Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
They don't call the baseball offseason the Hot Stove because it's easy work.
Just ask Ken Williams, who is both one of the longest-tenured (just having completed his 10th year on the job with the White Sox) and most-active (161 trades heading into 2010) general managers in baseball. Williams raises the ante on the hot stove; he's not just an active participant in offseason dealings, he jumps right on top of the stove and starts carnival barking.
With the amoebic nature of the White Sox roster, it's even more natural for fans to slip into Williams' shoes and start putting together "their" Sox each season, yours truly included. That guy who was talking about sending off Paul Konerko and Jose Contreras for Chone Figgins, Reggie Willits and Scot Shields moving Josh Fields to right field and Jermaine Dye to first base -- picking up Juan Pierre before he ever made it out to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first place? That's me, all right.
These days, I'm more fond of dismissing Hot Stove nonsense (Ozzie Guillen, Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin, Gordon Beckham and the entire White Sox bullpen have already been thrown on the BBQ) than making more of it up, according to unnamed sources. But there are a lot of names being tossed out as possible additions for the White Sox this offseason, from Adam Dunn to Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano to Adrian Gonzalez, with few of them practical or possible. So in an effort to get a grasp on the possibilities for the 2011 White Sox, I'll turn back the clock and turn Poetry in Pros into a GM bully pulpit -- at least for today.
Let's establish one thing: The White Sox have no budgetary wiggle room. Considering built-in raises for returning players, all the flexibility the White Sox have to make moves with resides in Konerko's salary slot. There's simply no room to add a 15 million-plus player like Gonzalez or Crawford. So, using a 28-man roster and presuming an identical budget for 2011 (2010's was 109.1 million for the top 28 players), here's a peek at the team I would field if sitting in the hot seat that KW has made his home:
Catcher (6.2 million)
Ramon Castro (1.2 million)
A.J. Pierzynski (4.0 projected salary)
Pierzynski will be coveted, but there's a relatively limited number of teams beyond the White Sox he'd be interested in playing for. There are enough free-agent catchers out there that Williams could get by signing him somewhere in the area of three years and 12 million. Why go three years on Pierzynski after an admittedly disappointing year offensively? Well, Captain Konerko isn't coming back, and I'm appointing A.J. as my new team captain. But the White Sox are also a team in need of strong defense up the middle, and Pierzynski is a key part of that, with a strong catcher's ERA and a better mark at catching base-stealers in 2010 than his career as a whole.
Castro is already back in the fold, chasing one of his strongest seasons yet. Offensively, he was an impact bat; defensively, Castro's arm is superior to Pierzynski's and the veteran is otherwise suitable behind the plate.
Tyler Flowers is a farm option if Pierzynski isn't brought back, but he regressed a season ago and is unlikely to be major-league ready for 2011, even in a backup role.
First Base (12.5 million)
Victor Martinez (11 million projected salary)
Dayan Viciedo (1.5 million)
Konerko doesn't return to the Brett Ballantini White Sox because he's unwanted, but because he has his mind set on playing elsewhere. Everyone from Guillen to Pierzynski to Mark Buehrle seem to be corroborating PK's leaning, so let's not get into whether or not Konerko should come back and at what cost.
There are scores of other options at first. Dunn has been long connected to the White Sox, but he doesn't fit the role of someone who can field the position, a requirement laid down by Williams. There are some possible "bargain buys" out there, including Carlos Pena and Derrek Lee, both of whom could have bounce-back offensive seasons and are dynamite fielders. Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder are possibilities, but will come at a high cost in trade and with no guarantee they would re-sign for 2012.
By far the best option for the White Sox is Martinez. Word is he may be looking only at offers of three years and 33 million, which the White Sox could fit, perhaps offering a sweetener of a fourth year (Martinez would be just 35 in 2014) guaranteed. He's a switch-hitter who's good for solid mid-.800s in OPS for years to come. And his value projected out to 16 million in 2010 in spite of playing just 127 games.
No, Martinez isn't a great catcher, which is why he's listed at first base. But behind the plate he's arguably in Pierzynski's ballpark, and would give Guillen another option behind the plate in case of injury. At first base, Martinez is passable-plus, easily as good in the field as what Konerko gave a season ago.
One key off-field factor in the Martinez signing is the Detroit Tigers, growling about spending big on not one but two big bats for their lineup. The Bengals have Martinez at the very top of their wish list, so snatching away the veteran will leave a more one-dimensional player like Dunn for Detroit.
Viciedo will return to back up at first and third. His bat will heat up enough to force his way into the lineup for stretches, and if not, he'll get another full year of seasoning at the corner spots at Charlotte.
