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2008 Chicago White Sox
Stuck in the Middle with You 2008 Spring Preview
by Keith Glab,
March 27, 2008

The White Sox won a World Series in 2005 with pitching and defense, but a lackluster offense. The 2006 team increased run production by 127, but allowed 149 more runs to score, dropping nine games in the standings and missing the playoffs. 2007 was a nightmare in which neither the offense nor the defense played well. Suddenly with many holes to fill, plus and little minor league talent to work with, general manager Kenny Williams did what he could to restore the Sox to their former winning ways.

2007 Standings - AL Central W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA Pyth W Pyth L
Cleveland Indians 96 66 0.593 - 52-29 44-37 811 704 91 71
Detroit Tigers 88 74 0.543 8 45-36 43-38 887 797 89 73
Minnesota Twins 79 83 0.488 17 41-40 38-43 718 725 80 82
Chicago White Sox 72 90 0.444 24 38-43 34-47 693 839 67 95
Kansas City Royals 69 93 0.426 27 35-46 34-47 706 778 74 88

Clearly, he didn’t have enough material to fix everything, so most people figured that he would concentrate on pitching and defense, the elements that won him fleeting glory throughout Chicago. In a way, he did. He addressed a bullpen with a 28th-ranked 5.47 ERA by signing Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel. He shored up the infield defense by trading for Orlando Cabrera, a shortstop with an excellent defensive reputation. Unfortunately for the Sox, Cabrera’s defense doesn’t actually represent an upgrade from Juan Uribe at shortstop, and in trading workhorse Jon Garland to acquire Cabrera, the team now features one of the shallowest starting rotations in the American League.

It’s some consolation that the White Sox were able to upgrade on offense, both via Cabrera and in adding Moneyball protagonist Nick Swisher. But as with Cabrera, the price for Swisher was high: arguably the Sox’ three best prospects in Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney, and Fautino De Los Santos. The fourth best, Chis Carter, was dealt earlier in the winter for another offensive upgrade in Carlos Quentin. Now, for the team to make additions, they either need to throw more money at mediocre free agents or hope that a team is willing to give trade value for Chicago’s declining, overpriced veterans.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Nick Swisher OF
Octavio Dotel RHP
Scott Linebrink RHP
Carlos Quentin OF
Orlando Cabrera SS
Alexei Ramirez IF/OF
Departed Pos.
Rob Mackowiak IF/OF
Jon Garland RHP
David Aardsma RHP
Scott Podsednik LF
Darin Erstad CF/1B
Luis Terrero OF
Alex Cintron IF
Andy Gonzalez IF/OF
2007 Starter    A.J. Pierzynski
Projected 2008 Starter   A.J. Pierzynski

Toby Hall was supposed to serve as Pierzynski’s platoon partner last year, but sat out with a shoulder injury most of the year. Ironically, A.J. gave easily his best performance against southpaws for his career: a .716 OPS against them that boosted his career mark to only .637. Unfortunately, he only managed a .710 OPS against righties last year, well below his usual production. His overall offense and defense remain below average for a catcher, but because Pierzynski represents such an upgrade over the White Sox’ catcher situation since the days of Carlton Fisk and Officer Ron Karkovice, the Sox are pleased to overpay the controversial catcher.

First Base
2007 Starter   Paul Konerko
Projected 2008 Starter   Paul Konerko

Like every 2007 White Sox player not named Rob Mackowiak, Paul Konerko fell short of his Predicted OPS. Konerko was actually second on the team with an .897 PrOPS, which would have been right in line with what he had accomplished the previous three seasons. Expect an OPS around .900 this year, with a chance at a career high in RBI, depending upon where he hits in relation to on-base maniacs Nick Swisher, Carlos Quentin, and Jim Thome.

