2011 Season Forecast: Chicago White Sox

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  88 – 74
2009:  79 – 83
2008:  89 – 74
2007:  72 – 90
2006:  90 – 72

The White Sox have been competitive for much of the last six or seven years, 2007 notwithstanding.

Runs Scored: 752 (7th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 704 ( 8th in the AL)

With this combination, the White Sox would be expected to win 86 games or so – right about where they finished.

Season Recap:

At the beginning of the season, many expected the White Sox to contend with the Twins for the AL Central crown, and they contended until the last few days of the season.

The Sox actually got off to kind of a slow start, having losing records in April and May.  At one point, the Sox were eight games under .500 and threatening to finish in last place at 24 – 33 after a loss to Detroit.  However, the Sox got SCORCHING HOT, winning eleven in a row and fifteen of sixteen to sprint back into the race.  (Of course, they played the Cubs, Pirates, Nationals, and Braves for that stretch, losing only a 1 – 0 game to Ted Lilly and the Cubs which likely saved Lou Piniella’s job.)  Another nine game winning streak got the Sox to 50 – 39, at which point people started to think playoffs.

Once they had to face teams in their division, however, the Sox fell back.  Only one more hot streak – a seven game winning streak in the beginning of September – kept them alive.  Then, facing the Twins and Tigers, the Sox lost eight in a row (the last two to Oakland), and they were done.  The Twins beat the Sox 13 times, the difference between first and second place.

During the season, the Sox acquired two players, trading Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg to Arizona for Edwin Jackson and claiming Manny Ramirez from the Dodgers after he had been waived.  Neither player figured heavily in the team’s fortunes down the stretch.  Jackson pitched reasonably well in his eleven starts; Manny – not so much, but only batted 69 times.
Starters:

The Sox have a LOT of quality starting pitching.  John Danks was fantastic – 213 innings and saving his team 24 runs over that span.  Mark Buehrle did what he always does, throws strikes, eats innings, and wins games.  Gavin Floyd was saddled with a losing record but, like Buehrle is an above average pitcher with a record of durability.  Jake Peavy was expected to be the ace, but he suffered a significant tear in a muscle behind his throwing shoulder and hopes to be back for much of the 2011 season after having an experimental surgery to repair it.  Last year’s #5, Freddy Garcia, was surprisingly effective in 28 starts but won’t be back because Edwin Jackson is about the best fifth starter you can possibly imagine.  37 wins in the last three years, a no-hitter last year, and a power arm.  It’s hard to find a better overall rotation outside of Philadelphia anywhere.

Relievers:

Bobby Jenks and his 4.44 ERA is no longer the closer, having moved on to Boston.  And, J.J. Putz, the former set up man, is a closer in Arizona.  Don’t worry about the Pale Hose, though, because the rest of the bullpen is as good as the rotation.  Chris Sale was impressive in 23.1 innings, striking out 32 batters and allowing just 15 hits – and becomes the new closer.  His late season dominance allowed Jenks, who was losing his effectiveness, to leave town.  Scott Thornton has been a solid reliever for a couple of years now and becomes the lock down set up man.  Sergio Santos was effective, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman have been imported to provide middle inning support options, and Tony Pena can do the job as a swing man or long reliever.

Catching:

The Sox have a decent tandem in A.J. Pierzynski and Ramon Castro.  Pierzynski is starting to show signs of age, but is still reasonably effective.  Castro is a good enough hitter to warrant more playing time if needed.  As a defensive unit, the two were above average in five categories (ERA, Winning Percentage, Caught Stealing, Mistakes per Game, and Fielding Percentage on plays other than strikeouts), and below average only in mobility categories.

Infield:

Both offensively and defensively, you had two positions working in the Sox favor, and two working the other way.  Paul Konerko remains a sturdy bat in the middle of the lineup, but defensively he and his 2010 backup, Mark Kotsay, are well below average.  At second base, Gordon Beckham, you had the opposite.  Beckham has decent enough defensive skills, but didn’t hold his own with the bat in 2010, unlike what he suggested was possible in 2009.  At short, Alexei Ramirez was solid offensively despite a rather low OBP because he hit for power and had a reasonably good batting average.  And, defensively, he played at a gold glove level.  Then you have the hole at third, where Mark Teahan had an off year and couldn’t stay healthy either – costing the team runs with the glove and bat.  The person who played the most at third was the elder statesman, Omar Vizquel, who looked very out of place defensively and hit like Paul Bako with even less power.

