Sunday, February 20, 2011

Can Chris Sale Sell Himself For Sox Closer Role?

  Chris Sale one year ago was in the minor leagues, not even on the spring training radar screen. The first I heard of him was when the Sox drafted him last year. The expectations were extremely high, that he would be a future White Sox pitching sensation. I checked up on Chris Sale throughout the season, but I didn't expect to see him. When Jake Peavy went down in July, I joked that maybe Chris Sale would step on a major league mound. It wasn't until a game versus Kansas City when I saw that happen. I saw him walk to the mound and strike out the first batter he pitched to. All three pitches 99 mph. I knew then he had a future.
  He earned a 1.93 ERA, thirty-two strike outs, and four saves during the few months he threw for the Sox. Then during the off season I heard rumors he would become a starter. I had thought that was a good idea when he first came to the club, but after seeing how exceptional he was in the bullpen I had second thoughts. Recently the White Sox announced that Chris Sale would be best suited in the bullpen for 2011. Now comes the question, should he be the closer?
  A majority of White Sox fans were upset that Bobby Jenks didn't come back. The closer threw intense heat and was a fan favorite among many. He threw the final pitch of the 2005 World Series, earning a save in game one during his rookie year. The White Sox were family to him, and he was family to the White Sox. Letting him go was a matter of too much talent in the bullpen, if that makes sense. It is possible the White Sox felt that with the addition of talented Jessie Crain, and current bullpen pitchers Matt Thornton and Chris Sale, there was simply no room for a high profile closer. Whatever the case Jenks had to pack his bags and move out to Boston, leaving an empty spot behind that would be hard to replace.
  Matt Thornton is the obvious choice for the job, he would be the most experienced and safe pick due to his success last season. The only thing is he was great in the set-up role last year and maybe it would be more beneficiary to leave him in his comfort zone. However, if he did become the closer, Jessie Crain was set-up man for Minnesota so he could surely replace Thornton in that spot. Tony Pena can work long innings and in some cases even start, so he could win over long reliever. Will Ohman will probably be more prone to pitching when needed. He is more of a situational pitcher, used in situations when he is known to succeed. For example pitching to a lefty or when a certain amount of men are on base. As far as Sergio Santos is concerned, he could be a third contender for closer but most likely will be another arm used to get through a late inning.
   Then there is Chris Sale. The young star. Only time will tell what place he will fit into best inside the pen, but at the moment he could definitely become the star closer. Sale would enjoy that role, it is just a matter of whether or not he can win it over Thornton. If not then he could thrive as a sixth to seventh inning reliever, setting down batters until Jessie Crain can set up Thornton. As Opening Day comes closer, it will become more clear what the bullpen will look like, but for now we can just speculate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A New Season Begins...After An Eventful Offseason

Today, February 17th, marks the beginning of a brand new baseball season. Outside there may still be snow and cold temperatures in Chicago but with a warm front coming into the area and with the White Sox reporting to Arizona it feels a little bit like spring, and spring feels like baseball.
  This was definitely an offseason to remember. As the stadium screens turned off, and Sox fans took a final look at the park there was uncertainly in the air. As Konerko and Piersynski trotted off the field, Sox fans took their possible final looks at the two ballplayers. Memories flashed by and minds began to wonder what the 2011 season would be like. Unlike the 2005 offseason, when Konerko's contract was under question, White Sox fans were a little less confident that he would return.
  I think the question on everyone's mind was whether or not Kenny Williams would propose the plan to go young. In my opinion going young is a term that means a season to rebuild. Not many people travel to a building that is being built, maybe every so often they will, but no one wants to go everyday to see the construction. People would much rather see the glorious final product. Of course it is true you can't get to that point without some building, but the White Sox already had a foundation.
  Alexei Ramirez and Gordan Beckham aren't rookies anymore but they are still young. Brent Morel and Chris sale proved in the late 2010 season that they could be great young components for 2011. So the young players were already present. A lot of teams were thrown in 2010 when a majority of the playoff teams were young, but veterans can not be undermined by fresh talent. Rebuilding years are never fun and I think Kenny Williams realized that he couldn't go in front of a microphone and say, "Well, um this year we are going to rebuild, we probably won't win a lot. Maybe next year it will be that way too, but maybe by 2013 we can beat the Twins for the division."
  I think attendance also played a large part in the moves made by the White Sox organization. According to Jerry Reinsdorf they went all in with the hope the attendance would pick up. Fans can pay for big name players by going to the games, that was the whole idea around the 2011 decisions. It was very unclear what path the Sox would take. The anticipation came down to a couple days before the winter meetings. I think the biggest surprise was when Adam Dunn signed a four year contract. At this point a lot of people thought that the Sox would still rebuild but Adam Dunn would replace Konerko.  
  My views on Konerko are like most of Chicagoens. I think Konerko makes the White Sox. He is a silent leader that brings the whole team together. In other words he is like the seams of a baseball, without the red yarn it could not stay together. 2005 players solidify the White Sox because they remind fans of that victorious year. When 2005 players became free agents this year, there was a possiblity that Mark Buehrle would be the only remaining reminder of that historic club.
  With Buehrle possibly leaving baseball after the 2011 season I thought it was appropiate for the White Sox to give Konerko, Buehrle, Piersynski, and Jenks one more shot at winning it all together one more time. The White Sox organization apparently thought the same way. With the exception of Jenks, they shocked the baseball world by signing those players again. Carlos Quentin, whose career has been dampened by injuries came back too, along with Omar Vizquel who is partly responsible for Alexei Ramirez's success in the 2010 season. Alex Rios and Juan Pierre will also be returning in the outfield for 2011. The pitching staff isn't really finalized yet because of Jake Peavy's career being still up for disscussion but the bullpen looks strong with the addition of Minnesota Twin's Jessie Crain and Will Ohman. I will go into more detail on the 2011 team and depth chart in my next post but for now it is very clear that the White Sox went ALL IN FOR 2011.