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White Sox Thu Dec 16 2010
The Sox are replacing last year's "It's Black & White" ads with the very apropos "We're All In" campaign. While the new slogan clearly refers to the money spent on retaining Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and acquiring Adam Dunn rather than blowing the doors off their competition a la the Red Sox and Phillies, it is hard to take the assessment lightly.
Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams began the offseason with the possibility of saying goodbye to some key players, and they came back from Florida with a mighty lineup chock full of fan favorites and a shiny new lefty slugger. If White Sox hustle was black and white in 2010, White Sox power offense will be clear as day in 2011.
Assuming everyone else stays put, the lineup for next year is starting to become clearer. Williams has stated publicly that he isn't looking to move anyone else, not even Carlos Quentin whose name was being tossed around as possible trade fodder just weeks ago. Should that remain true, here is what the Opening Day lineup looks like right now.
1) LF Juan Pierre -- This seems like a pretty safe bet. Pierre is a leadoff man before he is anything else, and his speed is still unmatched on the South Side. Last season he unfortunately had a very Pierre-like number of strikeouts with 47, but he also had a career high and MLB-leading number of stolen bases at 68. It was a great year for him, and he if he can succeed in bringing some more Ozzie-ball to the offense again next year, the sting of power hitters behind him can look forward to chalking up some extra RBIs.
2) 3B Omar Vizquel -- Personally, I was overjoyed when the Sox announced they would be bringing back the elderly statesman for another season. Third base was a tough role for Ozzie to fill in the first two months of 2010 when the White Sox were floundering, but when the clumsy Mark Teahen went down with a broken finger, our defensive prayers were answered with the rise of Omar. Last season he and Alexei Ramirez kept everything but the sun out of left field, and I think we'll see more of him in 2011 while Brent Morel further cuts his teeth. Unless Beckham has a great spring training, I imagine Vizquel will resume his duties as the No. 2 hitter.
3) DH Adam Dunn -- Word on the street, or at least Twitter, is that Dunn will be batting 3rd. This is a sign of good faith that Konerko will keep his 2010 magic with him in the new year and remain the best likely candidate for the cleanup spot, but I expect we will see a lot of maneuvering between Dunn and Konerko not only in the lineup, but also between who will be the designated hitter and who will play first base. With his hefty new contract, there will also be a lot of pressure on Dunn to remain the threatening lefty he was in the N.L.
4) 1B Paul Konerko -- The king will return next season after a rocky set of negotiations at the winter meetings that concluded when Reinsdorf himself apparently intervened. Assuming he can achieve even some of what he accomplished during his contract year, Konerko and Dunn look to be a pitcher's nightmare. However, given that their weighty contracts have tied up the team's ability to make any further acquisitions (with the exception of new reliever Jesse Crain, apparently), should either of them falter at the plate, the Sox will be looking at a $24 million dollar black hole in the batting order. Pitchers can easily opt to walk around to a slumping batter, so the "1-2 punch" only works if both pistons are firing. While he was the sole representative of the offense throughout much of 2010, the years previous showed a man in decline. The excitement of his re-signing and the threat of this offense will only both remain if we see more 2010 Paulie and less 2008 Paulie.
5) CF Alex Rios -- During the first melancholy months of 2010, Alex Rios was one of the few bright spots on the team. Some questioned the acquisition, but when the boos rained down on him in an early series in Toronto, Rios awoke and clobbered the ball throughout the first half of the season. Sadly, his second half was defined by more of a continuous slide, as his OPS fell nearly 100 points from .879 to .791. His final season in Toronto wasn't as prestigious either, so hopefully his strong start to 2010 wasn't a flash in the pan.
6) RF Carlos Quentin -- Kenny Williams maintains publicly that Quentin is off the table. Whether or not this is actually true remains to be seen, but if it is, TCQ will need to work a little harder to prove he is worth standing by. It wasn't a stellar year for the outfielder -- his struggles at the plate left him with an average under .250 -- but his OPS remained at an oddly high .891, showing some plate discipline and power. Everyone is wondering if his 2008 All Star season was a fluke or not, so 2011 would be a great time for him to show us it wasn't.
7) C A.J. Pierzynski -- Ah, A.J. Pierzynski. He had a fine season for a 33-year-old catcher, and as a fan favorite and a familiar face with the pitching staff he is set to return as the man opponents and opposing fans love to hate. He was prone to a string of slumps last season, and with powerful Ramon Castro or eager Tyler Flowers still circling in the clubhouse, he will have to avoid periods of aggressive swings with fruitless results. His OBP and slugging percentage were only slightly higher than his batting average last season, so while he had a fair amount of hits, walks and extra-base hits weren't his forte.
8) SS Alexei Ramirez -- It's not just homerism to suggest Alexei was robbed of the Golden Glove by a Yankees-obsessed baseball world. Yeah, Jeter only had six errors, but Alexei had significantly more assists (499 to Jeter's 365) and far more range. With this kind of defense, and a new silver slugger award on his trophy shelf, the White Sox are getting a hell of a bargain with Ramirez, and I expect, or at least very much hope, we will see him at short for a long time. I also imagine we will see him move up in the lineup as his career progresses, but his aggressive swings had him holding down the eight spot for most of 2010 whenever the Sox faced right-handers.
9) Gordon Beckham -- This is the guy we're all waiting on. It is likely Gordon Beckham will be shooting for the No. 2 spot in the lineup like last season, but until he prove he can keep his average north of .200, I think we'll see Omar occupy that slot early in on. However, if Beckham can become the player everyone is expecting him to grow into (and eventually succeed Paulie as the face of the team), then the Sox will have one hell of a playoff-caliber lineup with Pierre, Beckham, Dunn, Konerko and Rios batting 1 through 5.
Beckham exemplifies the potential this team carries. A lot could go right for the offense for this team, and if it does, the sky above the Dan Ryan should be filled with fireworks. The Sox are indeed all in, but now it's time to turn over the cards.