The White Sox will need more heroics from blossoming star Alexei Ramirez to repeat as AL Central champions.
Since we're all huge baseball fans here at the Thigh, we've decided to examine each MLB team and where they currently stand. We'll look at how the team did last year, changes that happened or could happen with the team this offseason, and how it looks like the team will do in 2009 as of now. We'll even toss in the hottest thigh associated with each team. In this edition, we look at the Chicago White Sox.
2008 Outcome: 88-74, first in the AL Central. Lost to the Rays in the ALDS in four games.
What They've Lost: SP Javier Vazquez(Traded To Braves), OF/1B Nick Swisher(Traded To Yankees), SS Orlando Cabrera(Free Agent), OF Ken Griffey Jr.(Signed With Mariners), 3B Joe Crede(Signed With Twins), IF Juan Uribe(Signed With Giants), P Horacio Ramirez(Signed With Mariners), RP Boone Logan(Traded To Braves)
What They've Added: Signed 3B Dayan Viciedo(4 Years, $10 Million), Signed SP Bartolo Colon(1 Year, $1 Million), Acquired IF Wilson Betemit(From Yankees), Acquired SS Brent Lillibridge(From Braves), Signed 2B Jayson Nix(1 Year, 400K), Acquired P Jeff Marquez(From Yankees), Signed 1B Ben Broussard(Minor League Deal), Signed RP Franklyn German(Minor League Deal), Signed C Corky Miller(Minor League Deal), Signed OF Michael Restovich(Minor League Deal), Signed 1B Bryan Myrow(Minor League Deal), Signed P John Van Benschoten(Minor League Deal), Signed RP Ryan Braun(Minor League Deal).
Needs: 2 starting pitchers, a center fielder, a second baseman, and a third baseman are positions that are available. It appears all of these needs will be filled with players already in the organization.
The Talk: This team is going to look much different on opening day than the team that won the AL Central in 2008. It's been a very interesting offseason, headlined by two trades and the loss of a few very notable names in free agency.
Kenny Williams decided to dump some salary and get younger by dealing away starting pitcher Javier Vazquez and outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher. Vazquez is 32 and went 12-16 with a 4.67 ERA in 2008, but the lowest amount of innings he's thrown in the last nine seasons is 198. He's an absolute workhorse that you can count on for 6+ innings each start, and that will take the workload off the bullpen, so it will be interesting to see if this makes the White Sox bullpen throw some more innings.. The White Sox also sent 24-year-old lefty reliever Boone Logan in the deal and received four prospects in return. The Braves will pay the remaining $23 million on Vazquez's contract over the next two years, so the White Sox freed up a lot of money in this deal.
Swisher was a major disappointment for the White Sox in 2008, after they gave up three prospects to acquire him from Oakland in the previous offseason. He did hit 24 home runs, but batted just .219 and struck out 135 times in 497 at bats. His playing time greatly diminshed down the stretch and got just six plate appearances in the postseason games they played. The White Sox decided to get rid of Swisher and his approximately $21 million over the next three years and send him to the Yankees. They acquired infielder Wilson Betemit in the deal along with a couple minor leaguers.
Betemit was the Braves' top prospect years ago, but the 27-year-old will be on his fourth team now already. In fairness, he hasn't really been on a team where he fits as an everyday player and it might be the same way in Chicago. The switch-hitter has plenty of power, as he displayed with 18 homers in 360 at bats in 2006, and 14 homers in 240 at bats in 2007. His versatility will be something manager Ozzie Guillen will love. Betemit played all four infield positions for the Yankees in 2008, and his powerful bat makes him a viable option to be the designated hitter frequently.
75% of the infield will have a new look. Long-time White Sox third baseman Joe Crede just signed with the rival Twins, as the White Sox chose to go with 26-year-old Josh Fields at the position. Well in all likelihood it will be his job, and if not they still have guys like Betemit and newcomer Dayan Viciedo to play there. Fields has impressive power which he showed by hitting 23 homers in 373 at bats for the White Sox in 2007, but his ability to make contact has been abysmal. He's struck out 150 times in 425 at bats at the major league level. It's something he won't fix sitting on the bench though.
The organization felt they could afford to let two-time Gold Glove winner Orlando Cabrera walk in free agency because they believe second-year player Alexei Ramirez is ready to be the starting shortstop(he played 16 games there in 2008, started two). He might have some struggles this year at the position, but I think with his range and arm he'll be just fine there eventually.
There's no doubt his bat will make any possible issues defensively much easier to tolerate. This guy has a lightning quick bat and reminds a lot of people of a young Alfonso Soriano at the plate. Unlike Soriano though, he makes a lot of contact(just 60 strikeouts in 480 at bats), and looks like a very clutch player. With runners in scoring position, Ramirez batted .380, with 7 HR, 57 RBI, and an OPS of 1.009. In 17 at bats with the bases loaded, he hit .471, with 4 grand slams, 26 RBI, and an OPS of 1.576. What makes this even more unbelievable is this guy was a rookie. I think Ramirez is going to be a star, especially if he develops some more patience(only 18 walks in 509 plate appearances).
