I envy the Cubs. They have something the White Sox don't, a competent backup catcher. According to Bruce Levine, they've signed Henry Blanco to a 2 year, $5M contract.
I haven't really discussed this here -- I meant to bring it up during the roundtables -- but filling the backup catcher spot with something other than a beer-leaguer or Alomar's rotting corpse is a must if the Sox hope to field a team capable of making a post-season run.
The Sox were the worst team in baseball on the bases. That is, overall they were the worst team in baseball when taking into account their ability to take extra bases combined with their inability to limit opponents' extra bases. There are many reasons for this, including but not limited to, Scott Podsednik's terrible arm, Pods' terrible stealing percentage, Freddy Garcia's free pass to second, Jose Contreras' long delivery, Joey Cora's windmill motion, AJ Pierzynski's inability to "find the ears on it," and an offensive core that features 3 players that rank among the slowest runners in baseball.
(Somebody help me out here. I can't seem to find the article where I got this info. I thought it was at THT, but can't find it there. Now I don't know where I saw it.) I want to say the Sox were as many as five wins below average (about 50 runs) on the bases.
Assuming I didn't completely make these stats up -- it doesn't feel like I'm making this up -- Ozzie is right to have demanded more team speed. But with Konerko, Thome, Crede, Dye, and Pierzynski making up your offensive core, there's not an easy area to upgrade speed without sacrificing true offensive output. I wasn't too worried about upgrading team speed, however, because I thought much of the terrible run differential on the bases could be fixed with two moves, losing Scott Podsednik and Freddy Garcia.
Podsednik was among the bottom of the barrel in net stolen bases even though he ranked among the league leaders in stolen bases. His efficiency was terrible, and I still question the pick off numbers linked in that study. His terrible arm and generally poor technique led to a merry-go-round on the basepaths on every ball hit to LF. Simply losing Podsednik for a player with an average arm and baseball IQ probably adds a win to the Sox record. If that player can steal bases at a high rate, like say, Carl Crawford or even the less spectacular Chone Figgins, you could probably add another win. And I feel like those are conservative estimates.
With Garcia it's a bit more difficult to see such an immediate upgrade. Sure the Sox will allow fewer stolen bases if they trade him this off-season, but the stolen bases that happen on Garcia's watch are already factored into his ERA. Simply losing him and replacing him with a player with the same RA will make the Sox appear better on the bases, but the effect on the bottom line is nil.
I've gotten on a bit of a tangent here. Aside from acquiring a non-brain-dead left fielder with a decent arm, I saw backup catcher as the next easiest place to pick up the slack on the bases. Henry Blanco may not be much of a hitter, but he's got a cannon for an arm, throwing out about 45% of baserunners the last three seasons.
The other requirement we should be looking for in our backup catcher is the ability to hit left-handed pitching. Pierzynski worked a career high number of games behind the plate last year, while a sub .300 OBP after the All-Star break and a .304 OBP against LHP for the season. Of the backup catchers available on the free agent market, Gregg Zaun is the best offensive solution with an impressive .297/.381/.428 against southpaws, but he's doesn't exactly shut down the running game (25% caught stealing percentage). I figure Zaun will probably get a Blanco like deal, in the 2/$4+M range.
After Zaun, the Sox will probably have to look for their backup in a trade. I imagine they might be able to use Heath Phillips and Jay Marshall as bait to a team like the Rockies for Yorvit Torrealba, or they might be able to land the HR-or-nothing Dave Ross from the Reds.