Same cast key to White Sox contending in 2012
Club looking for bounce-back efforts from Dunn, Rios and Peavy
CHICAGO -- The 2011 debacle that was the 79-83 White Sox has produced a number of interesting descriptive terms regarding the organization's 2012 plans.
Let's start with "holding pattern." Then, there's "taking a step back," and, of course, "retooling," not rebuilding.
But here are a couple of more ideas to throw into the mix.
How about "standing pat" and "American League Central champions?" Yes, those phrases can go together with the South Siders pretty much as is.
Before anyone checks to see if rose-colored glasses come with this story or whether a new brand of "White Sox Kool-Aid" is being marketed, check out the following facts.
Most teams committing a franchise-record $127 million toward payroll, as was done by the White Sox in 2011, would follow up a subpar season with wholesale changes. The truth facing the White Sox, though, is that there really aren't many moves to be made.
Designated hitter Adam Dunn is coming off of a historically bad inaugural campaign with the White Sox -- in which he hit .159 with 11 homers, 42 RBIs, 177 strikeouts and 75 walks in 415 at-bats. The remaining $44 million owed him over three years seems to belong to the White Sox, assuming scouts from opposing teams watched Dunn's ineptitude for more than a game or two last year.
The same can be said for center fielder Alex Rios, who is due $39.5 million over the next three years, on the heels of a .227 effort with 13 homers and 44 RBIs. Jake Peavy is in a slightly different group than the previous two veterans, in that he's hoping to be back at full strength more than 18 months removed from surgery to reattach his detached lat muscle. Peavy still has $21 million left in his one year with the White Sox.
Here's the caveat to this somewhat dire picture. All three of these players are not only talented and proven, but proven at an All-Star level.
Rios seems to be on a one-year off, one-year on sort of trend, meaning he could be back in line for another performance approaching 30 homers and 30 stolen bases, as he challenged during his stellar 2010 showing. As for Dunn, there were few people complaining about his addition back at his inaugural press conference last December.
Not with Dunn's raw power. Not in a hitter-friendly ballpark such as U.S. Cellular Field.
Concerns existed over Dunn's first move to full-time DH work, his first move to the AL and his first move to a team holding lofty preseason expectations. Those issues translated, maybe, into a .220 or .230 average with 30 homers and 90 RBIs, at worst.
Nobody could have predicted what happened to Dunn in 2011. If people are ready to write off players such as Dunn and Rios based on one really bad season, then they can't overlook Dunn's yearly average of 38 homers, 95 RBIs and a .374 on-base percentage as a reason for encouragement. Any sort of reasonable showing by this duo in '12 strengthens the middle of the order, and should make the team tougher with runners in scoring position.
Aside from bounce-back efforts from these three key performers, the White Sox look set at pretty much every other position. Paul Konerko comes off another Most Valuable Player-caliber effort at first base, with the infield rounded out by Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez and Brent Morel.
Beckham's struggles for parts of the last two years have been well-documented, but his spirit to find his offensive game has not been broken. Ramirez needs to produce a slightly bigger on-field impact to go with solid numbers, while Morel's defense is Major League quality and his offensive production grew as his rookie year progressed.
Carlos Quentin, Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza figure into the outfield picture with Rios. The starting rotation has seven candidates for five spots, even without free agent Mark Buehrle factored in, while the bullpen features closer Sergio Santos with right-handed setup man Jesse Crain and left-handed setup man Matt Thornton in front.
Arbitration-eligible players such as Quentin and left-handed starter John Danks have been mentioned as possible trade candidates, as a way to reduce payroll commitments. But general manager Ken Williams has talked about only trading White Sox players for Major League-ready talent -- which Quentin, 29, and Danks, 26, clearly rank far above.
With $90 million already committed to 12 players, and factoring in raises for Danks and Quentin, the payroll goes over $100 million. Re-signing Buehrle probably takes that same payroll between $115-$118 million, and it remains to be seen if that drop from $127 million is enough to offset 2011's shortcomings, with young players filling in the remaining roster voids.
Of greatest concern to the White Sox should be the high level of returning talent on the Detroit Tigers, and rising young teams such as the Indians and Royals. The White Sox could have the ingredients to challenge, even in Robin Ventura's first year as manager and with this same group that fell short in 2011.
In the long run, faith in what has been assembled might be Williams' and the White Sox greatest asset.