to have to take a pay cut wherever he signs and has further limited his options by desiring teams somewhat near his Florida home (the White Sox being one clear exception).
Williams is definitely in dollar-saving mode with regard to his catchers and is unlikely to top a 3 million offer to his veteran. Turning his back on Pierzynski (and similar players such as Miguel Olivo and Rod Barajas) would be risky, leaving rookie Tyler Flowers and veteran Ramon Castro, right-handers both, to man the dish.
Prediction: Pierzynski returns on a team-friendly deal, 7 million over two years, while Flowers is at the ready in Charlotte.
First BaseDesignated Hitter
Choices abound here even with Martinez off the board (ironically, wooed by Ozzie Guillen compadre and Tigs first baseman Miguel Cabrera), and whoever is acquired at first base will likely see time at DH, or vice-versa. If Williams could get both Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn onto the South Side for 25 million per year combined, the GM could likely get one of his Williams Exceptions from owner Jerry Reinsdorf and raise the clubs payroll.
With the bidding on Dunn expected to start at 15 million a year, that would mean Konerko would have to come back at a cut from his 12 million per season dealnot as farfetched as it might seem, as the Captain is comfortable playing in Chicago and not looking at money as the only, or even main, factor in choosing his next club. (At seasons end, Konerko spent more time discussing, albeit obliquely, what the White Sox needed to do to get back into serious contention in the AL Central than he did his salary demands.) Adding Dunn as a DH1B and contingent tweaks to the roster could get Konerko back and fired up for another two- or three-year run with the White Sox.
Some lower-budget choices are out there in a thick field of first basemen, including slick fielders like Carlos Pena and Derrek Lee. Adam LaRoche is also a consideration. If the White Sox could pull in Dunn along with any of the other first base candidates for 20 million annually, theyd be pleasedand in the case of Pena or LaRoche in combination with Dunn, thats not completely farfetched.
Prediction: Dunn and PenaLaRoche at 1BDH for 23 million annually.
With the money splurged to bring lefty power to the South Side, theres little room left to import a new closer, even after trimming Bobby Jenkss 7.5 million salary. J.J. Putz, who recently declined arbitration, remains a viable option to play the key set-up role in Chicago for a few years to come.
The good news is Williams has stocked the White Sox pen with power arms, including closer candidates Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos. And while the White Sox envision Chris Sale as a longtime rotation member, if injured hoss Jake Peavy is ahead of schedule in his rehab and can start the season in the Chicago rotation, Sale could serve another year in the pen and possibly close for the club as well.
If Sale is in the rotation, whether from April forward or penciled in to sub for an injured or slumping starter, the White Sox will need to find another lefty for the pen, but that inking wont break the bank.
Prediction: Three years, 11 million for Putz. Closer by matchup, split between Thornton and Santos.
Is Brent Morel the 2011 third baseman?
While many (including me) might look at Chicagos third base situation as unsettled, the White Sox were pleased with Morels audition and enters Spring Training as the incumbent starter. The good news is that a number of players, including Mark Teahen, Dayan Viciedo and Omar Vizquel will push Morel for playing time. The bad news? None of the three (or four, including Morel) appear ready both offensively and defensively to provide standout production at the hot corner.
Wheres Carlos Quentin?
Re-signing Andruw Jones to play right field and bumping Q to designated hitter (heartily endorsed on these pages) is a plausible, low-cost plan, but does nothing to add a lefty bat at DH. Quentins relative health and impressive power numbers will earn him a healthy raise in arbitration (5 million?) but must be at least a part-time DH in 2011 if the White Sox hope to field a competitive defensive team. Its been reported that Quentin has been rendered off-limits by the Chisox (as off-limits as any one player can be in a Williams regime), a sign the team still loves Quentin and could ready a long-term deal for him once again (Q rejected the buyout of his remaining arbitration years last spring, as did John Danks).
Whats all the chatter about trading Gavin Floyd?
Preposterous stuff indeed. The White Sox rarely sell low on a player, particularly one with the upside of Floyd. Persistent reports out of Colorado have the White Sox demanding Ian StewartDexter Fowler combination for Floyd, but even those two promising players dont represent the value Floyd brings (and will continue to bring) to the White Sox rotation. Part of the reason Williams is so willing to raid his farm clubs is that his mode of operation is swapping potential for proven playersand has hardly been singed yet in that high-stakes game. One thing he does not do is trade high-value, low-cost, major-league players off his roster.
Floyd as the centerpiece of a Prince Fielder trade? Now that bears the markings of a Williams concoction.
Why does Williams hate the Colorado Rockies?
Aside from the rumors hes swapping his most inexpensive ace to the Rockies, because they just gave shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, a relatively comparable player to Alexei Ramirez, a 20 million per season extension. Ramirez is likely to opt out of the last year of his initial, four-year contract with the White Sox tomorrow and force the club to more than double his salary for 2011, to 2.75 million. Thats still a bargain, so it will be interesting to see if the White Sox lock up the Missile with a stab at, say, five years, 35 million. Ramirez is entering his prime years and has provided almost 25 million in value to the club (per FanGraphs) in the last two seasons alone, so something even beyond that range could prove a bargain for the White Sox.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.