So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.
The White Sox took the AL Central crown last year on the strength of a 1-game playoff, becoming the first team ever to win their last three games against three different teams (Indians, Tigers, Twins). This was a feat principally accomplished on the strength of MLB's 6th-best offense at 4.98 runs per game, matched with above-average pitching that allowed 4.47 runs per game, 12th in MLB. Most of their success came from unexpected players; no one saw LF Carlos Quentin, former Diamondbacks prospect, posting an MVP-caliber .287/.394/.571 line, SS/2B Alexei Ramirez was better than people could've reasonably hoped, RF Jermaine Dye was resurgent, and RHP John Danks was a revelation.
GM Ken Williams, as he is wont to do, got busy this offseason and tinkered quite a bit with the division champs. He shipped RHP Javier Vazquez to the Braves in exchange for prospects at two positions where they really needed minor leauge depth, acquiring middle infielder Brent Lillibridge and C Tyler Flowers. Disappointing OF/1B Nick Swisher (a name ripe for parody, so we think it really would've been in his best interest NOT to hit .219) was also traded, bringing back utility man Wilson Betemit and relievers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez, both marginal prospects. It was clear from the beginning of the offseason that SS Orlando Cabrera was on the outs, and he will now ply his trade in Oakland at a bargain rate. OF Ken Griffey, Jr. also departed after his brief tenure on the south side, heading back to Seattle where his legend got started. To compensate for the losses, Williams brought in powerful young Cuban emigre Dayan Viciedo as the third baseman on the future, gave the full-time SS job to powerful young Cuban Alexei Ramirez, and signed Jayson Nix to compete for playing time at second base with Chris Getz and Lillibridge. OF Dewayne Wise will unwisely (sorry) be the man in center, though speedy slap hitter Jerry Owens and glove man Brian Anderson (just kidding; Ozzie hates him) will be around to steal some ABs.
As for the pitching, the Sox will be counting on contributions from talented young LHPs Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda, as well as not-so-talented-but-still-young RHP Lance Broadway. Not at all young, and probably not that talented any more RHP Bartolo Colon is back in town; we have a soft spot for him ever since seeing him take a perfect game into the 5th against the...well, some team. But that effort went the way of the dodo when Joe Crede missed a diving stop on a ball down the line. Anyway, Colon and Jose Contreras are going to be responsible for a full slate of innings from a rotation spot, so we'll see if that works out.
PECOTA projected record: 75-87, last in AL Central
KCSD projected record: 80-82, 3rd in AL Central
The Central's weak overall, though there will be some stiff competition for the top spots. Whoever does win this division, it's not exactly going to be a case of the cream rising to the top...it's just one subpar team triumphing over other subpar teams.
Around the Horn
C A.J. Pierzynski: .270/.310/.396, 10 HR. Age isn't often kind to catchers, and we don't see it making an exception for Pierzynski. In his age-32 season, it's not likely for him to improve on last year's showing, and it's a good thing that Tyler Flowers is around to start taking over the mantle.
1B Paul Konerko: .261/.351/.469, 24 HR. For some reason, between 2006 and 2007, Konerko's average dropped over 50 points. Last year, he demonstrated a slight recovery in that area, and has posted remarkably similar OBPs despite the large drop off. His power hasn't really returned, though; this shows that Paulie possesses a good batting eye that should age well, even if his bat isn't.
2B Chris Getz: .260/.314/.356, 4 HR. We don't have much in the way of good things to say about Getz. He's organizational filler, but a breakout year in Charlotte has given the team faith that he can produce at the major league level. We think that's false hope. He's got a pretty useless bat, and is below average in the field. Should've held on to Cabrera, we think.
3B Josh Fields: .235/.340/.475, 20 HR. Never a high contact guy, the former Oklahoma State quarterback does possess a strong bat and, presumably, a good arm across the diamond. Turning 26, he could be a real asset if he can get his Ks down and up the contact rate a bit.
SS Alexei Ramirez: .290/.321/.457, 17 HR, 11 SB. It astounds us that a guy as skinny as Ramirez can have as much power as he does, but his bat certainly seems legit. This will be his age-27 season, so we can expect some progress. We are tempering our expectations a bit because of it being his sophomore year and he came out of Cuba, but he could easily surpass our expectations.
LF Carlos Quentin: .273/.381/.525, 26 HR. Quentin will be turning 26 this year, but we're still projecting a drop in power due to the broken wrist that ended his season last year. We're not often scared off by injuries, but when it comes to hitters, we're of the opinion that anything in the arms is bad news.
