White Sox BBQ: Peering into the 2011 crystal ball

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White Sox BBQ: Peering into the 2011 crystal ball

Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
9:05 AM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

With rumors, whispers, and "team sources" ever swirling through the offseason, turn to the BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check. With the addition of Adam Dunn and after getting A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko back in the fold, what's ahead for Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams? Williams interrupted his victory lap after his bounteous week long enough to peer into 2011's crystal ball. Let's look with him:

So, Williams said the White Sox budget is tapped out. So, no Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre?

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf's heart just skipped a beat. No, there is no room for a big-ticket item any longer. Williams consistently went to the c-word on Wednesday: 'creative.' That's Chisox code for, it's time to trade, not sign.

Isn't the roster pretty well complete anyway?

For all practical purposes, it is. The team as it stands heads onto the field in 2011 with the same lineup as a year ago: Pierzynski-Konerko-Gordon Beckham-Alexei Ramirez-Brent Morel-Juan Pierre-Alex Rios-Carlos Quentin, with new addition Dunn at DH. Pencil in reserves Brent Lillibridge (middle infieldoutfield), Ramon Castro (catcher), Mark Teahen (corner infieldcorner outfield), and Omar Vizquel (2B3BSS), with one more Charlotte Knights addition to fill out the player roster. The healthy rotation will be Mark Buehrle-Jake Peavy-John Danks-Gavin Floyd-Edwin Jackson and the short men in the pen are Matt Thornton-Chris Sale-Sergio Santos-Tony Pena. That leaves an opening for a long reliever (say, Lucas Harrell), a righty short man (say, Gregory Infante), and a lefthander to be named later.

So, yeah, there's not a lot to have to add. Might Williams create some budgetary wiggle room by flipping a Teahen or, pending Peavy's prognosis heading toward spring, Jackson, for a less expensive major-leaguer? You bet. But overall, he can shop at the dollar store for a reliable lefty short man (Thornton mentor Arthur Rhodes, anyone?) and field a team within his overall budget.

We've heard for years that, even as payroll increases, the White Sox are generally a hand-to-mouth organization. What got into the Chairman that made him bloat the budget by 15 million?

As Williams said on Wednesday: "Jerry Reinsdorf is a very competitive man and wants to win a championship, and it's our job to put together as good of a club as we can to accomplish those goals."

Reinsdorf is also fiercely loyal, leading to rumors (officially denied) that he applied some pressure late Tuesday to secure Konerko's return. Kong himself said, "I respect the man, and he's treated me nothing but good the whole way through. Jerry is a very loyal guy, and honestly over the years there would be 20 guys he would keep if it all worked out right. I know it kills him when he has to let someone go that he likes."
Any truth to the notion that the 2011 White Sox could have been a new version of The Kids Can Play?

Not really. As much as Williams may have thrown his conviction between his unrealized second plan for the team (going young), it would have been hard to shift in that direction completely given the hefty contracts held by players like Peavy and Buehrle.

Is Bobby Jenks gone for good?

No, but the window is cracked only a sliver. Jenks would have to return on a team-friendly deal, something in the ballpark of Pierzynski's two years, 8 million. Had Pierzynski not re-upped, perhaps that budget slot could have been applied to a Jenks return. As it stands, the Pale Hose would do better with a lefty arm more in the range of 1-2 million.

That's fine, but who's gonna close?

"We start at a great place because we have two of the best left-handers in the game, we think Sale and Thornton," Williams said. "We have one of the more emerging guys in Sergio Santos, and you saw that last year."

Expect White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to choose from among those three - or perhaps some combination of the trio - to close games out. Williams on Wednesday speculated that either Thornton or Sale would finish games, and specifically noted that the White Sox were not in the market for a closer.

What's the haps with Peavy?

Unconfirmed reports have Peavy ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from his muscle tear, but the White Sox will be cautious regarding his return - especially because it was Peavy's own push to continue pitching through discomfort at midseason that may have triggered the tear.

Williams dismissed the idea of holding a stopwatch to his righty fireballer: "I don't put on timetables. You know what happens when you put timetables on? You media get around the guy and every day it's, 'how are you doing? or aren't you coming back on this day or this week?' It puts pressure on the guy and he's not allowed to go out there when he's actually ready."

So if Peavy's not ready and Sale is committed to the bullpen, who's the fifth starter?

Early-season off-days make a fifth man somewhat inessential, but there's always the option of inserting Pena or a Charlotte starter (Harrell) as needs be. As much as rumors have floated around about peeling off one of his elite five horses, Williams is in every way depending - as he hoped to last year - on the starters pitching deep into games and alleviating pressure on the bullpen, not the other way around. Or, put another way, says Williams: "I don't want to get into subtracting from the major league roster if I can help it."
Are there any positional battles left?

Well, if one exists, it's at the hot corner, where the Chisox's oddballs and ephemera collect. Morel is clearly the incumbent third baseman in spite of just a three-week audition last September. Both Williams and Guillen have raved about Morel's defense, which was standout in the minors. At the plate, Morel's numbers were less than tasty, but the rookie battled through a number of at-bats, which the brain trust found promising.

