Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011
By Brett Ballantini
SOXFEST, CHICAGO With promises made, extensions granted and spirits higher than at any point World Series parade notwithstandingSoxFest storylines abound. Leave it to CSNChicago.com to corral em all up for you. Lets dive right in and address this seasons phenom:
Danks a lot
Yes, having a Cy Young candidate nibbling his way year-by-year on your ballclub will unnerve even the steeliest of White Sox fans. And just Saturday, GM Ken Williams rocked some mock exasperation in admitting that with regard to locking John Danks up with a multiyear contract, We tried to do that last year and didnt get too far with it. Danks and his representatives are content to take it one year at a time. Well see.
But pull your fingers off the panic buttons, Pale Hose faithful. The displaced Longhorn is plenty happy in the Big Windy.
It isnt a time right now where it matters whether I have a multiyear, Im still here for two more years at least, Danks said. This is where I want to be. Its fun. I have a really good relationship with everybody here. I love the city. Im not really even thinking about being anywhere else.
Without a doubt, Chris Sale has been the talk of SoxFest. As every aspect of the wunderkind hurlers ability and prospects have been pored over, Sale has remained grounded and nonplussed, crediting everyone around him for his rapid ascension to the big leagues. On Saturday, he was marked in his praise for teammates during his rise.
My teammates have always been good to me, Sale said. That means when you pitch, you just have to be confident in yourself. Its always easier to do your job when you only have to worry about pitching, not politics.
Over the weekend, White Sox general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen both recounted stories of seeing footage of Sale in the teams war room and thinking that his grainy college footage looked better than some of the relief pitching they were getting out of their major-league bullpen in early 2010.
In praising Sale during a Saturday seminar, White Sox broadcaster Ed Farmer recounted how Sale had made Minnesota Twins uberhitter Joe Mauer look infantile in their first meeting, having struck the sweet-swinging catcher out on three straight sliders. Williams quickly reproached the former All-Star: Oh! Dont say that.
In comments more definitive than ever, Williams on Saturday indicated that his gut tells him that Sale will begin the season as the White Soxs fifth starter if Jake Peavy isnt ready, but would retreat to the pen upon Peavys return. That would leave lefty reliever Matt Thornton as the logical spring training choice as the teams closer except for the prohibitive fact that Will Ohman would be the only other lefty in the pen to start the season.
Guillen recounted a story about Sale that brought the house down on Saturday: In past meetings, Cleveland Indians slugger Shin-Soo Choo had chided Guillen for always bringing in Thornton to face him for key late-game at-bats. After Sale was brought in to face Choo with Thornton unavailable and the rookie used his otherworldly slider to mow the Wahoos right fielder down, Choo saw Guillen as the teams were leaving the ballpark and asked Guillen to send Thornton in to face him the next time.
During Saturdays early seminar Sox 2.0, White Sox director of player development Buddy Bell recalled talking with Williams before the 2010 draft and hearing the GM opine that Sale should be Chicagos pick because he could help the team before the season was over. Now, I would never call Kenny crazy, Bell admitted, but in saying that, I thought he was crazy. Sale, sharing the stage as one of Chicagos 2.0 stars, looked over at Bell and joked, Thanks, thats great for my confidence.
And finally, lest you think this Rookie of the Year candidate has always had it easy, it was only a few years ago since Sale struggled and worried he might not have a baseball future.
My freshman year in college, I was a reliever, and they had me throwing over the top, he recalled. It wasnt really working for me, and I had a horrible year. Guys were suggesting all sorts of changes grips, arm slot, pitches and I just dropped my arm angle down and it worked. My changeup improved a lot right away, and somehow I managed to come up with whatever I do delivery-wise.
Bacons learning to burn
Depending on the context, it was either an eventful or an uneventful offseason for White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham. But he has returned to Chicago wiser than ever.
Im still trying to find out what I need to be successful in the offseason, but Im figuring it out, Beckham said at the dawn of SoxFest. I was in the weight room four times a week so I stayed strong, but mentally, I got a away from the game. Its been a great offseason for me and the team.
Gordon Beckham isn't changing positions for the first time in a few years and feels the White Sox are poised to help him get off his couch in october. (AP)
That great offseason got off to a bit of a rocky start for Beckham, who admitted that news of the Adam Dunn signing made me very happy, but at the moment I thought it would be, see ya, Paul Konerko, and that saddened me, the third-year infielder said. Paul handles a lot of the things the other guys dont want to do, in terms of media and other obligations. Him being back obviously means a ton in the clubhouse and on the field, but those other jobs he does without complaint wont fall to anyone else, and thats a good thing.
Indeed, thats spoken like a player who will one day be assuming such duties.
Beckham battled through as Jekyll-Hyde a season as youll ever find, coughing his way to a .518 OPS as late as May 21 but climbing almost 200 points to .713 in early September, before a severely bruised hand from a HBP in Cleveland essentially scuttled the rest of his season. While the final numbers underwhelmed a .317 on-base percentage and .378 slugging Beckham earned massive kudos from Williams and Guillen for battling through the worst slump of his life, all while finagling his second position change in as many seasons. And at SoxFest on Saturday, Juan Pierre cut through Beckhams relentless self-deprecation to publicly laud him for his perseverance.