Arriving to help the cause is Brent Morel, a third round pick in 2008 out of Cal Poly, who has shown a plus bat and some power.  In AA and AAA, he hit 10 – 60 – .322 and earned a 21 game tryout with the Sox in September.  If Morel can hold his own at the position and hit .280 with a dozen homers, this would be a significant step up for the Sox over what played there in 2010.

Outfield:

Alex Rios came over from Toronto, played center extremely well, and put a lot of runs on the board – his best season since signing that huge contract a few years ago.  Juan Pierre remains the left fielder – though Mighty Casey can’t explain it.  For a guy who is supposed to be fast, he’s NOT a plus range fielder, and unless he’s hitting .320, he’s a waste of at bats.  In right, Carlos Quentin was so bad defensively that he offset whatever benefits having Rios and Pierre in center and left may have provided.  His power is still around, but he misses a lot games (much less pitches).  I think the Sox will miss Andruw Jones, who can’t really cover any ground but hit 19 homers in essentially a half season of at bats.  Alejando De Aza is the new fourth outfielder, a guy I used to root for in Florida, and is running out of chances to stick.  He can play a little.

DH:

Last year, there was a rotation of hitters, none who will be anywhere as good as the newly signed free agent, Adam Dunn.  Dunn is an offensive force, and gives the team depth at left or first base, too.  (He can’t field them, but he can certainly hit enough so that you won’t notice too much.)

Down on the Farm:

Brett Morel we covered…  Behind him on the AAA depth chart is 3B-1B candidate Dayan Viciedo, a 22-year-old Cuban kid with serious power and upside and didn’t disappoint when given a shot with the parent club in 2010.  If Paul Konerko starts to get old, Viciedo could step in and be a quality first baseman for more than a decade.  Pitcher Daniel Hudson looked to be close to ready, but was sent to Arizona for Edwin Jackson at the trade deadline.  Hudson looked like he could be as good as Jackson, but Arizona is rebuilding while the White Sox are merely retooling.

At AA Birmingham, first baseman Jimmy Gallagher had a season that looks like something on the back of Mark Grace’s baseball card, but may not have a future here unless it’s as a pinch hitter.  The pitcher who stands out, to me anyway, is reliever Deunte Heath, who fanned 84 in 57.2 innings, but may have issues harnessing his control.  Anthony Carter also had a decent season in relief.

A guy who seems to have the team’s eye is Gregory Infante, who converted from a starter to a reliever and blew through A+ Winston-Salem and then Birmingham.  69Ks in 60 innings, didn’t allow a single homer (just 12 in 291 minor league innings), and for a really young kid out of Caracas, Venezuela, he may get a shot at closing in AAA.  A guy you may read about in 2011 could be Justin Greene, a centerfielder with speed and power who also blew through A+ and landed at AA.  Dylan Axelrod had a 1.99 ERA in Winston-Salem, earning a promotion to AA, and things are finally starting to click for him.  Working against him is the fact that he’s a late round pick originally drafted by San Diego, and the Sox having a lot of starters at the big league level who aren’t going away anytime soon.

2011 Forecast:

I’m feeling a bit optimistic about the Sox, mostly because Dunn and Morel could quickly address the two biggest weaknesses they have.  You have the potential regression of Pierzinski, Konerko, Pierre, Rios, and Quentin, weighed against the potential of gaining 80 or more offensive runs with Morel and Dunn.  The pitching staff will be equally solid and could be marginally better – and would be really good if there weren’t two holes on the same side of the field (Konerko, Quentin).  Still – a full season of Morel at third should help the overall defense, too.  I like getting Jenks out of the closer role, and the Sox pen is still very, very good.  I like the White Sox scoring 825 runs and allowing barely 700, which puts the sox at 95 wins.  I also think the Sox could win the World Series, another shot across the bow at Cub fans who continue to wait for a miracle that won’t arrive until they figure out how to manage resources.