CF Dewayne Wise: .240/.297/.416, 14 HR, 14 SB. The sad thing is that we're pretty sure that this projection may be overestimating his skills. But he really showed some promise in AAA before being called up last year, so maybe there is some skill in the bat that has yet to be tapped. For his sake, we hope so.
RF Jermaine Dye: .280/.350/.517, 28 HR. Yes, Dye is getting on in years, but his rebound last year from a terrible year in '07 really showed us that he's got something left in his bat. At 35, we think he can still show it off.
DH Jim Thome: .250/.350/.490, 27 HR. Thome's REALLY getting on in years; this will be his age-38 season. We really like big Jim, and for his sake, we hope we're low on our projection; this would be his first healthy season with less than 30 HRs since 2005 and his first sub-.500 slugging percentage since 1993. One of the most consistent and likable sluggers of our time, we may be seeing his last truly productive season - or just last season, as his contract runs out after this year. Also expect to see Wilson Betemit and Josh Fields log some time here to help give the pair enough ABs.
From the Bump: Starters
LHP Mark Buerhle: 200 IP, 3.97 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 120 K, 55 BB. Buerhle has made his money being a consistent innings eater; he isn't dominant, but the crafty lefty has logged his 200 innings effectively for as long as we can remember. He sits atop the rotation as much for nostalgia as anything, but that's not to say that he's not a well above-average pitcher. We think you can expect more of the same until he retires.
LHP John Danks: 180 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 130 K, 50 BB. The young Danks posted a very impressive campaign last season, having added a devestating cutter to his repertoire. He demonstrated that he really knows how to use the pitch, and should see continued success with it as he develops. Look for more great seasons down the road from the youngster - after all, he's gotta stay ahead of his brother, Jordan, also in the system.
RHP Gavin Floyd: 170 IP, 4.29 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 120 K, 60 BB. Once a failed (phailed?) Phillie prospect, Floyd brought his devastating curveball to the South Side with great success last season. He looked like he'd really put it together, posting a sub-4.00 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over 200 innings. At 26, he seems like a good bet to continue with his success, but we're wary of his spotty health record in previous seasons.
LHP Clayton Richard: 140 IP, 4.98 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 80 K, 40 BB. Richard scuffled in the early minors, but turned into a monster in AA and AAA. He was less than impressive in his major league debut, but the lefty should be able to put up numbers closer to his high minors performance because...well, because we trust young prospects much more than we should.
RHPs Jose Contreras/Bartolo Colon: 200 IP, 5.59 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 122 K, 72 BB. We're putting Contreras and Colon together in this fifth spot because it's about as sure a thing as can be that neither will be healthy all season long, and both will be hurling frames from the back end of the rotation. This isn't a terrible contribution from your fifth spot, but it is, well, a pretty terrible contribution overall. Don't expect great things from these cagey vets. Even thinking that the two of them combined are good for 200 innings is a bit of a reach.
From the Bump: Relievers
Closer Bobby Jenks: 60 IP, 2.59 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 42 K, 20 BB, 34 SV. Bad Bobby Jenks has showed some restraint in recent seasons, not dialing up his flamethrowing arm to the 100+ mph velocity it's been capable of in the past. He's only seen a reduction in his K's since making the switch, but quite frankly, we don't like it one bit. Entertain us, Bobby! Throw the hot, stinky cheese! We'll always rank his K of Jeff Bagwell in the 8th inning of Game 1 of the '05 World Series as one of our all-time favorite ABs - straight 100 MPH fastballs, up and in, daring one of the greatest hitters ever to put a bat on it...and he couldn't. Those were the days.
Setup man Octavio Dotel: 55 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 71 K, 32 BB. The hard-throwing, high-socked Dotel has always been a formidable bullpen arm...when healthy. Unfortunately, his body has betrayed him as he's pushed past 30, and he's had more breakdowns than healthy campaigns. If he can stay healthy, and we're assuming that he can, he's a good power arm to stick in front of Jenks. If the rest of the bullpen can fall in line the way they did in '05, you can expect great things from the South Siders...then again, how often can you coax a 2.04 ERA out of Dustin Hermanson types?
Bonus coverage: Hermanson was a 1st-round pick. We love the uncertainty of the baseball draft, and how can't miss prospects do so often...well, miss. If you can draft well, you've got a lot of great things coming your way (e.g. the Rays), but most teams can't...and yet they treat their draft picks like gold all of a sudden. We're not saying there's no value in the draft, because it's a great, cost-effective way to build talent. But most teams just aren't very good at it, and haven't showed much potential to get better. So why not take a chance on more proven commodities? It's nice to trust your scouts, but have some sense. I know everyone's financially concerned these days, but at some point, it's cheaper to sign free agents than it is to spend the money upgrading your scouting department to the point where they can be a real asset.