Additional options abound should Morel regress. Teahen was acquired a year ago and inserted at third, with an extension to boot, and he promptly spit the bit with the starting assignment, fumbling in the field before a misplayed grounder turned into a fractured finger that knocked him out for a couple of months. Vizquel stepped in ably to substitute for Teahen, but as Guillen said at the Winter Meetings on Monday, if Vizquel is a regular in 2011, "we're in trouble." (That's not a dis on Vizquel as much as commentary that Plan A will have again collapsed). Finally, with Konerko back and Dunn in to sub at first, Dayan Viciedo will lose his first-base reps with the big club and will move back across the infield to compete for playing time.

The Minnesota Twins were awfully quiet at the meetings. Have the White Sox closed the gap?

To be fair, the Twins had quite a lead on the White Sox coming in, and will have two of their three best players, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan, presumably back at full health for 2011. This question merits a much longer answer in a future piece, Dunn could well match or surpass the best output of Morneau (or, in his stead, more kill-with-kindness heroics from Jim Thome). Minnesota could also well lose their No. 2 starter (Carl Pavano) and two bullpen mainstays (Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier) in free agency.

The White Sox have closed the gap. Have they sewn up the hole completely? Not without further defections from the Twin Cities. And not before the team culture supports the notion that it's not only OK to punch Minny back in the mouth, but sometimes even throw the first roundhouse.
So after Pierzynski and Dunn deferred money in their contracts in order to pull Konerko back to the White Sox, what's Paulie going to say when he sees the two at SoxFest?

How about: Boys, I'm buying.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Preview: Chris Sale starts for White Sox against Rays tonight on CSN+

Preview: Chris Sale starts for White Sox against Rays tonight on CSN+

The White Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN+. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (16-9, 3.19 ERA) vs. Alex Cobb (1-1, 6.16 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.

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James Shields gets first win in two months as White Sox beat Rays

James Shields gets first win in two months as White Sox beat Rays

James Shields’ time with the White Sox has not gone well. But Monday night was one of the bright spots, and it came against his former team.

Shields allowed just one run in his six innings of work against the visiting Tampa Ray Bays — with whom he spent the first seven seasons of his career — and earned his first win since July 26 as the White Sox opened this four-game set with a 7-1 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.

Shields didn’t exactly keep the Rays off the bases Monday, running into jams with multiple base runners on in four of his six innings. But he did keep them off the scoreboard, for the most part, getting some help from his defense with a couple double plays. He finished allowing just one run on seven hits with six strikeouts over his six innings.

The win was his first in two months after a brutal August — six starts with four losses and an 11.42 ERA — and a couple of rough outings in September. It was Shields’ sixth victory on the season and fourth since joining the White Sox compared to 18 losses on the season, 11 coming with the White Sox.

“I had a few chances my last few starts to get some wins, but sometimes those things happen,” Shields said. “I’m just trying to finish the season strong right now. Body feels good, arm feels good, so hopefully I can get another win on Saturday to end my season and move into next year.”

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With just one more start on his schedule in the season’s final week, Shields won’t lose a visually upsetting 20 games. Avoiding that number might not make losing 18 or 19 much easier for fans and observers to swallow, but teammates understand what Shields has gone through this season.

“I think we’ve all been through it once or maybe even twice in our career. He works his butt off, though,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “He looks at film. He watches everything he’s doing. To come out with the strong outing today, even in the first inning, getting two runners on and getting out of that jam, it goes to show you his resilience. Whenever he got runners on, he looked relaxed and induced a lot of ground balls which we needed.”

Certainly Shields’ teammates picked him up Monday. The two double plays while he was in the game were just half the infield’s total on the night, two more coming in the seventh and eighth, when Tommy Kahnle and Nate Jones put the first two hitters they faced on in each frame. But the double plays helped end those threats and keep the Rays down.

The White Sox struck first with a run in the first inning, Melky Cabrera scoring on Justin Morneau’s sacrifice fly. After the Rays tied it up in the fourth with an RBI single, the White Sox punched back, Frazier doubling, stealing third base and scoring on Omar Narvaez’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of that inning.

And as Shields and the relief corps danced out of jams, the White Sox added to their score. Jose Abreu singled in a run in the fifth, but it was a pair of two-run homers off the bats of Morneau and Carlos Sanchez in the seventh and eighth innings that provided the real insurance.

The win was the third straight for the White Sox, something that while positive won’t provide much solace in a season where competing for a playoff spot is a distant memory.

But, like Shields finishing his season strong, White Sox players in general can create individual momentum for each of their offseasons and into next year with good finishes to 2016.

“We want to end on a positive note,” Frazier said. “Everybody wants to meet their goals. Baseball is the most individualistic team sport there is. You have to have your individual goals just like your team goals, and our team goals are out the door right now. You don’t want to play for yourself, but at the same time play for your pitcher a little bit and help him out.”