Posted on 06 February 2012.
It’s easy to see why Chicago White Sox fans might struggle to get excited about the 2012 season. The organization gave them little reason to think it is serious about contending this summer.
In trading All-Star left fielder Carlos Quentin and closer Sergio Santos and letting starting pitcher Mark Buehrle walk in free agency, general manager Ken Williams seemed to indicate a commitment to rebuilding. But little else was changed after that, leaving the White Sox in a hazy middle ground. There is, however, at least one new source of hope on the South Side.
Former White Sox star Robin Ventura makes his return to Chicago as the team’s new manager, replacing the volatile Ozzie Guillen, and looks to guide his old club through a cloud of uncertainty.
At 44 years old and less than a decade removed from playing, Ventura should be able to connect well with Chicago’s younger players such as Dayan Viciedo, Gordon Beckham and Brent Morel. His ability to push those players closer to their full potential could prove a significant boost to the team’s chances of staying competitive.
Ventura will have an important sidekick in pitching coach Don Cooper, who was retained after Guillen’s departure. Pitching will be paramount in keeping the Sox afloat.
Even without Buehrle, the rotation contains capable starters in John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Phil Humber. But perhaps more important will be the fate of former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy.
The White Sox desperately need a resurgence from 30-year-old Peavy, who has battled numerous injuries since coming to Chicago from San Diego in 2009. If he can stay healthy and find some of the old magic that made him a 19-game winner in 2007, the rotation should be a strength.
More than Peavy, though, Chicago needs Adam Dunn to rediscover the player who could be counted on for 40 home runs and 100 RBIs each season. The first baseman-turned-DH signed a big-money deal with the White Sox prior to last season, and the return on investment could not have been much worse. He posted career lows in all offensive categories, including a .159 batting average and just 11 home runs, leaving Sox fans cringing at the team’s four-year commitment.
A rebound season from Dunn could mitigate the offensive punch lost in the Quentin trade, and offseason reports indicate he has broken his habit of not taking batting practice. He reportedly plans to report early to camp for extra work.
Ventura will have his hands full this season with a team that appears to have just one foot in the rebuilding waters. Compounding the challenge is his lack of experience as a manager at any level, though the belief is that his playing style will translate well to the coaching side. He’ll certainly benefit from the returning veteran presence of first baseman Paul Konerko, who continues to produce big numbers into his mid-30s.
Given the subtractions, it’s hard to imagine the White Sox improving on last season’s third-place finish in the Central. But if Guillen’s act had grown stale, perhaps the change in attitude under Ventura can bring about a rejuvenation.
Whos new: Nester Molina, P (trade, Toronto); Robin Ventura, manager.
Whos gone: Mark Buehrle, SP (free agent, Miami); Jason Fraser, RP (trade, Toronto); Juan Pierre, OF (free agent, Philadelphia); Carlos Quentin, OF (trade, San Diego); Sergio Santos, RP (trade, Toronto); Omar Vizquel, IF (free agent, Toronto).
Battle ground: Chicago’s offseason moves created a number of openings in the lineup, starting with the outfield. Dayan Viciedo, just 22, looks to take over full time in right field, and Alejandro De Aza appears likely to man Quentin’s old spot in left, but Brent Lillibridge will be competing with both. … Santos’ exit created the need for a new closer, and it appears to be a three-man race for the job. Some see 23-year-old Addison Reed as the early favorite, but he has made just six major league appearances. Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton are also in the mix.
Health watch: Peavy has battled injuries since his 2009 arrival in Chicago, and the White Sox shut him down in early September last season to avoid risking any further shoulder issues. But for the first time in three years, Peavy didn’t spend the winter rehabbing, so there is optimism heading into spring training.
Sneak preview: After coming over from the Blue Jays in the Santos trade, right-handed hurler Nestor Molina could be a season or two away from joining the major league rotation. The 23-year-old impressed in Single-A and Double-A last year, going 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA and more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings … Several young outfield prospects will try to impress in camp, as Brandon Short, Jared Mitchell, Trayce Thompson and Jordan Danks (younger brother of John) all received non-roster invitations.
Spring training info: Camelback Ranch, Glendale, 10710 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix. First workouts: Feb. 23 (pitchers and catchers), Feb. 28 (full squad). First game: March 5. Tickets: www.whitesox.com.