Monday, February 18, 2013

2013: Spring Training and the Offseason

  Spring Training has officially begun for the Chicago White Sox, and for many fans the thought of pitchers and catchers reporting to Camelback Ranch is a pleasant one. In some ways, it is actually a remedy for the pain felt at the end of last season, when a late three-game division lead suddenly turned into a three-game deficit. It was uncomfortable for fans to watch the Detroit Tigers celebrate on the field and throw on division champion apparel. Even more agonizing was driving by a silent U.S. Cellular field in October, knowing that if things had gone just a little bit differently, the stadium would have been host to multiple playoff games. However, nothing serves better to override the past than the promise of a new season and the start of the 2013 campaign holds to be a positively anticipated one. Shortly after the end of the 2012 season, Kenny Williams, the Sox's general manager for 12 years, was promoted to Executive Vice President and Assistant GM Rick Hahn was given his old position.
  With the offseason spilling into Spring Training, many fans are ambivalent about Hahn's offseason moves. White Sox fans watched as high-profile free agents spilled into the hands of other teams, particularly to rival teams within their division. Fans were also irked by the departure of A.J. Piersynski, the veteran catcher and an inherent staple of the Chicago White Sox roster. Piersynski signed with the Texas Rangers in a one-year deal for a price tag of $7.5 million. The White Sox had offered him a mere $4 million, which was seemingly low considering in 2012 the catcher hit a career-high 27 homers, combined with 77 RBI's and a respectable .278 batting average. Those types of offensive numbers will surely be missed when Tyler Flowers replaces Piersynski. Flowers was a hot prospect just a couple of years ago and will now assume the role of starting catcher. This is undoubtedly the most unsettling facet of the White Sox because Flowers has struggled offensively, posting a .205 career average and exhibiting a tendency to strike out. The pitching staff has complimented Flower's game-calling abilities and is confidant in him from a catching standpoint. Flowers has power potential and when he did connect last year, he managed to hit a few home runs. However, those will have to become more common in 2013 for the catcher to earn some credibility in Chicago.
  2012 season rentals, such as Kevin Youkilis, Francisco Liriano, and Brett Myers were not resigned by the White Sox and thus departed. The absence of Kevin Youkilis left a void at third base and the previous holder of that spot, Brent Morel, is still posing concerns for the White Sox, both over his back injury and his overall playing ability. Morel will have a shot to redeem himself in Spring Training but nonetheless Rick Hahn chose to add some security at third-base by signing free agent Jeff Keppinger to a three-year, $12 million deal. Keppinger is a versatile contact hitter, who aims for average over power. He will be a much needed addition to the Sox, who will benefit from his presence in the batting order to offset the power heavy middle of their line-up.
  The other notable move by the White Sox was resigning Jake Peavy, in a two-year, $29 million deal that ate up a good portion of the Sox's offseason payroll. The re-upping of Jake Peavy's contract set a precedent that the White Sox intend to compete this year. Gavin Floyd's $9.5 million option was also picked up, which solidifies that the Sox will field a stellar pitching staff this season. That stellar pitching staff will be their strongest suit going into 2013. Pitching wins ball games and the White Sox will have both a superb starting five and a well-rounded bullpen. Chris Sale, John Danks, Jake Peavy, Jose Quintana, Gavin Floyd, and Hector Santiago will all make up the starting rotation. Sale had a watermark year in 2012, his first full season as a starter, posting a 3.05 ERA and an outstanding record of 17-8. Question marks still surround the health of John Danks, but overall the rotation looks strong. The bullpen will be filled out by both veteran talent and young contributors. Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and newly acquired Matt Lindstrom will bring their veteran experience to late inning ball games, while Nate Jones, Donnie Veal and other youngsters will add spark to the pool of relievers. Addison Reed, the young pitcher who excelled in the closer role last year will attempt to replicate his 2012 numbers.
  So far this offseason, the White Sox have failed to add a coveted left-handed hitter. They will only have two left-handed hitters in their everyday line-up this year, which raises some red flags about whether or not the team can compete with an off balanced batting order. However, upper management has contended that if the White Sox are competing by midseason, they will aim to add another big name player. Thus the question emerges. Can the White Sox contend by midseason? The AL Central has only strengthened this offseason. The Tiger's, who are the American League defending champions already have an electric line-up and it has only strengthened with the addition of Tori Hunter. The Cleveland Indians have added Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds, and Michael Bourn. This puts them in a good spot to the challenge the White Sox and the Tigers. The Kansas City Royal also have reignited playoff hopes by adding pitchers Jeremy Guthrie, James Shields, and Wade Davis to an eclectic group of young talent. If anything, these moves make it a little more of the challenge for the White Sox to catch Detroit this season. However, it also makes it more likely that at least one of the two wild card spots will go to a team in the AL Central. The new playoff format allows two wild card spots and it appears as though the White Sox will be in a position to contend for at least one of them. Last season, they won 85 games. Their surprising success was written off as luck and career years for players such as Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn, and Alex Rios. However, that wasn't exactly the case. Jake Peavy simply rebounded from injury and finally began to pitch to his potential. Adam Dunn is a player who has the capability to hit 40 home runs, and nothing indicates that he can't do so again in 2013. Alex Rios finally played to his potential as well and hopefully will finally find some consistency. At the same time, young players such as Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza should only springboard off of last year's experience. In the meantime, this could potentially be team leader Paul Konerko's last season in Chicago and his performance will be one of the definitive factors regarding the White Sox's overall success.
  The White Sox were a playoff caliber team last year and were simply plagued by inexperience in the realm of their younger players. 2013 should be a year for more growth but also for true competition. The team should be in the race along with Detroit and the other refined powers of the AL Central in the Indians and the Royals. The White Sox exceed expectations last year but they didn't exceed potential. They met their potential. This year they can exceed it.