Working against the Sox is the idea that Jake Peavy’s shoulder may explode at any moment, and Ozzie Guillen imploding after another irrational outburst at his general manager, who has assembled quite the roster.  Ozzie – sit back and enjoy the ride to the playoffs.

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Interested in Erik Bedard? You’ll Have to Wait…

If Seattle had plans to trade Erik Bedard, those plans were dashed when the lefty hit the DL with shoulder inflammation.  In his last start, Bedard fired 81 pitches in just three innings.  I’ve written about this before – 100 pitches isn’t the problem, a heavy pitch count in an inning or two is much worse.  Returning to the rotation will be Jason Vargas.  [ESPN]

Brett Gardner broke his thumb breaking up a double play, and the Yankees outfielder will miss the next month of the season.  His thumb is in a cast, but fortunately doesn’t need surgery.  [ESPN]

Jim Leyland remains optimistic that Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya might return this season.  Zumaya hopes cortisone shots will help avoid season ending surgery (an eventuality, really) and Bonderman has been throwing lately without discomfort.  [SI]

Kansas City isn’t giving up on Tony Pena.  It’s just giving up on the idea that he can play shortstop.  Now, the strong armed Pena will be given a shot to pitch.  I like the idea…  [FoxSports]

Texas starter Kevin Millwood left his start against Kansas City after two innings with a pain in his butt.  The strained left glute muscle wouldn’t allow him to extend his front leg when throwing…  Now Texas is waiting to see if this means Millwood might miss a start.  [MLB]

A lot of action on the transaction wire…

Hurry Back!  Cincinnati pitcher Jared Burton heads to the DL with shoulder fatigue.  Brewer pitcher Seth McClung heads to the DL with an elbow strain.  Phillies reliever Clay Condrey heads to the DL with a left oblique strain.

What Gives?  Wladimir Balentien was designated for assignment by Seattle.  The power/speed prospect hasn’t panned out – in 400 major league at bats, he’s hit .209…  Houston did the same with Chad Paronto, who hasn’t stuck with six organizations.  At 33, he’s running out of shots.

Player to be Named Later:  Jess Todd was sent from Memphis to Cleveland to complete the Mark DeRosa trade.  Todd is a reliever with some talent – he was the closer for Memphis, has great strikeout numbers, good control, and a fighting shot to help the Indians as soon as 2010.

Puma Derailed By Calf; Cubs Sign Ryan to Minor League Deal

Houston first basemen Lance Berkman left last night’s game in the eighth inning with a calf strain.  He’s listed as day-to-day, but Berkman admitted the calf had been bothering him for a while.  [MLB]

Lacking “organizational depth” (Piniella’s term) in left-handed relievers, the Chicago Cubs signed former Toronto closer B.J. Ryan to a minor league deal.  Ryan will report to the Cubs’ Arizona training complex and if all goes well, head to AAA Iowa for seasoning.  [ESPN]

The Braves look forward to the return of Javier Vasquez, and think Mike Gonzalez is still a couple of days away from returning to the mound.  Gonzalez is struggling with elbow inflammation.  [MLB]

Texas and St. Louis are contenders in the Roy Halliday sweepstakes.  Personally, I’m not sure that Toronto should deal their ace away – it’s hard to find guys like Halliday, no matter how many prospects or players you might get.  Only one team has ever really turned this to their favor – Cleveland’s trading Bartolo Colon netted them Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips (since traded).  [MLB]

Boston is willing to eat shortstop Julio Lugo’s salary, and is looking for takers in a trade according to Ken Rosenthal.  The oft-injured shortstop has a year and a half left on a $9 million per season contract.  [FoxSports]

No news is bad news – the Mets remain unsure about the return of too many players.  The longer Reyes, Maine, Delgado, and Beltran remain on the DL, the worse my prediction that the Mets would win the NL East looks…  [MLB]

By the way, if you like tragedies, read Cliff Corcoran’s opinion on why the Cubs are miserable failures so far in 2009.  [SI.com]

Five more minor leaguers out of the Dominican Republic were suspended for steroid use.  Anybody surprised?  [ESPN]

Hurry Back!  Padre ace Jake Peavy lost his boot and is throwing a little.  Rehab begins now that Peavy got a clean bill of health from team doctors…  Milwaukee starter Dave Bush continues to struggle in his rehab, having suffered a torn triceps.  LA’s Cory Wade heads to the DL with a right shoulder strain.  Atlanta’s Jo-Jo Reyes gets a rehab stint in Gwinnett.