While Beckham held his own defensively, his sole standout number statistically was his 1.2 double play runs above average, and the second sacker promises even better keystone combining ahead.
Its a real challenge communicating, given that shortstop Alexei Ramirez and I dont speak the same language, Beckham said. But you saw over the course of last season we were really working together well and made some fantastic plays. I imagine were going to continue to do that and its only going to happen more often. We have the potential to be an unbelievable defensive infield.
Which, in turn, will lead to the promised land off of Beckhams sofa.
The first goal is to get to the playoffs, and its not easy, he said. Were prepared to be good this year, and were going to go into the season knowing were good and we can just build confidence as the season goes on. Im just praying we play some playoff baseball. Im sick of watching the playoffs every year from my couch.
Ole Man Konerko
Adam Dunn, while just three years younger than Paul Konerko, managed to back his way into a jab at the longtime captain when asked on Friday about the first basemans return to Chicago.
I wasnt surprised, Dunn said. I cant imagine the White Sox without Paul Konerko. My era, growing up not to say hes old but it would be very weird not to see him in a White Sox uniform.
Now, to be sure, Dunn was speaking those words in his slow, sweet drawl, rocking a Brawny look that he characterized as less fashion, more laziness. So dont expect one of baseballs sweetest big brothers to flippity-flap his loose lips into a clubhouse issue: God blessed me with a personality that seems to get along with people. One thing for sure, I dont have trouble mingling with guys.
Relief wunderkind Sergio Santos is back and brash, throwing down his hat into the closers ring and reporting no ill effects of his first major league season.
Im going to prepare myself to be the closer, but if not, I have no problem with setting up, said the linebacker in short relievers clothing. At the end of the day, the main focus is winning games. To me, the sixth inning is just as important as the ninth. Any relief role is an important bridge.
As the illustrious Hawkeroo might say, the Chisox rode Santos hard and put him away wet in his rookie campaign, having sported just 26 minor-league appearances in his career (all in 2009, and just three beyond the AA level) before logging 56 appearances and 51 23 innings in 2010. With a fastball that averaged 95.9 mph, his wonder arm was pressed to its limits.
Ironically, while Santos arm never tired or tightened during the course of 2010, picking up a baseball after time away this offseason was another story.
When I picked a ball back up for the first time after the season, it felt like I was throwing a 20-pound boulder, Santos said with a smile. After a couple of days throwing, it loosened up.
You cant be more flexible in the major leagues than almost seamlessly shifting from a position player (Santos was a stud shortstop coming out of high school) to an ace hurler.
Yeah, I have a year under my belt and know what to expect a little bit more this season, Santos said. Im looking forward to spring training and messing with pitching coach Don Cooper and seeing what we can come up with this year.
Dead cell sells
Can it be considered ironic that a dying cell phone battery may have ensured A.J. Pierzynski two more years of holding court in the clubhouse of U.S. Cellular Field, jabbering about the Florida Gators and fantasy football?
Thats the story the seventh-year White Sox catcher is spinning, and hes sticking to it.
Asked to untangle the weave on Friday, Chicagos favorite Campbell Soup Kid admitted that the White Sox had not only told him goodbye and good luck, but that hed called his mother to tell her he was signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf had asked Pierzynski to give the White Sox a chance to match any offer, and over lunch during the Winter Meetings, Pierzynski agreed to do so.
But Chicago, after signing Dunn and placing Konerko as a higher free-agent priority, was unable to match L.A.s offer to the feisty backstop. Pierzynski found himself on Dec. 3 the day of Dunn hulabaloo at Sox Park running errands with his children, waiting for the Dodgers sign-off on his deal. Eager to know whether hed be spring training near home in Florida and playing his games in Dodger Stadium, Pierzynskis phone started dying, forcing him to cut his errands short in order to recharge.
It was then that Pierzynskis agent called to say the White Sox had made an 11th-hour offer while L.A. was approving his potential deal.
I called Jerry right away, because I needed to know what was going on, Pierzynski said. It was like your life flashing trying to figure out where I was going to be for the foreseeable future.
Once Reinsdorf who Saturday acknowledged that once Dunn was signed he pressed Williams to go all-in and re-ink Konerko and Pierzynski confirmed the two-year, 8 million offer, Pierzynski knew hed be back. The matter of deferred money leaving Williams time to shake coins out of the couch cushions, as the GM says was decided after the fact. The key for the catcher was knowing he could return to the team he loved.
I didnt need to negotiate, Pierzynski said. I knew this was where I wanted to play, and the White Sox knew it, too. It took 10 minutes. Done.
Earning enough pocket change to provide plenty of backup batteries, it seems.
And finally, a word from the Captain
On paper might be rivaling Ozzie roast or Chris Sale as the two most popular words spoken at SoxFest, and leave it to the returning captain to wisely warn against getting carried away by tall tales of stacked Chisox.
The on-paper look which is always dangerous shows were as armed as well as we can be, Konerko said. In no one area is there a big deficiency. We have to get after it in the spring, and then we have to come together as a team, which is always an interesting process.
Right now, every team thinks theyre going to win a World Series. We have a long way to go.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.