ARLINGTON -- In a perfect White Sox world, Jake Peavy reverts back to his 2007 National League Cy Young Award form, while Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber each win in double digits.
As for the left-handed part of the rotation, Chris Sale gradually develops into the staff ace -- even in his first year as a starter -- simply because the 23-year-old has electric stuff, probably the best on the staff. And John Danks ... ?
Well, the $65 million man basically becomes Mark Buehrle. And please remember, John Danks already was pretty darn good as John Danks.
Of course, Buehrle has left the White Sox, gone to Miami for his own $58 million deal over four years. But taking on the sizable role vacated by Buehrle doesn't just mean posting 13-16 wins every year, an ERA in the 3.50-3.80 range, making 30 starts and pitching 200 innings -- all significant tasks standing alone.
It also means grabbing a leadership post not just among the pitchers, but alongside Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and Matt Thornton on the roster. At 26 years old and with his first career Opening Day start coming on Friday in Arlington, Danks seems poised for the challenge.
"I don't mean this in a negative way, but he's kind of next in line," said Sale of his friend and fellow starter. "You saw Buehrle do what he did for 10 or 11 years, and I look at who is Mark Buehrle now. And it's John Danks."
"If anything, he is Buehrle by osmosis from hanging out with him so much. We have a lot of confidence in John," said Brent Lillibridge. "When he's out there, he's a competitor just like Buehrle. He's going after it hard, throws hard and gives you all he has. That's what you want from your leader in the rotation."
Since SoxFest in late January, about six weeks after Buehrle made his free-agent decision, Danks made it clear he wanted to be the next White Sox Opening Day starter. He didn't do it in a political campaign sort of way, with "Vote for Danks" billboards strewn along the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Instead, he spoke from the heart. Danks said it would be an honor to be given the ball first for the South Siders, treating that special moment pretty much as he approaches every day of his six-year career.
Manager Robin Ventura made the foregone conclusion official on March 26, at which point Danks humbly told the media that the other four starters were equally deserving of the nod. The fact that this is the first start of what eventually could challenge Buehrle's franchise-record nine Opening Day starts comes in Texas, Danks' home state, and against the organization that selected him as the ninth overall pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, makes the honor all the more special.
"He's a front-line guy," Sale said. "He's got the stuff. He's got the mentality. He's got everything that an ace or an Opening Day starter needs to have.
"There's no question it's well-deserved for him to throw on Opening Day. I was talking to him the other day, and it's special, too, because his Opening Day start is in his home state and he's going to have his family there. But he has a little chip on his shoulder. That's the team he was with before. It's just kind of weird how things work out that way."
Many White Sox followers wouldn't have believed Danks was going to make this Opening Day start for their team as recently as early December. One of the American League's steadiest starters was being shopped as he was approaching his final year of arbitration.
"You can't help but notice it," said Danks of the offseason trade rumors. "There were definitely times where, you know, I was expecting to be somewhere else. It's the nature of the game."
With just one year left before free agency, Danks didn't attract the high-end prospects befitting of a No. 1 pitcher. So the White Sox went in a different direction, offering him a five-year extension.
Skeptics will state that this extended contractual control makes Danks easier to trade. But Danks has a full no-trade clause for this first season, so he will be sitting atop the White Sox rotation at least through the 2012 campaign.
Danks hopes that job with the White Sox lasts throughout the five years and then a few years after. When his representative, Jeff Berry, informed Danks of the White Sox offer, they were originally caught off guard, but then thrilled. Danks was "adamant" with Berry "to get this thing moving along."
The White Sox also made this long-term commitment to Danks coming off an 8-12 season with a 4.33 ERA, starting with an 0-8 stretch and a 5.25 ERA.
"Yeah, I didn't take that for granted. I noticed they did it coming off of a bad year," Danks said. "It wasn't like I won 17 last year. I won eight games. I was the worst pitcher in baseball for the first two months, so you don't take that lightly.
"Knowing I can survive that and that these guys still have my back and believe in me, it's huge. I would like to make them look good and go out there and earn it."
One point needs to be made in closing: Danks is like his mentor, Buehrle, in terms of personality and competitive edge. But his raw stuff is better, which Buehrle would second. Danks possesses the total makeup to win 18-20 regularly.
When it all begins on Friday, Danks looks to set the tone for the rotation and then be there for the other pitchers when he's done.
"Good or bad, I would like to think that I'm thought of as someone who is going to bow my neck and compete and try to give us a chance to win," Danks said. "I would like to think that the guys playing the field behind me and the coaching staff can see that I'm out there trying to help us win a ballgame every time out.
"Obviously, that doesn't happen every time. But that's the ultimate goal: to give us a chance to win and get us deep in a ballgame."