UPDATE: Disappointing loss last night. I'm not planning on doing a game recap, but you should head over to Jack Steal's site to read it there -- that's always where I check. Great site with good game updates and insights into how the Twins should improve. Check it out.
*Disclaimer: This is the 4th installment in a look at our AL Central rivals. I saved the White Sox for last partly because I dislike them so much, and partly because they're probably the team we tend to focus on the most. That's because something always seems to happen when we play them. Again, these conjectures are extremely premature as the season isn't even over yet, but this is my best guess as to what to expect next year from the South Siders. All stats are from '09 unless otherwise indicated.
The Chicago White Sox are probably the team I despise most in any area of sports: yes, more than the Packers, and yes, more than the Iceland team from Mighty Ducks 2. But I'm going to try to not let that stop me from an objective look at their team. Over at his blog, Josh Johnson has a terrific write up of why we should be worried about the Sox, and if you haven't already read it, you definitely should.
But, without further adieu, White Sox 2010:
Mark Buehrle, LHP, 11-6, 3.78 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
*He of the perfect game. The man who likes to trash talk our home team in the press. He's also easily one of the best left handed pitchers in the American League -- and now that Santana isn't around he's definitely the best in the AL Central. He's really easy to hate because he always hurts us. He's been a model of consistency throughout his career, and all this from a 38th round draft pick in 1998. Since his rookie year in 2000 he's always started at least 30 games and pitched at least 200 innings while posting numbers very similar to what he's done this year (and barring something awful, I doubt that will change sometime soon). Even with the pick up of Jake Peavy, it would be hard to convince me that Buehrle is not the staff ace.
Jake Peavy, RHP ** Career 3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP (posted similar numbers before injury)
*When Peavy was almost traded to the White Sox in June but quickly flashed his no trade clause, Twins Territory breathed a massive sigh of relief. When it actually went through almost two months later it was a little bit easier to ignore as he wasn't going to make an immediate impact since he's currently on the DL. In fact, the day after he rejected the trade to the White Sox is when he landed on the DL, running the bases in Wrigley he hurt his ankle. When Peavy is healthy, he has a significant ability to miss bats, and his name will usually always be up there on the leaderboard in K's when he can stay healthy a full season. He's made two rehab starts for AAA Charlotte, and in his last start on Tuesday he went 4 innings giving up 3 earned runs on 5 hits with 5 strikeouts. The one-two punch of Buehrle-Peavy is going to be one of the best in baseball, and we get to see it on our arch-rivals for the next couple of years. But then there's stuff like this.
Gavin Floyd, RHP, 10-7, 3.94 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
John Danks, LHP, 10-8, 3.96 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Lucas Harrell, RHP, 4-1, 3.29 ERA, 1.37 WHIP***(AAA numbers in 9 starts)
Daniel Hudson, RHP, 3.27 ERA, 1.27 ERA***(AAA numbers over 2 starts)
Jack Egbert, RHP, 5-8, 3.50 ERA, 1.24 WHIP***(AAA as a starter in 14 games)
Carlos Torres, RHP, 10-4, 2.36 ERA, 1.19 WHIP***(AAA as a starter in 21 games)
Wes Whisler, LHP, 9-10, 3.82 ERA, 1.41 WHIP***(AAA as a starter in 23 starts)
Jeff Marquez, RHP, 2-8, 9.85 ERA, 2.06 WHIP***(AAA in 11 starts)
*Gavin Floyd and John Danks have both locked up a spot in the Chicago starting 5. Both were acquired via trade. Danks came over from Texas in '06 for Brandon McCarthy (I think the White Sox got the better end of the deal...), and Floyd was acquired from Philadelphia in '06 as well when they dealt Freddy Garcia. Both of their numbers are pretty similar to their career marks so it's reasonable to expect they'll be about as effective in 2010.
The 5th spot is the question. Contreras is playing out his final year now, and Colon and Garcia will both be gone as well. They have several starters who they could look to at AAA Charlotte, the most ready probably being Lucas Harrell and Daniel Hudson. Harrell started this year at AA Birmingham and could probably use a little bit more seasoning in AAA. Hudson is a guy to keep your eye on. While he hasn't had more than two starts at AAA, he's moving very quickly through their system. He was a 5th round pick back in '08 and started this season at Low A but is now pitching very well at Charlotte. His previous stop, in Birmingham, he started 9 games with a 1.60 ERA and 0.83 WHIP -- and numbers like these have been consistent at every stop he's made. Sound familiar? I'm not saying ... but I might be saying... just pay attention to him.
