Oh, how we'd like to forget 2011. Between Adam Dunn's historic flop, Ozzie Guillen quitting on his team before his contract was up, Jake Peavy still not the dominant pitcher we traded for, and Alex Rios looking nothing like the five tool player he appeared to be with the Jays, we've all had enough.
The waning days of 2011 show little in the ways of hope for 2012. Kenny Williams only move in the Winter Meetings was to send Sergio Santos to the Jays for Nestor Molina, who will make the rotation sometime in 2014. But there is hope, fellow fans of the Pale Hose.
With the departure of the Ozzie Circus and ineffectual hitting coach Greg Walker, good times may be rolling back into town.
New Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto doesn't have the greatest pedigree when it comes to game experience, but he at least has a plan, which is seemingly more than Walker could muster. Ozzie abandoned ship, plain and simple, after stirring things up to a froth. Robin Ventura has nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
At worst, Dunn, Rios, and Beckham continue to struggle. But with a little luck, these Sox could do what they were designed to do last year; win the AL Central and make a run into October. Before things went awry, the Sox were lauded for their depth in pitching, and that is the only department where they have lost anyone significant. Granted, Mark Buehrle and Sergio Santos are pretty tough to replace, but there are already a number of possible successors already in house. With a rotation of John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, Philip Humber, and Chris Sale, there are a lot of potential wins, given enough run support. Between Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and touted prospect Addison Reed, we could see closer by committee until someone emerges as a dominant favorite. Jason Frasor has had double-digit-save seasons as well, most recently in 2009. Dylan Axelrod is also a promising prospect, and Will Ohman stars as the LOOGY. Zach Stewart is a question mark; he needs to grow up fast. He'll serve as long relief, and chances are, if you're seeing a lot of him, it'll mean that the starters are not going deep. Assuming there are no further trades, the pitching is still relatively solid.
The line up is what truly disappointed in 2011, and the line up is what needs to step up in 2012 if the Sox are to have any chance. Dunn, Rios and Beckham have each shown skill in the past, and a return to form for any two of these three players could put the Sox in the thick of things. Then again, pretty much everyone not named Konerko had a less than stellar year at the plate.
Here's how the lineup shakes down for 2012:
CF - Alex Rios
SS - Alexei Ramirez
LF - Carlos Quentin
1B - Paul Konerko
RF - Dayan Viciedo
DH - Adam Dunn
C - A.J. Pierzynski
3B - Brent Morel
2B - Gordon Beckham
Bench - Alejandro De Aza, Tyler Flowers, Brent Lillibridge, Eduardo Escobar, Ozzie Martinez
With the money Kenny Williams has dumped into Rios and Dunn, you have to give them another chance to make a go of it without Greg Walker's influence. Rios would have a shorter leash than Dunn, as De Aza is almost a superior choice in centerfield and at leadoff anyway. Should Rios excel and Dunn continue to struggle, a DH rotation with Quentin, Rios and Viciedo will help ease the sting and keep legs fresh.
Trade talks are rampant in the off season, and the biggest names being bandied about are Quentin and Danks. Surprisingly enough, there is depth to cover either should they be traded, but it would leave no room for struggles if the Sox are to compete. Carlos Quentin could be a good fit in San Diego, who needs a power hitting right handed hitter and has a well stocked farm system. See if they'll give SP Casey Kelly and 3B James Darnell. If Quentin is traded, DeAza slips nicely into left as the starter.
Danks could end up ANYWHERE, as lefties with his makeup are coveted universally. The Yankees are already featured in a number of rumors, the most appetizing of which is Austin Romine and Dellin Betances for the lefty, though the Yankees aren't biting on that morsel. I think they will change their tune as they get desperate for proven talent, however, so I'd hold out for that package, maybe swinging a minor leaguer their way to tip the scales.
And if any of these moves happen and free up a roster spot, don't tap your already depleted minors; one-year, incentive laden contracts to comeback players like Dmitri Young and Jon Garland could create at worst an inexpensive stop gap until the Dunn contract and it's ilk are gone and the rebuild can begin in earnest, and at best could be a pleasant surprise that sneaks us into the playoffs.
Will it work? Will the Sox shock the world and hoist the hardware in 2012? Unlikely, but not impossible. Not with a little luck and a lot of hard work.