Welcome Back!  The Royals activated Alex Gordon and newly acquired shorstop Yuniesky Betancourt from the DL.  (I missed this trade while vacationing…  The Royals sent cash and a couple of players to Seattle to fill a gap at short.  Danny Cortes is a fireballer with control issues joining his third organization.  Just 22, he might benefit by becoming a reliever.  The other guy, Derrick Saito, is a Hawaiian reliever who was drafted out of Cal Poly.  He has skills and could make the Mariners happy in 2011.  Seattle filled the organization gap by signing Alex Cintron to a minor league deal.).  The Royals need a shot in the arm, and this could help immensely.  Colorado welcomes back reliever Manny Corpas.

Others coming back to the majors?  Blake DeWitt (Dodgers), Josh Whitesell (D-backs), Angel Berroa (Mets), Alexi Casilla (Twins), Garrett Mock (Nationals), Wesley Wright (Astros).

Others heading in the wrong direction?  Mett Belisle (Giants) and Tony Pena (Royals) were designated for assignment.  The Mets dispatched Argenis Reyes back to the minors.

Halliday on Trading Block; Embree Earns ‘W’ Without Throwing a Pitch

Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi says the Jays are entertaining offers for ace Roy Halliday.  Halliday would become a free agent after 2010, and has a no-trade clause, but said he would listen to what the club had to say.

The Blue Jays were off to an amazing start in April and May, but injuries to the pitching staff stalled that momentum, pushing the Jays to the middle of the wildcard pack and fourth in the AL East.

Whomever is willing to pick up Halliday will likely have to give up two or three front line players and a couple of prospects, with at least one having the potential of being a one or two starter.  If Halliday were to leave as a free agent after 2010, Toronto would be eligible for two high first round picks as compensation.  [ESPN]

Colorado’s Alan Embree earned the win over Washington last night – without throwing a pitch.  Entering the game with a runner on first and two outs, Embree picked off Austin Kearns – even recording the putout as Kearns was caught in a rundown.

According to STATS, Inc., Embree is the second to have won a game without throwing a pitch (B.J. Ryan did it in 2003) since 1986 and could well be the only player to win a game without throwing a pitch AND recording the putout. [MLB]

Cubs starter Ryan Dempster will miss a month after breaking his toe.  Dempster injured his toe when hopping over the dugout railing to celebrate a victory on Sunday.  He landed awkwardly and broke the toe. [ESPN]

Vlad Guerrero continues to fight the injury bug…  Last night Guerrero left the Angels game when he pulled a muscle behind his knee trying to throw.  He’s day-to-day for now. [ESPN]

Arizona traded reliever Tony Pena to the White Sox for Brandon Allen, a AAA infielder.  Pena might benefit from a change of scenery, especially if he leaves a park (and defense) that makes him look worse than he really is.  Of course, pitching in Chicago is no cup of tea, either.  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Clete Thomas returns to the Tigers, which meant that Donald Kelly was designated for assignment.  Seattle activated Erik Bedard from the DL, and Texas activated Dustin Nippert off the DL.

Hurry Back!  Dodger Ronald Belisario heads to LA to have his elbow checked out. [FoxSports]

Cardinal Mark DeRosa heads to the DL for his injured left wrist, while Mariner Mike Sweeney heads to the DL with, you guessed it, a back injury.  Oriole shortstop Cesar Izturis begins a rehab assignment in Bowie.

