Future looks bright for White Sox
Peavy, Rios cogs to Chicago's turnaround beyond 2009
CHICAGO -- The future of the Chicago White Sox looks better than their present.
This assumes that Jake Peavy becomes healthy enough to pitch again on an extremely regular basis. For the moment, Peavy's future is a theory. It is true that he can be one of the best in the game. Peavy was that when he won the National League Cy Young Award in 2007. But he has not pitched since June 8, due first to a right ankle injury, then getting struck in the right elbow with a line drive while making a rehab start.
On Sunday, Peavy threw a bullpen session at U.S. Cellular Field after which he reported that the elbow was improved.
"I would love to pitch soon," Peavy told a group of reporters. "I'm as tired and frustrated with all this as I'm sure you guys are."
Yes, the frustration is fairly widespread. When manager Ozzie Guillen was earlier asked about Peavy's status, he responded with a plea: "Please get healthy. Please pitch so I don't have to answer these stupid questions."
Late Sunday morning, when Guillen was asked what was going on with Peavy, the manager replied. "He's having a nice breakfast or lunch now."
But it turned out that Peavy was doing something more productive, throwing roughly 50 pitches in the bullpen, moving forward at least a bit in the cause of pitching again before the end of this season.
Peavy will likely be too late to salvage this team's season. After winning four consecutive games, the White Sox, lost to Boston on Sunday, 6-1. They could do next to nothing against Red Sox starter Jon Lester. Chicago starter John Danks pitched competently, but the White Sox bullpen failed to keep the game close. The loss dropped the White Sox eight games behind Detroit in the American League Central with 24 games left.
But the White Sox would like to see their pitching investment in action. And Peavy is quite an investment, well beyond the young talent Chicago had to trade to San Diego to obtain him. Peavy's current contract will pay him $15 million in 2010, $16 million in '11 and $17 million in '12. Then there is a $22 million team option for '13 with a $4 million buyout. That's a minimum of $52 million owed to him.
But he has been a legitimate ace and he is only 28. Put him into the White Sox rotation next year and this club is in excellent shape, one through four. Mark Buehrle needs no introduction. Gavin Floyd gave additional evidence how good he can be with an overpowering performance against a good Boston lineup on Saturday. Danks was the losing pitcher on Saturday, but he has already established his worth.
"This kid has a heart bigger than this ballpark," Guillen said.
That would be an exceptional rotation, but the biggest difference-maker would be Peavy, if he is healthy and pitching at the top of his considerable game.
Elsewhere, the White Sox could expect a normal progression from some talented young players. Three-fourths of the infield is in this category -- third baseman Gordon Beckham, shortstop Alexei Ramirez, second baseman Chris Getz. All three are legitimate, but Beckham, not yet 23, gives evidence of becoming a real impact player. His stardom appears to be a question of when, not if.
A full, healthy season from left fielder Carlos Quentin would be an obvious boost to the White Sox offense, and is not an unreasonable expectation.
Chicago is placing much of its optimism for the future on outfielder Alex Rios, another recent -- and highly expensive -- acquisition. The 28-year-old is set to earn salaries of $9.7 million in 2010, $12 million in '11, $12 million in '12, $12.5 million in '13 and $12.5 million in '14. There is a club option on Rios of $13.5 million for '15, with a $1 million buyout. That's a minimum of $59.7 million due to Rios.
There is no dispute in baseball circles about Rios's many talents. But there is some question about how fully those talents will be utilized. Rios had an exceptional 2007. Then he slipped slightly in most offensive categories in '08. This season, the decline continued, but more sharply. And since being obtained from Toronto, Rios has played well defensively, but his offense has been largely invisible. He is hitting .160 in 21 games with the White Sox, with one walk and 21 strikeouts. After his third consecutive strikeout on Sunday, the home crowd booed him with real enthusiasm.
But the White Sox are confident in his future contributions. At these prices, they need to be confident. Guillen suggests that Rios' initial struggles here may be the result of pressing in an attempt to create a strong impression in Chicago.
"You come from one ballclub to another [and there are] a lot of expectations," Guillen said. "You've got a tendency to try to carry this ballclub. But he'll be fine. He's a good ballplayer and I expect him to have a good year for us."
Regardless of what else happens, the White Sox should take steps to shore up their bullpen for 2010. Statistically, Chicago's current bullpen has been close to the AL average, but that's not good enough for a postseason club.
Still, you can easily see how, one year into the future, Labor Day 2010, the White Sox could be in a far better position than they are now.
They could have a pitcher of elite quality, Jake Peavy, at the core of a strong rotation. They could have talented young position players making steady progress. And they could get considerably more out of Alex Rios than they are getting now.
None of these expectations is wildly unrealistic. And if the adage "you get what you pay for" is accurate, Peavy and Rios will be major contributors on not one, but a series of successful White Sox teams.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.