As far as the other prospects go, Carlos Torres did make two starts in the majors this season, and he ended up lasting 9.1 innings while giving up 7 earned runs on 9 hits with 8 strikeouts and 9 walks. He does have great numbers this year in the minors, but if you look at his track record these numbers are a little too good and he might be playing above his head. Jack Egbert also appeared in the majors this year, but he showed up in relief. And gave up 8 runs in 2.2 innings. So my vote would be for him to be the 5th starter (Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams might beg to differ). He has much better numbers as a starter though in AAA than as a reliever -- think 1.89 WHIP vs. 1.24 WHIP. So maybe we don't want to see him start for the White Sox?
Wes Whisler had a very bad major league debut as well, and over his career he's shown a very mediocre K-BB ratio. He might have some future but I don't know how bright it is. Marquez looks like a wash. He came over from the Yankees as one of the pieces in the Nick Swisher trade, and he wasn't really that much better with Scranton Wilkes-Barre. He seems to have hit a wall at AAA, but I'm sure he'll be given a little bit longer to see if he can pull things together.
C: A.J. Pierzynski, .311/.342/.462, 13 HR, 36 RBI
1B: Paul Konerko, .276/.342/.483, 22 HR, 72 RBI
2B: Chris Getz, .267/.325/.367, 2 HR, 28 RBI
SS: Alexei Ramirez, .275/.330/.411, 14 HR, 55 RBI
3B: Gordon Beckham, .297/.379/.477, 7 HR, 44 RBI
CF: Alex Rios, .265/.316/.430, 15 HR, 64 RBI
*OK, don't think too much about those question marks in the corner outfield. I think they have easy solutions, but I'll get to those in a minute. For now, let's just point out that I think so far the White Sox have a very nice mix of old and new talent. Chris Getz isn't going to wow anyone and will probably not appear on most lists of the best second basemen in the AL, but let's be fair: he's better than any second basemen we have for sure. He's actually shown much better plate discipline in the minors, and his .325 line isn't even that bad! Chances are he's a solid major leaguer who will never be outstanding but will do just fine. And Gordon Beckham? Well, White Sox fans have a nickname for him. And just like the pitching prospect who has rocketed up through their system, Beckham was also drafted in '08 and this year he's moved from AA all the way up to the majors. He doesn't really have huge power numbers at any stop through the minors but he's a fine fielder with a good average.
And Konerko and Pierzynski aren't really slouches in their lineup either. Konerko came over in '98 in a trade with Cincinnati for Mike Cameron, and while he's posted slightly lower averages in '07 and '08 before this year, his OBP has remained pretty constant throughout his career. You can probably expect a similar line next year. Pierzynski is having a good year in Chicago. He's hitting better than he really has over his stint there since '05 (he's a career .286 which is a slight dip from the .311 he's posting now). In fact, his numbers this year look a little bit more similar to what he was showing in Minnesota back in '02-'03.
As far as the rest of their team goes, Alexei Ramirez is a little hard to predict. His numbers aren't necessarily dissimilar from '08, which was his only other year of professional ball. He was signed out of Cuba and ended up being the runner up to Evan Longoria in the Rookie of the Year balloting last year. He's not easy to project, but he should be in the same ballpark (no pun intended). Alex Rios was a great pickup. As Josh Johnson wrote, the White Sox can afford to eat that contract with even the type of numbers he's putting up this year. And if he happens to turn things around? Kenny Williams will look like a genius. It will go down as one of the better ideas from the White Sox brass ever ... which isn't that hard when you compare it to ideas like this.
The corner outfield spots could very easily be answered. Carlos Quentin is a left fielder, although I think he's more suited for the DH role. And my gut tells me that the White Sox pick up the contract for Jermaine Dye. He has a 12 million dollar option with a 1 million dollar buy-out, and this year he's posting a .271/.352/.495 slash with 24 HR and 71 RBI. And it wasn't too long ago he garnered serious MVP talk before eventually being beaten out by someone else.
Bobby Jenks, RHP, 3.80 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 39-11 K-BB ratio, 42.2IP in 42 games.
Scott Linebrink, RHP, 3.53 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 44-21 K-BB ratio, 43.1 IP in 44 games.
Matt Thornton, LHP, 2.44 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 63-15 K-BB ratio, 51.2 IP in 50 games.
DJ Carrasco, RHP, 3.65 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 53-26 K-BB ratio, 74 IP in 39 games.
Tony Pena, RHP, 4.59 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 41-15 K-BB ratio, 49 IP in 53 games.
Jon Link, RHP, 4.66 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 55-23 K-BB ratio, 48.1 IP in 41 games.***(AAA)
Jhonny Nunez, RHP, 2.40 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 74-23 K-BB ratio, 63.2 IP in 36 games***(AAA-AA)
Derek Rodriguez, RHP, 2.08 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 46-18 K-BB ratio, 60.2 IP in 40 games***(AAA-AA)
Kelvin Jimenez, RHP, 4.59 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 43-19 K-BB ratio, 68.2 IP in 33 games.