White Sox Trivia
What White Sox pitcher besides Ed Walsh has exceeded Javier Vazquez’ 2007 total of 213 strikeouts in a single season?
(Answer Below)
Second Base
2007 Starters   Tadahito Iguchi, Danny Richar
Projected 2008 Starters   Juan Uribe, Danny Richar

2007 Starter   Juan Uribe
Projected 2008 Starter   Orlando Cabrera

So Cabrera isn’t an upgrade defensively over Uribe, but will the defense at second improve? Probably so. Moving someone with a shortstop’s range to second base can lead to great defense; just ask Craig Counsell or Pokey Reese. If Uribe can’t handle the transition for some reason, Richar will be back by May, Alexei Ramirez and Pablo Ozuna aren’t terrible options, and nominal prospect Chris Getz is nearly ready.

Surprise Candidate
Carlos Quentin
Likely to out-perform all of the Diamondbacks’ outfielders if he gets enough playing time
Disappointment Candidate
Orlando Cabrera
Ideally, empty-average hitters have career batting averages above .273
Offense could be another story. Uribe is hitting nearly .400 this spring, but he’s always been a batter who could get real hot for a couple of weeks, then go hitless for a month. Ozzie Guillen has said that he will not be patient with Uribe, which makes sense given the depth behind him. None of those other options project to be great, but it’s difficult to see them performing worse than last year’s montage.

While Orlando Cabrera’s overall numbers from last season look solid, his impotent second half won him the American League’s third annual Mark Redman Award. He’ll certainly hit a few extra dingers at US Cellular, but that could ultimately net him the Kingman Award-type of offense the Sox are used to getting from Uribe. That’s bad news, as the Sox are stocked with Kingman candidates, and are leaning towards hitting Cabrera at the top of the order.

In all, middle infield was an area that should have been easy to upgrade offensively and maintain defensively. Not only did the Sox not accomplish that convincingly, but they gave an untradeable $4.5 million contract to Uribe and dealt away their third best starter in the process of treading water.

Third Base
2007 Starters   Josh Fields, Joe Crede
Projected 2008 Starters   Joe Crede, Josh Fields

Speaking of untradeable, that’s what Joe Crede is until he proves that he can stay healthy and productive for more than a day or two. Hence, one of the Sox’ most exciting young players begins the season in Triple-A, where he has absolutely nothing to prove. Perhaps Crede will have a decent stretch and lure some desperate/incompetent GM to bite on him, but you’d have to think that Brandon Inge has more trade value at this point. Most likely, the Sox are going to eventually need to throw Crede on the DL (whether he’s injured or not) and just let Fields develop.

2007 Starters Jermaine Dye, Jerry Owens, Scott Podsednik, Darin Erstad
Projected 2008 Starters Jermaine Dye, Nick Swisher, Carlos Quentin, Brian Anderson, Jerry Owens

Cy Young Candidate
Javier Vasquez
A weakened crop of AL Starters gives Javy a legitimate shot
Kingman Candidates
Juan Uribe
Joe Crede
Josh Fields
Jermaine Dye
Big, big upgrade. Swisher is a 30-homer certainty and a 40-homer threat at the Cell. More importantly, he teams with Jim Thome to possibly give them two .400+ OBP players for the first time since 1996. You can make that three if Quentin approaches his minor league numbers. The Jermaine Dye re-signing was completely unexpected – owner Jerry Reinsdorf had said privately that he would not ink him weeks before he signed the check – and none-too-bright. But he can’t possibly play worse than he did last year, as his .854 PrOPS can attest to.

Ah, centerfield. Most people probably forgot that perennial offensive bust Brian Anderson was still on the team. His hot spring combined with Owens’ groin tear makes him the main man in center again. I would need to see him hit a curveball before I believe that he should be anything other than a backup. Owens hit .340 last September, which is promising, but hardly a slam dunk. Swisher played a surprisingly competent centerfield last year, and probably won’t be used there this season as often as he should be.

Designated Hitter
2007 Starter   Jim Thome
Projected 2008 Starter   Jim Thome

Jim Thome

Thome had one hell of the year while the rest of the Sox’ offense took three months to warm up. Unfortunately, Thome was only able to start 124 games, and the Sox had a miserable .368 winning percentage when he wasn’t in the starting lineup. He’ll miss time again this year, but whoever isn’t playing the outfield between Quentin, Swisher, and Dye on a given day can take over at DH and give the Sox a fighting chance whenever big Jim needs to rest. That added depth is huge.

