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White Sox Tue Nov 30 2010

White Sox: Looking Onward to 2011


I don't know about most baseball fans, but I find myself longing for the sport the most when the weather gets coldest. Nothing makes you crave 80 degrees and hot dogs like blustery Chicago winters. With the onset of yet another frigid season on the tundra, it is time to start looking forlornly at our calendars to the next Opening Day: April 1st 2011. (People who complain that the baseball season is too long: you need to start rooting for the Sox.)

There is a lot to consider for the White Sox for next season. It is entirely possible that we will all be presented with a vastly different team when we next visit the South Side. With the bullpen in disarray, the question of who will be returning and who will explore their options as free agents looming large, 2011 looks to be a challenging year for the Sox before Spring Training even arrives. So let's gather 'round, huddle in warmth and think fondly of spring while we take a peek at what to expect for next season.

The A.J . Conundrum: Of the three actual players (sorry, Manny Ramirez made it perfectly clear that he no longer counts) awaiting the arbitration deadline, the Sox only offered it to Paulie and Putz. While they each have until the 30th (that would be tonight) to accept, hanging on to each of them makes immense sense. Paul Konerko just had a banner season, and despite falling to an unjustified and wholly iniquitous fifth place in AL MVP voting, he proved he is good for another season or two as the captain of the Good Guys. Putz, in light of the decaying-to-a-point-off-falling-off-the-bone-bullpen, is another obvious choice.  But what about everyone's favorite sucker punch recipient? What about A.J. Pierzynski?

On the one hand, his would-be replacements are cause for concern. Tyler Flowers hardly seems ready for a trip to the Majors after an inauspicious season in Charlotte and while Ramon Castro certainly brings considerable mash next to the plate, he might not yet be a reliable presence behind it. On the other hand, A.J. will most likely want at least a two year contract. His age and continued performance being the issues that they are, the Sox have a gamble awaiting them when deciding who will be in the #2 on the scorecard for 162 games next season.  With the Tigers grabbing Victor Martinez and the Rangers signing Yorvit Torrealba (rolls right off the tongue...), Pierzynski's options are dwindling. If this trend continues, the Sox may be able to sign him while still worming out of a long term commitment.

The Bullpen: Anyone willing to play Monday morning quarterback for a few minutes knows that biggest downfall of the 2010 White Sox was the lack of consistency and health of the Sox pen in the last couple months of the season. With the injuries plaguing the foundation of the pen right when the division race with the Twins started to count and Bobby Jenks piling on more doubt that he will ever be a reliable closer again, late innings became a great time for Sox fans to start flipping the channels in search of preseason Bears coverage.

Now however, the Sox face decisions with a number of pitchers, and have quite a few names that can be grabbed from free agency. It is hard to imagine we will see Jenks back next year given his struggles, but the Sox would be wise to hang on to Putz (who has until tonight to accept his arbitration). Tony Pena is also due for a contract, and will presumably get one given that he is fairly reliable and would come cheap despite employing the evil Scott Boras as his agent. So far the only move the Sox have made (besides wisely picking up Matt Thornton's $3 million dollar option), was the claiming of the very underwhelming Waldis Joaquim, who apparently would rather be a free agent than work with Ozzie Guillen and Don Cooper. It probably doesn't speak well of your off season when a guy with an ERA on the higher side of nine rejects your offer, but hey, it's only the end of November.

The Committee Didn't Work, Manny's RBIs Were Expensive, So Let's get a real DH Why Not? Very few people thought the revolving door of Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones, Mark Teahen, and ...erm... Omar Vizquel would work for the designated hitter. In fact, Ozzie seems like the only person who fully expected his Phil Rogers-level crazy experiment to actually produce runs on a regular basis. Kenny Williams finally gave us an exciting alternative with Manny Ramirez, but the runs he produced cost the White Sox roughly a million bucks apiece, so it is unlikely we will see him in black pinstripes again.

Depending on what kind of deal (if any) the Sox work out with Konerko, the veteran could be moved to the DH slot to make way for a younger first baseman. It seems unfair to expect Paulie to keep producing the way he did in 2010, so maybe converting him to a position where he only has to swing his bat a few times a day would be a great way to keep him as a presence on the team.

The Sox could also avoid making the same terrible mistake two years in a row by signing Jim Thome, who is once again a free agent. Even if they pay him a few million dollars to climb inside the Southpaw suit, they would at least prevent him from crushing dingers in a Twins uniform.

Vlad Guerrero's future with the Texas Rangers hangs in the balance while the current AL champs try to keep Cliff Lee out of an Evil Empire uniform, so maybe now is a good time for Kenny Williams to toss some money his way. Williams' best known trait is his love of big name players, so while it seems unlikely Vlad's ties will actually be cut with Texas, it doesn't seem hard to picture him on Williams' radar. So long as they commit to one good player (sorry, Kotsay) to fill the role, the White Sox will be significantly stronger than they were last year, at least offensively.

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