Ehren Wasserman, RHP, 3.77 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 52-15 K-BB ratio, 57.1 IP in 39 games.
*Bobby Jenks looks more like his '06 numbers than the last two years, but he's ultimately their closer for the forseeable future. There was some talk of moving him but quality relievers are hard to come by. Which is why even though Matt Thornton could be bought out, I think they'll opt to pick up his option for this year. Look at his numbers, he's arguably the best reliever on their team right now despite the fact that he's not the closer. Linebrink is decent, and although he's not having the stellar season he had last year with the Sox, his numbers have been pretty consistent throughout his career. DJ Carrasco was a nice pick-up and it was a good move to make him a reliever. He was not a good starter with Kansas City, and although his WHIP has climbed a little bit since last year, he's still been a reliable man out of the pen. Tony Pena was acquired from Arizona this year for one of their better prospects, Brandon Allen, who might have been the future after Konerko -- that trade wasn't given the stamp of approval by White Sox fans, so maybe we aren't the only team that makes inexplicable moves. He'll stick around as he's cheap and affordable, although he's not having the best year. Jon Link might not be retained as he's only on a minor league 1 year contract. Kelvin Jimenez has bad numbers in the majors and probably is a long shot to make the pen. Ehren Wasserman's line for this year at AAA is even a little high for him as he's posted better numbers than that along the way in the minors, but he just can't seem to figure it out in the bigs, posting a 5.06 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 57 appearances.
Derek Rodriguez is someone to keep an eye on. He's having a good year but his numbers are a little varied and he could be playing over his head. Jhonny Nunez might be the next big arm in their pen. His good stats this year don't look dissimilar from his other years, and I'm sure the White Sox would love to see one of the prospects they got from the Yankees for Swisher end up panning out, as Marquez and Betemit look like lost causes. Other options for the pen include some of the starters who don't end up getting that final 5 spot.
Carlos Quentin, OF-DH, .255/.324/.450, 13 HR, 32 RBI
Brent Lillibridge, INF, .157/.253/.186, 0 HR, 0 RBI
Josh Fields, 3B, .220/.301/.354, 7 HR, 30 RBI
Wilson Betemit, INF, .200/.280/.311, 0 HR, 3 RBI
Cole Armstrong, C, .250/.285/.425, 10 HR, 32 RBI *** (AAA)
*Carlos Quentin (forgive the photo, I couldn't resist) could play in the field too, but he's had a few nagging injuries that might mean he'd be better suited to take over Thome's role after he surely leaves next year. Quentin had a monster year in '08, although he faded from MVP consideration after he suffered a devastating wrist injury when punching his bad in frustration after fouling off a pitch from Cliff Lee. They could use another outfielder with the departures of Scott Podsednik and Dewayne Wise, who I doubt they will retain even when he makes amazing, momentous plays. There will be plenty of options available for back-up outfielders in free agency though.
Josh Fields might find a new home this offseason, as it's pretty clear that Beckham has supplanted him on the depth chart as the starting third baseman. But he's cheap and they're in no rush. Betemit is probably almost a lost cause and he could easily be replaced with any number of free agents as they did this year with inking Jayson Nix to a one year deal and giving him the back-up infielder job.
Lillibridge, despite his bad numbers (in only 28 games mind you), should be fine. He's hitting slightly better at AAA and was a decent prospect acquired along with Tyler Flowers from the Atlanta Braves. Now Tyler Flowers is another story:
I have Cole Armstrong as the catcher as he should be cheap and replacement level, and I doubt they want Flowers at the majors just as Pierzynski's back-up. Flowers is a prize prospect hitting .300/.427/.525 with 14 HR and 50 RBI between AA and AAA this year, and he should be a cornerstone for them once Pierzynski's contract runs up after 2010.
The other real prospect is Dayan Viciedo.
The Sox seem to hold a corner on the Cuban import market. He's a solid hitter in AA right now but it's his fielding that could have some problems and they're contemplating a move to first base or possibly left field. That might actually work out for the best as Brandon Allen, their former top 1B prospect is now in Arizona.
The White Sox have primed themselves to dominate the Central now and also build for the future at the same time. As much as it pains me to say it, they have a smart GM and a solid team, and that's probably why I utterly despise them. They have the flexibility to pick up another impact starting pitcher if they want, or they could go young. They can retain Dye and even pursue a big free agent outfielder (or trade for one?). And they have some prospects to be afraid of coming up through the minors.
Ludicrously early prediction:
93-69, 1st place, AL Central