2007 Crew Rob Mackowiak, Andy Gonzalez, Alex Cintron, Luis Terrero, Toby Hall
Projected 2008 Bench; Alexei Ramirez, Pablo Ozuna, Danny Richar Toby Hall

White Sox Fun Fact
Paul Konerko has not tripled in 1,165 games, spanning nearly eight seasons. His last three-bagger came May 16, 2000, off El Duque, splitting now-retired outfielders Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill.
Andy Gonzalez provides a great illustration of what went wrong last season. 189 at bats went to a nobody with a minor league OPS of .713. Naturally, he responded with a .185 batting average and .529 OPS in the majors, coupled with piss-poor defense at third base, where he spent the majority of his time. He even managed just one stolen base in six attempts. The Sox’ offense will take a huge step forward this season because their depth will prevent guy like Gonzalez from seeing significant time.

Most scouts see Alexei Ramirez as a utility player, although Sox scouts must have been more impressed, and Ramirez has enjoyed a productive spring. He leads a still-uninspired bunch of infielders, but the aforementioned outfield depth should prevent guys like Ramirez and Ozuna from wasting too much time out there.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Mark Buehrle, Javier Vasquez, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, John Danks, Gavin Floyd
Projected 2008 Starters Mark Buehrle, Javier Vasquez, Jose Contreras, John Danks, Gavin Floyd

Mark Buehrle
The Sox went 37-100 when someone other than Mark Buehrle or Javier Vazquez took the mound. The-Vasquez-and-Buehrle-then-someone-who-throws-girly show escalates with the absence of Mr. Mediocre, Jon Garland. Contreras, Danks, and Floyd would each kill to have mediocre seasons. Of these three, Floyd has the best chance for success (3.41 ERA and 3:1 K/BB ratio in his last six starts), although the team is really putting too much stock in two decent starts he made against Detroit late last year. Between Charlie Haeger, Lance Broadway, and Jack Egbert, the Sox should be able to have a young pitcher take the next step forward and replace the least productive of their 3-4-5 starters. That still wouldn’t amount to nearly enough starting pitching, unless Chicago continues its remarkable run of healthy rotations.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Bobby Jenks, Mike MacDougal, Matt Thornton, Boone Logan, Ehren Wasserman, Nick Masset, David Aardsma, Ryan Bukvich
Projected 2008 Relievers Bobby Jenks, Scott Linebrink, Octavio Dotel, Mike MacDougal, Matt Thornton, Boone Logan, Ehren Wasserman

The bullpen actually helped keep the White Sox above water for the first month of the season. Through May 6th, the unit had allowed just 68 hits, four homers, and 37 walks in 82 innings, leading to a 7-3 record, 3.29 ERA, and .229 BAA. From May 8th through June 24th, they allowed 140 hits, 14 homers, and 66 walks in 98.2 innings, leading to a 2-11 record, 8.12 ERA, and .337 BAA. David Aardsma embodied this split, transforming from baseball’s most dominant reliever in April into the most inept one afterwards.

The bullpen is still teeming with as many upper-90s relievers as last year, even with Aardsma in Boston and Andrew Sisco in Charlotte. Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel now join this flame-throwing pen. Dotel has more risk and upside, while Linebrink figures to be a lock for a solid ERA in the 3.50-4.00 range. Wasserman and Haeger could be the real keys here, as the submariner and knuckleballer provide stark changes of pace from the rest of the group. Overall, this bullpen has to be better than last year’s and may even become a strength.

Outlook for the Season

Trivia Answer
Gary Peters fanned 217 batters in 1967. Big Ed Walsh had four seasons with over 250 strikeouts.
A middle-of-the-order featuring Quentin, Swisher, Thome, Konerko, and Dye will be potent indeed. It will need to be in any game that Buehrle or Vasquez does not start. The White Sox are essentially a leadoff hitter and two quality starters away from being a force in the American League. The pitching’s tough to come by, but can anyone figure out why they haven’t signed Kenny Lofton?

The White Sox finished with 80-86 wins between both 1996-1998 and 2001-2004. It’s time for them to begin another streak of Not Quite Good Enough.

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