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After trade deadline, White Sox without safety nets

Brent Morel's defense has been as advertised, but his offense needs to show up.
Brent Morel's defense has been as advertised, but his offense needs to show up.

If you were counting on a trade or two to inject some life into the most lifeless part of the White Sox, the trade deadline had to leave you feeling a little dead on the inside.

With a dearth of production staring Kenny Williams in the face, he used his most expendable asset (Edwin Jackson) to solve a "problem" that had yet to emerge (bullpen depth). Then, on the last day, Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Sox were shopping for ... wait for it ... rotation depth.

But we can only blame ourselves of course. Underwhelming attendance meant that the Sox had to cut money, and so the Sox used Jackson's value to throw Mark Teahen's contract onto the Toronto Blue Jays, which is low-grade retribution for the Alex Rios affair.

So aside from a shiny new seventh-inning guy, the 2011 White Sox remain intact. That's going to set the turnstiles ablaze.

That's no knock on Frasor, who is a solid reinforcement for the bullpen. However, his acquisition cost the White Sox backup plans at two positions, leaving the White Sox thinner than they already are. Ozzie Guillen said that he doesn't want people to consider Dayan Viciedo a savior, but that's pretty much what he represents at this point. The Sox have maxed out their methods of run prevention, and barring a stark turnaround from one of the existing vulnerabilities, Viciedo represents the only way to improve run production.

The passing of the trade deadline puts five White Sox under the gun. In order from most pressure to least ...

1. Adam Dunn

It seems that just about everybody has given up on Alex Rios, and based on his curious decision-making in the outfield the past couple of games, it looks like he's checked out, too. Ozzie Guillen is biding his time until a a batch of opposing righty starters give Alejandro De Aza enough of a runway for takeoff.

But Dunn ... some people are hanging onto hope for him, first and foremost Guillen. He's still batting in the middle of the order. He's still facing lefties and righties. This will probably be the case until Viciedo's thumb heals, and maybe even after. Who knows? The Sox might feel compelled to wait until his Super Two chances elapse at this point.

So Dunn will keep hearing the boos until he changes the soundtrack with production. It's hard to say whether he's looked better recently. He's drawing a walk for every strikeouts (five) over his last 20 plate appearances, but he's only 4-for-15 over that stretch, too. Until the hits start falling -- over the fence, preferably -- I'm withholding my plaudits. I said it before on Twitter: Every time he looks like he's starting to wake up, he just farts and rolls over to his other side.


2. Jake Peavy

Speaking of hope, it seems like Peavy might have learned something from the awesomely ill-advised four-inning relief outing against Washington back in June -- although it took him a month longer than it took objective observers. He wanted to get his three starts in before the All-Star break, but he became a liability in the process.

Now, he's the worst pitcher on the staff, and battling problems with the 75-pitch barrier. Peavy has accepted rest days, and he's admitted that fatigue sets in. In other words, the adrenaline has left his brain, and we're seeing responsible behavior and self-assessment for the first time in his White Sox career. Perhaps falling from ace to fifth starter knocked him down a peg.

Here's hoping Guillen can use this newfound perspective to keep him in check should he ever regain his swagger, because the Sox can't afford to lose him for any stretch of time, unless you really like the cut of Zach Stewart's jib. I wouldn't count on it.

3. Brent Morel

With Teahen out of the picture, it appears that Morel is here to stay. That's not great for the offense. He's hitting .253/.271/.305, and his numbers aren't going in the right direction. He has five hits over his last 25 at-bats, but three of them have come against his peers -- AAAA pitchers Duane Below and Andrew Miller.

He'll have some help from Omar Vizquel, who is actually outslugging Morel by 10 points despite being 20 years his senior. However, if production from third base is scant over the last two months, more people are going to wonder about the 24-year-old's future. The 44-year-old? He's pretty much set.

4. Jason Frasor

He's the entirety of the outside help -- and his presence doesn't set imaginations afire -- so he'll be under the microscope while Sox fans figure out what to expect from him. Under these circumstances, a lousy first impression will count against him more than it normally should.

Frasor's record is as stable as a second-tier reliever's can be, so he doesn't have to be a world-beater. He just has to do what he can to time his off nights when the Sox don't have a lead.

5. Phil Humber

Regression's finally here, and it hasn't been kind. Over his last three starts, Humber is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA and 24 hits allowed over 14 innings.

Humber still has some reserve of goodwill left. Nobody expected Humber to keep his ERA in the 2's, but he has to keep it from going too deep into the 4's as other flaws begin to emerge.

For instance, the removal of Jackson means that Humber is the worst defender of all the starters. Not only does his reaction time leave a lot to be desired, but so does his speed to the plate. Faster teams will bunt and run on him, and he has to do his part to slow down the traffic on the bases, now that more hitters are reaching against him.

At the start of the season, though, if somebody told us Humber is good for 175 innings and a 4.00 ERA, everybody would have signed up for it. The order of his season -- great, then pedestrian -- feels lackluster, but given the unprecedented nature of his performance, a gradual decline must be factored into the plans. He carried Peavy's weight through the first half of the season, and now it's time for Peavy and the gang to help out Humber.