Changing On theFly

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 WISE CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 264 .248 6 18 9
CHRIS GETZ (R)* 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 240 .302 11 52 11
CARLOS QUENTIN LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 19 .288 36 100 7
JERMAINE DYE RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 46 .292 34 96 3
JIM THOME DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 62 .245 34 90 1
PAUL KONERKO 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 112 .240 22 62 2
A.J. PIERZYNSKI C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 127 .281 13 60 1
ALEXEI RAMIREZ SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 23 .290 21 77 13
JOSH FIELDS* 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 193 .246 10 35 8
BENCH
BRENT LILLIBRIDGE (R)* [NEWACQUISITION] IF-OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 328 .220 4 39 23
BRIAN ANDERSON OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 280 .232 8 26 5

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

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
LH Mark Buehrle 79 15 12 5.8 1.34 3.79
RH Gavin Floyd 34 17 8 6.3 1.26 3.84
LH John Danks 30 12 9 7.3 1.23 3.32
RH Jose Contreras 116 7 6 5.2 1.36 4.54
RH Bartolo Colon [NEW ACQUISITION] 168 4 2 6.2 1.39 3.92
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Bobby Jenks 26 3 30 5.5 1.10 2.63
RH Scott Linebrink 148 2 1 7.8 1.08 3.69
LH Matt Thornton 142 5 1 10.3 1.00 2.67

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

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)