At second base, young players Chris Getz, Jayson Nix, and Brent Lillibridge will battle it out. Getz appears to have the edge after a productive season in 2008 for the Charlotte Knights, the Triple-A affiliate of the White Sox.
The other position battle to keep an eye on is in center field. 26-year-old Brian Anderson will likely be the starter there on opening day, but Ozzie Guillen may want to go with the speed of Jerry Owens, possibly inserting Owens into the leadoff spot.
Aside from Ramirez, the White Sox are counting on Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski, and most importantly Carlos Quentin to carry the load offensively in 2009. Quentin would've likely won the MVP in 2008 if not for breaking his wrist on September 1st. In doing so, he was out for the ALDS and things may have turned out differently for the White Sox had he been able to play.
Quentin had 36 homers, 100 RBI and a .965 OPS in 569 plate appearances for the White Sox last year. It's going to be difficult to keep up that success, and although he says the wrist is fully healed, we've seen what wrist injuries can do to power(see: Derrek Lee). Even if there's a drop at all in his power, he's incredibly patient and will get on base at a terrific clip.
As for pitching, there's two spots available. They had hoped free agent signee Bartolo Colon would be a part of the rotation, but he had surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow and his return date is up in the air. Additionally, veteran pitcher Jose Contreras is recovering from surgery on his achilles tendon but is impressing thus far in camp, so he could be good to go.
If neither of them are ready for opening day, 25-year-old lefty Clayton Richard is a good bet to get one of the openings, and a couple other young pitchers in Aaron Poreda and Jeff Marquez are in the competition. The pressure will be on Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, and John Danks to be very good to make up for the likely struggles of the young pitchers in the back end of the rotation, if of course Colon and Contreras can't go for awhile.
The bullpen is probably the strongest part of this team. The main concern seems to be closer Bobby Jenks' velocity which decreased quite a bit in 2008. Octavio Dotel, Scott Linebrink, and Matt Thornton are all solid. The 32-year-old Thornton had the best season of his career in 2008, striking out 77 batters in 67.1 innings pitched, with an ERA of 2.67.
Free Agent Signing/Trade Prediction: It sounds like they're done shopping for the moment.
One name I'll throw out there though is Odalis Perez. Perez was a no show to the Nationals' camp and was released. The White Sox were known to be interested in Perez in the last few months. It's unlikely as the word is they're done signing free agents, but I could see this being possible in a few weeks if they don't feel confident enough in the young pitching at the back of their rotation. Perez is a veteran arm that can give you a 4.50 ERA, and likely won't require more than a minor league contract.
Young Player(s) To Make 2009 Impact: 2B Chris Getz, P Aaron Poreda, 3B Dayan Viciedo.
As I said earlier, the 25-year-old Getz appears to be the most likely candidate to be the starting second baseman.
Poreda, 22, is a 6'6" lefty that was the first round pick for the White Sox in 2007. He's compiled a 12-9 record with a 2.69 ERA in 39 games in the minors. Ozzie Guillen's said Poreda has a decent shot to make the team out of Spring Training and could be in the rotation. If not then, expect to see Poreda at some point this year at least.
Third baseman Dayan Viciedo has been one of the main topics of discussion surrounding the team this offseason. This probably belongs more in the "The Talk" section, but deal with it. Viciedo defected from Cuba and signed a 4-year, $10 million deal with the White Sox. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez also came over from Cuba in the last year, and the White Sox are hoping Viciedo can have similar success. He's just 19 and a raw talent, but has prodigious power. Ozzie Guillen says Viciedo is in the third base competition, but I don't think he'll make the team right out of Spring Training. Word is Jose Contreras was making the teenager look foolish Tuesday so he migiht need some seasoning in the minors before making his big league debut.
2009 Outlook: The Baseball Prospectus projected standings currently have the White Sox winning just 73 games, finishing in last place in the AL Central and by ten games. I'd be very surprised if any of those things happened. Are they really 15 games worse than last year? I don't think so.
This is a very winnable division. If Carlos Quentin is 100% and can perform anywhere near as well as he did last year at the plate, if Alexei Ramirez keeps improving as I expect him to, and they get solid production out of the back of the rotation, the White Sox can definitely win the division again. There's plenty of question marks so this is a difficult team to really predict right now.
Hottest Thigh Association: Jenny McCarthy.
I wonder how many ink cartridges it would take to print this off lifesize?
The actress/model/author/former Playmate/former host of Singled Out is a huge White Sox fan since she grew up on the south side of Chicago.
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