Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
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.