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3 CHICAGO WHITE SOX

April 06, 2009
April 06, 2009

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April 6, 2009

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3 CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Changing On theFly

This is an article from the April 6, 2009 issue

New talent movesinto the lineup to help the veterans make another playoff run

KENNY WILLIAMSlooked off toward the Arizona horizon with an amused grin before answering thequestion he has been asked a hundred times in recent months: Could thisactually be a rebuilding year for the White Sox?

It's a curiousquery, to be sure, considering that Chicago won the Central last season. Butthere's no mistaking the club's different look; gone are a half-dozen coreplayers from the 2008 roster, including workhorse starter Javier Vazquez,power-hitting third baseman Joe Crede and slick-fielding shortstop OrlandoCabrera. The payroll, for the first time in four years, is less than $100million. And there were so many young players in spring training this year—15from the 40-man roster are 25 or under—that the clubhouse almost had minorleague atmosphere.

Still, Williams,the general manager, becomes defensive at the mention of the "r" word."We think that we've aligned ourselves as such that we can compete for achampionship now," he says, "but at the same time, yes, we aredeveloping a younger core of hitters and pitchers who will be allowed to growinto significant roles without pressure."

So mayberebuilding isn't quite the right word, not in a division in which each of thefive teams could finish first—or finish last. How about transitional year? Forthe first time in Williams's decadelong tenure a good portion of the lineupwill be taken up by players 27 or younger, as many as four with less than twoyears of major league experience. With Cabrera having left for Oakland,27-year-old Alexei Ramirez, last year's free-swinging rookie sensation, willmove from second to shortstop. Ramirez's old spot was claimed by rookie ChrisGetz, 25, an athletic, high-contact hitter with above-average defensive skills.In place of Crede, who signed with division rival Minnesota, Josh Fields, 26,gets the nod at third, but he will be pushed by hard-hitting 20-year-old Cubanrookie Dayan Viciedo.

"Going backthree or four years, this is the best talent we've had in camp," says33-year-old first baseman Paul Konerko. "There's a nice blend of old guysand young guys. It feels good."

The rotationsimilarly blends young and old. Veteran lefty Mark Buehrle has thrown more than200 innings in all eight of his full seasons in the majors and, since adifficult 2006, his strikeout rate has steadily increased. The righty-lefty duoof Gavin Floyd, 26, and John Danks, 23, were a pleasant surprise last season,when they combined for 29 wins and 401 innings. Having mastered a cut fastball,Danks, in particular, has the look of a frontline starter for the next 10years. Less certain are the performances of 37-year-old Jose Contreras andfree-agent pickup Bartolo Colon, 35. Despite decent springs, both are comingoff major surgery—Colon on his throwing elbow, Contreras on a ruptured leftAchillies tendon—and have lost a good 5 to 7 mph off their peak fastballs.

Williams,however, has done a nice job of hedging against his recent veteran bets. Shrewdtrades in the last three years for Danks, Floyd and outfielder Carlos Quentin,26, an AL MVP candidate until a season-ending fractured wrist on Sept. 1,ensure that the bottom will not fall out when the contracts of such veterans asKonerko, Jim Thome, A.J. Pierzynski and Jermaine Dye expire over the next twoyears. "It's a funny thing," says manager Ozzie Guillen, "becauselast year we were too old. This year we're too young. We have 90 percent of theplayers we had last year. One thing I believe, you cannot sit here and waitwhile everyone gets older and then you have no one to take charge."

Konerko, one ofonly six holdovers from Chicago's 2005 World Series--winning team, is awarethat this might be the veterans' last chance to make another title runtogether. "I don't spend a lot of energy thinking about that," he says,"but if it happens to shake out like that, you can say, even if nothinggood happens, we got a World Series out of this group. There's no sadending."

Maybe asurprising one, if the kids build on the promise of last season.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

The White Soxhave enough problems without worrying about Bobby Jenks, but there are somedisturbing signs in their closer's statistics. Jenks still throws in themid-90s, but his strikeout rate has fallen by nearly half over two seasons—to abelow-average (especially for a closer) 5.5 K/9 last year—and he pitchedunimpressively in 25 appearances after a three-week trip to the disabled listwith bursitis in his left shoulder. Chicago has plenty of options should Jenkscontinue to slip, and should be aggressive about replacing him with MattThornton; the 32-year-old lefthander (left) struck out 77 batters in 67 1/3innings last season and held righthanded batters to a .261 OBP, striking outmore than 20% of the righties he faced. (He whiffed more than 40% of thelefties he faced.) Thornton is ready for a bigger role.

THE NUMBERS
DON'T LIE
.965

OPS (on base plusslugging) of leftfielder Carlos Quentin last season. Favorably windy U.S.Cellular Field can generate wide home-road splits for power hitters, butQuentin, in a breakout season with the White Sox, was as dangerous on the road(.300 batting average, .390 on-base percentage and .560 slugging percentage) ashe was in his home yard, where his line was .274/.397/.582.

The Lineup

WITH 2008STATISTICS
Manager Ozzie Guillen

SIXTH SEASON WITHWHITE SOX

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

DEWAYNE WISECF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L264.2486189
CHRIS GETZ (R)*2B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R240.302115211
CARLOS QUENTINLF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R19.288361007
JERMAINE DYERF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R46.29234963
JIM THOMEDH
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R62.24534901
PAUL KONERKO1B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R112.24022622
A.J. PIERZYNSKIC
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R127.28113601
ALEXEI RAMIREZSS
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R23.290217713
JOSH FIELDS*3B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R193.24610358
BENCH
BRENT LILLIBRIDGE (R)* [NEWACQUISITION]IF-OF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R328.22043923
BRIAN ANDERSONOF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R280.2328265

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHERPVRWLK/9WHIPERA
LHMark Buehrle7915125.81.343.79
RHGavin Floyd341786.31.263.84
LHJohn Danks301297.31.233.32
RHJose Contreras116765.21.364.54
RHBartolo Colon [NEW ACQUISITION]168426.21.393.92
BULLPEN
PITCHERPVRWSVK/9WHIPERA
RHBobby Jenks263305.51.102.63
RHScott Linebrink148217.81.083.69
LHMatt Thornton1425110.31.002.67

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie
*Triple A stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
February 20, 2006

What's the manager's move here? Pay somebody and havethe man beaten? Crippled? Killed? This is a Venezuelan prison, after all; twohundred bucks should do it. Or maybe Ozzie Guillen himself should confront theman who helped murder his best friend—get in his face and ask the question hehas choked back for more than a decade: Why? He turns to his 21-year-old son,Ozzie Jr., and rasps, "That's the motherf----- who killed Gus." Guillenhad wondered then what he would do if he ever met either of the two menresponsible for the crime, and now that time has arrived. With options.
—S.L. PRICE

For free access to all White Sox stories andphotographs from the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTORON VESELY/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGESLET HIM RIP Ramirez has a new position but the same, strangely effective free-swinging approach.PHOTOROBERT BECK (THORNTON)PHOTO