Second Base (1.1 million)
Gordon Beckham (.6 million projected salary)
Brent Lillibridge (.5 million projected salary)
It would be nice to have a more suitable middle-infielder backup than Lillibridge or Omar Vizquel, but right now Lillibridge is the team's only true fit, barring the continued ascent of Eduardo Escobar.
Shortstop (2.8 million)
Alexei Ramirez (2.8 million projected salary)
Even if Ramirez opts out of the last year of his four-year deal and triggers a White Sox option to re-sign him at 2.75 million (which he's expected to do next month), he's the best position player bargain on the White Sox.
Third Base (7.0 million)
Brent Morel (0.4 million projected salary)
Mark Teahen (4.8 million)
Omar Vizquel (1.8 million)
Brent Morel flashed some impressive leather after his September call-up and will most likely be the White Sox Opening Day third baseman in 2011. (AP)
The price tag of this position says way more about its uncertainty as it does its star power.
Teahen is expected to be a roving superutility player splitting time among third, right field, first base and DH, but based on 2010 it might be best that Teahen fill the role of the club's highest-paid reserve.
The job is Morel's to lose, and in spite of raves from both Williams and Guillen, the youngster has less than a month of major league experience and didn't overwhelm offensively.
Vizquel returns as the primary infield backup and mentor. Finally, Viciedo is not completely out of the third base mix, either.
Left Field (5 million)
Juan Pierre (5.0 million)
The Los Angeles Dodgers continue to pay a fair chunk of Pierre's salary, making the quiet team leader an even bigger bargain.
Center Field (12.4 million)
Alex Rios (12 million)
Alejandro De Aza (.4 million)
Rios' contract jumps into eight figures for the first time, which means he must continue to perform at his 2010 level to warrant it.
Right Field (3.0 million)
Andruw Jones (3.0 million projected salary)
Given a choice between re-signing Jones for an optimistic 3 million per season and paying Carlos Quentin some 4 million for 2011, the choice here is Jones -- a plus-fielder who can handle any spot in the outfield and contribute at DH.
Designated Hitter (4 million)
Carlos Quentin (4 million projected salary)
It's do-or-die time for Quentin and the White Sox, and the team owes Q a fair crack at a healthy and productive offensive season by removing him from the field. The prodigious offensive production Quentin gave the White Sox in 2010 was completely eaten up, and then some, by his defensive ineptitude, and the result was just 131 games played and questions about the fierce competitor's future in Chicago. If he sticks with the club in 2011, it must be only wielding a bat.
Starting Pitchers (48.7 million)
Mark Buehrle (14 million)
John Danks (5 million projected salary)
Gavin Floyd (5 million)
Chris Sale (.3 million projected salary)
Edwin Jackson (8.4 million)
Jake Peavy (16 million)
Six starters are listed due to the health of Peavy and the uncertainty surrounding Sale's 2011 role. This is one area where the White Sox have an overabundance, thus in spite of being the strongest White Sox starter in the second half of 2011, Jackson may be on the shopping block.
Relief Pitchers (15.6 million)
Scott Linebrink (5.5 million)
Tony Pena (1.5 million projected salary)
J.J. Putz (4.0 million projected salary)
Sergio Santos (.5 million projected salary)
Matt Thornton (3 million)
Ron Mahay (.8 million)
Gregory Infante (0.3 million projected salary)
Santos and Thornton are locked in for 2011 and could share closing duties. That will create a need for another lefty reliever, suggested here as Ron Mahay, but any number of suitable southpaws would fit the bill. Putz is projected to earn as much as 10 million over two years as a closer elsewhere, but if the White Sox offered 4 million a year, the thinking here is that he'd take it, especially given the chance to set up Thornton if the dominating lefty is the White Sox closer. Pena should easily return in a long-relief role.
The White Sox paid more than 12 million to Linebrink and Bobby Jenks last season. They can slice that disastrous situation in half by letting Jenks walk. Infante is included here as the roster's 28th man, but that could easily be a minimum-salaried position player as well.
Deals I'd pursue in the offseason would be salary relief trades of either Quentin or Jackson. With the emergence of Sale, Jackson is a luxury the cash-strapped Sox don't have to afford, especially if he can be turned into a promising prospect or two. Quentin becomes expendable with the acquisition of Martinez and the presence of multiple DH options could make it easy to swap Q if Jones opts to return to the South Side.
This total budget, with two major subtractions (Konerko and Jenks) and one huge addition (Martinez), projects to 118.3 million. Factor in salary dumps of Jackson and Quentin, and the 2011 budget settles comfortably south of 110 million, with Sale ascending to the fifth starter's role and a DH-by-hot-bat including Viciedo, Teahen, Castro, Pierzynski and Martinez.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.