To Err is Human, Else You’re a Yankee; Hamilton Out Indefinitely

A Yankee finally made an error, but it didn’t matter.  New York still slaughtered Texas in a battle of division leaders.  When Elvis Andrus stole second, Jorge Posada’s throw was pushed into deep right center field by the jet stream that’s been contributing to all those homers…  The MLB record stands at 18 consecutive games without an error, which (as mentioned yesterday) is a remarkable feat.  In the game, Derek Jeter passed the 1500 runs scored milestone.  I want to say he passed 2600 hits a day ago, something covered on Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio when I was driving to work this morning.

The MLB Transaction List was rather large today with people going on or coming off the DL, and a lot of teams shuffling players back and forth between the majors and minors.  Complete coverage will be difficult, but a couple of changes stand out.

Josh Hamilton’s ab injury is serious – enough to land him on the DL.  Depending on the source, the timetable is either two weeks to two months or undeterminable.  Texas’s best hitter last year, Hamilton has struggled through a slow start, and injuries occuring while slamming into walls.  That Texas has played well despite Hamilton’s lack of production is amazing – but if it really is two months, this could eventually become problematic – especially as the summer heat saps some of Texas’s batting thunder.

Cincinnati’s ace, Edinson Volquez returns to the disabled list one inning after his most recent injury activation with elbow tendinitis.  Jared Burton was returned from AAA where Burton was sent initially to regain some success, probably because the Reds need bullpen help for the next couple of days.  Is a return of Homer Bailey in the cards when Volquez is next scheduled to start?  Good thing the Reds still have three solid starters, but losing Volquez for what looks like at least a month of the season is tough.  Six starts by Homer Bailey (or someone else) compared to six starts of Volquez means allowing at least an extra run a start, and probably two extra losses.  In a division as close as the NL Central, Dusty Baker needs as many wins as he can get.

Coming off the DL?  Kansas City returns Joakim Soria, ace closer, and infielder Tony Pena.  One hopes Pena’s injured bat returns, too, else Willie Bloomquist will be playing a lot of shortstop until Mike Aviles returns.  To make room on the roster, Sidney Ponson was placed on the DL with an elbow strain (I thought it was because he can’t pitch).  Coco Crisp was added to the bereavement list following the death of his great-grandmother.  (God Bless, sir.)

Washington placed Kip Wells on the DL with a right adductor strain.  Replacing him on the roster is Elijah Dukes, whose bat will be welcomed immediately now that he’s no longer on the DL.  Meanwhile, Washington also replaced coaches, releasing pitching coach Randy St. Claire and replacing him with former A’s pitcher, Steve McCatty.  Washington’s league worst ERA and worst record in baseball, especially given the overhaul of members of the bullpen, contributed to St. Claire’s demise.  On the other hand, who signed Kip Wells?  Why isn’t THAT guy fired?

Others returning from the DL include Texas starter Vincente Padilla, Red Sox outfielder Mark Kotsay (he’ll be injured soon enough) and Mets infielder Alex Cora.

Milwaukee released Jorge Julio, making them the 14th team to have released Julio since 2003.  Great arm, no idea what he’s doing out there.  A few years ago, he was the surprise closer for Baltimore, but that’s the only success he’s really had.

The New York Mets are dealing with a lot of issues, including persisent flu and virus illnesses to John Maine and Carlos Beltran, a knee injury to Gary Sheffield, and various other ailments.   They’ve been playing with a patchwork lineup for days and hanging in there, but at some point, Jerry Manuel is going to run out of options…

On the Mend?  Rich Harden is throwing for the Cubs.  The Rockies assigned Chris Ianetta to Colorado Springs for his rehab work.  The Dodgers sent Claudio Vargas to the Inland Empire to begin his rehab stint. 

The struggling Jordan Schaeffer was sent to Gwinnett to find his confidence, so the Braves recalled speedy outfielder Gregor Blanco.

Finally, my favorite Marlin, Burke Badenhop, pitched five innings of one hit relief after Anibal Sanchez got through three innings in 71 pitches (typical for him, by the way, and not because it’s Sanchez’s first start off the DL) to earn the win over Milwaukee tonight.  He used to be Casey’s favorite player, but now I think it’s either Hanley Ramirez or Dan Uggla (though he always asks me who #6 is).