The 2011 Chicago White Sox finished the season 79-83, good enough for 3rd place in their division – 16 games behind the Detroit Tigers. After an up and down season, White Sox ownership decided it was time for a change in the clubhouse. So, they fired Ozzie Guillen, and hired a former teammate of his (also from the ’90’s White Sox teams) – Robin Ventura. Not only is hiring Ventura a risky move (he has absolutely NO managing experience at any level above high school), but his personality is the polar opposite of Guillen. This last part may be very intentional on the part of the White Sox, but I’m not sure I’m sold on the extreme loyalty being shown to a former player – albeit a very good one. But, only time will tell.
The White Sox offense was not strong. Only three teams in the AL (Oakland, Seattle, and Minnesota) scored fewer runs or had a worse team OPS in 2011. I’ll give them some credit, though – the only two teams in baseball that struck out fewer times than the White Sox were the two teams in the World Series. And, their pitching was mediocre on good days. They finished the season 19th in team ERA, and 20th in batting avg. against. So, needless to say, there are a lot of holes to fill on this team for 2012.
One small problem – the White Sox have a plethora of overpriced contracts. Contracts that aren’t going away anytime soon. Contracts that make for a payroll of almost $93 million in 2012 – with only 13 players under contract at this point. And several of these players aren’t anywhere close to being worth what they will be paid in 2012. If I was actually in charge on the south side of Chicago, I’d start making trades as quickly as possible. But, with these posts, we’ve been going under the assumption that no major trades take place. So, we’ll have to fill the remaining 12 roster spots for the White Sox without going crazy with our spending. Over the last 5 seasons, the White Sox have averaged a payroll of around $112 million. I’ll have to say there’s no possible way to add 12 more players to this team for a total of less than $20 million, and think you’re going to be competitive. Especially since your ace at the top of the pitching staff is now a free agent. I’m going to do my best to see what I can do with a $125 million payroll – which is actually right around what their opening day payroll was in 2011.
The good news for the White Sox is that they do have some young talent that could potentially continue to improve in 2012. Gordon Beckham at 2B, and Brent Lillibridge in the OF have bright futures. And, with Juan Pierre leaving a hole in LF, I see no reason why you wouldn’t put Lillibridge in there on an everyday basis. He’s cheap, and has 30+ home run potential. The rest of your starting positions are pretty much set: Paul Konerko at 1B, Alexei Ramirez at SS, A.J. Pierzynski at C, Alex Rios in CF, and Carlos Quentin in RF. Brent Morel played decent at 3B in 2011, but again this is a team that was near the bottom in offensive production. And, the option that makes the most sense: Aramis Ramirez. He’s clearly the best offensive third baseman on the market, and is still playing well enough to offer a 3-year deal in the $25-30 million range. The best part is that Ramirez might like the idea of staying in Chicago, since he refused to allow the Cubs to trade him at the trading deadline in 2011 because he didn’t want to uproot his family. If you add Ramirez to this lineup, the trickle-down effect could be substantial.
In the starting rotation, the brightest future belongs to Philip Humber, who went 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA, and a 1.17 WHIP in 26 starts in 2011. He’s just 28, which means he’s just now coming into his prime. Gavin Floyd hasn’t quite lived up to the potential he showed us in 2008 when he won 17 games, but has shown enough to prove he could be a very reliable #2 starter. John Danks and Jake Peavy round out the bottom of the rotation, but there’s still a glaring hole at the top. The sensible decision based on payroll would be to go after a guy like Hiroki Kuroda, and hope that by the time his 2-3 year deal runs out you’ll have enough payroll to go after a more legit #1 starter. But, if the White Sox really don’t mind spending $130+ million in 2011, they could try to keep Mark Buehrle in the fold for probably $12-15 million per year. I’m just not sure he’s worth that kind of money.
The bullpen is a bit of a curiosity for the White Sox. They recently signed Sergio Santos to a multi-year deal that locks him in as their most likely closer for the next few years (although they didn’t spend big bucks, so if he falters they haven’t wasted a lot of payroll). Chris Sale performed very well for them in 2011 (2.79 ERA, 1.11 WHIP), and he’s pre-arbitration eligible so they definitely should keep him around. Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton, Jason Frasor and Will Ohman are locked in for 2012 with sizeable contracts, so you’ve got them for better or for worse. But, the White Sox do have some young relief pitchers with a lot of potential in their farm system. Greg Infante and Addison Reed could very easily see time in the majors in 2012 if the Sox want to ship off a higher priced reliever – especially if that would help them be able to afford holding onto Buehrle.
The bench should be entirely made up of youngsters. Dayan Viciedo, who they have locked up with a $2.5 million contract for 2012, is just 22 and can play any outfield spot. Other than that, Morel can be a utility player behind Ramirez at 3B, and then they can bring up Tyler Flowers (Pierzynski’s eventual replacement), Eduardo Escobar (a SS that’s ready to have his taste of a full major league season), and hold on to Alejandro De Aza, who can play multiple positions and served them well as a utility player in 2011.
If they go with Kuroda to fill the starting pitcher role, the payroll for 2012 would be around $127 million. If they go with Buehrle, you’re looking at more of a $132 million payroll (provided they don’t ship off a higher priced reliever or two in favor of some young talent in their farm system). The only other major changes would be Ramirez at 3B, and plugging in Lillibridge full time in LF to take Pierre’s place. This is the best chance they have to compete in 2012.