Last week, I got together with the other SB Nation AL Central bloggers, Will of Royals Review, Mark from Bless you Boys and Ryan and Jay of Let's Go Tribe, and Jesse of Twinkie Town, to have a brief discussion on each team. We will be running one section of this discussion each day. Today, it's the White Sox. (Special thanks to Marc Normandin from Beyond the Boxscore for setting this up.)
Marc Normandin of Beyond the Box Score: The White Sox were very busy this offseason, choosing to move forward and create turnover on their roster rather than staying put with the current lineup. Which moves do you think will work out for the best, the worst, and did the White Sox give up too much of their farm system to get to where they are now?
Jesse of Twinkietown: The Jim Thome move has the biggest upside, but it also cost them a fair amount and could backfire. Aaron Rowand probably should have won the AL Gold Glove in 2005, which is the biggest argument against his departure. His offensive numbers dropped last season but he wasn't horrid, he brings speed to the basebaths, and he was a large part of a team identity.
Mackowiak is a nice pick-up, and he'll fit in as a great option off the bench. Not only can he play a number of positions, but he replaces some of Rowand's speed (but off the bench), and he has experience as a starter.
Javy Vasquez is the type of acquisition who needs to prove to me he can be the player his team wants him to be. He's bounced around the last few seasons, but by the time the season starts he'll have two seasons seperating him from the last good year he had.
Jay of Let's Go Tribe: I think Chicago in fact paid a very steep price in prospects, particularly in the Vazquez deal. I think they are unlikely to get much, if any, more production out of the CF and DH positions than they did last year - in part because Everett and Thomas combined for more production than people seem to remember, and in part because Anderson can't reasonably be expected to explode on his first go-around. If I were a White Sox fan, I'd be deeply troubled by how unlikely PECOTA thinks it is that Thome can really bounce back. It's tough to find anyone in that lineup who is likely to improve in 2006, and most are past their peak. Despite the conventional wisdom in the mainstream media, it seems sensible to expect lower run-scoring from Chicago this season. While Vazquez was costly, I think he will be good for them, and it shows foresight that they realize that their starter situation is unlikely to be quite as stable in 2006 as it was in 2005. Vazquez may not be much more than an innings-eater, but he is quite the prolific innings-eater.
The Cheat: Thomas and Everett combined to hit a robust .245/.312/.462. I would hardly call 600 ABs of .312 OBP in the #3 spot productive. Toss Rowand into that mix, and you've got 1150 ABs of .257/.321/.435. To put that in perspective, it would be like losing two Casey Blakes (career .255/.324/.439). Hardly worth crying over. -- It's worth pointing out that PECOTA, using both players 50th percentile, has Thome and Anderson combining for 713 PAs of .256/.347/.452, which out-rates those whom their replacing, but in limitted ABs. And if there's one thing PECOTA has trouble predicting it's playing time.
If the Sox don't manage to score more than the 736 runs they mustered in `05, I'll be the next shirtless idiot to run on the field at USCF.
Jay of Let's Go Tribe: No doubt the CF/DH situation looks like an upgrade if all you look at are offensive rate stats. And maybe it will be, but there's more than one way to look at the bottom line. Chicago got 7.2 WARP out of those three players last season. To match that, Thome and Anderson will have to combine for a 70th percentile performance per PECOTA. And maybe they will, but my point is that even just MATCHING last year's production out of those two positions - offense plus defense - will take at least a little luck. And at the same time, PECOTA sees the other seven spots losing perhaps 60-80 runs. So while it's by no means a slam-dunk prediction ... I think you'd better start training for that shirtless run.
Something else I should add, though it means little for 2006. Setting sentimentality aside, the Konerko signing is a strong contender for worst contract of this offseason. We're going to look back in 2010 - possibly even in 2008 - and just marvel at it. And the question will be: How did anyone ever mistake this player for a superstar? His good-not-great numbers are right there in black and white. No, it's not as absurd as the Tigers' Ordonez deal, but it's not as far off as you might think.
Beyond the Box Score: Can the White Sox repeat as AL Central champions in 2006? Make sure to give examples of why or why not.
The Cheat: Absolutely. They acknowledged that they were a bit lucky in `05. That's why you saw Williams be as active as he was.
The pitching will come back to earth some in `06, but Williams tried to offset that by trading for Vazquez, who should be a significant upgrade over El Duque. I also expect the offense to be much better in `06, specifically the left side of the infield.
I would bet money on them beating their run-differential from last season. Whether that translates in the win colum remains to be seen, however.
Mark of Bless You Boys: The Sox are the favorites coming into the season, so they can definitely repeat as Central Champs. As I said earlier, they have done nothing to harm their shot at a repeat this offseason, and I believe they have strengthened their team with some of the additions. If Thome can stay healthy, I expect a solid year out of the guy in that ballpark.
Jesse of Twinkietown: Absolutely the White Sox can repeat. Do they have a better chance of it than past champions-probably not. But they've been there, and that experience is priceless. If it comes down to the wire the last 2 weeks of the season the Vegas money will be on Chicago...but I never was a fan of vegas and their "odds makers" and "sharks" and "bookies". Besides, I'm pretty sure the season won't boil down to the last couple weeks this year.
Mostly I'd be wary of the bullpen. Last season they were brilliant, shutting teams down and closing the door whenever they needed to. This year they'll look for repeat performances from guys like Neil Cotts and Cliff Politte-performances that have a better chance of not happening than happening. Marte needs to continue to be himself, Bobby Jenks needs to stay great...it's the soft spot in Chi-Town if I had to pick one.
Jay of Let's Go Tribe: Absolutely, they can repeat. Of course their run differential was beaten handily by the Indians last season. Who you pick to win in 2006 ultimately depends on what you take more seriously, the run differential, or whatever it was that allowed the White Sox to beat the hell out of Pythagoras in 2005. And I don't say that in jest, I think it's a serious question. Certainly Guillen's tactical instincts are a nice plus for them.
Beyond the Box Score: What would your rotation look like if you were manager of the White Sox? You have Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Brandon McCarthy, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, and Freddy Garcia to work with. Explain what you would do with the other starter, whether it be a trade or bullpen spot.
The Cheat: Of the bunch, I think Contreras is the best suited for the bullpen. He has the repertoire to be be one of the best closers in baseball. But he would be wasted by using him for only 60-70 innings.
I'm fine with them heading into the season with the rotation set the way it is (w/ McCarthy being the one in the pen). Breaking in a young pitcher through the bullpen worked for Earl Weaver, and it should work for Ozzie Guillen.
Will of Royals Review: I'm fascinated with how Ozzie will manage this season. He seemed cocky before winning the WS, so anything seems possible this season. They have so much depth on that staff, and Ozzie's been incredibly astute and very new-school in his handling of the bullpen. I wonder if he'll drop Jenks as quickly as he did Shingo should the Big Boy struggle early. The fascination with Hermanson and Polite could backfire at some point.
Jesse of Twinkietown: It's a tough question-teams with a commodity to trade never get full return on a move. If the Sox are looking to move one of these guys, my thoughts are that it'd be best to move Contreras because of his age and his inconsistency before July 2005. McCarthy will be good, he's shown he can handle the pressure of The Show, and he's earned himself a shot at that rotation. In an ideal trade scenario the Sox will be approached by a team looking for a starting pitcher; this will get them the most in return.
Realistically, it's best for McCarthy to begin the season in the `pen and wait for his opportunity to steal a slot. I don't see it as his spot to win-because he already has-but Garland's and Contreras's to lose. I'd set up the rotation like this: Buehrle, Garcia, Contreras, Vazquez and Garland.