Chicago White Sox offseason preview: Anybody ready to help Konerko?
What we saw last season seems to be the norm for the Chicago White Sox now. Most of their hitters get off to a slow start only to get hot midseason and then go cold at the end.
It is that kind of inconsistency that led general manager Kenny Williams to spend $56 million on Adam Dunn last offseason. For the past seven years, it has been automatic to pencil him in for 40 home runs and 100 RBIs. Of course, with the White Sox’s luck, they saw him put together the worst season of his career. His .159 average was 20 points lower than the lowest qualifying average in MLB history. His power numbers of 11 homers and 42 RBIs are the lowest of his career. It got to the point where fans literally cheered when he made contact because he would strikeout so much. As bad as Dunn was, he wasn’t alone.
Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham also proved to be huge disappointments. Rios’ approach of trying to pull everything led to a .227 average, 13 home runs, 44 RBIs and just 11 stolen bases (34 SB in 2010). Beckham played an exceptional second base but seemed to have completely lost it at the plate. He hit a career-low .230 and simply couldn’t hit a fastball (of all pitches). A.J. Pierzynski, Alexei Ramirez and Juan Pierre all had respectable seasons, and Carlos Quentin went from hot to cold to hurt. Brent Lillibridge and Omar Vizquel gave solid contributions off the bench, and in the final two months of the season, Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza played their way into starting spots for 2012. Only Paul Konerko stood out for the White Sox, and it got to the point where teams would simply pitch around him because there was no other threat in the lineup. With no money available to give Konerko some help, the White Sox must ask their disappointing veterans to step up and their young guns to produce immeiately if they want to contend next season.
Under Ozzie Guillen, Pierzynski was one of the most-used catchers in baseball every year. That could change in 2012. Tyler Flowers is almost sure to get some playing time next season as the White Sox look to evaluate whether he is capable of starting at the major-league level. While Flowers did struggle a little at the plate in the majors last season (.209 BA in 110 AB), he did show the ability to hit for power and a strong arm to gun down runners on the base paths. Those are two areas of weakness for Pierzynski, so Flowers should definitely see at-bats. He also hits from the right side of the plate, so that allows Pierzynski to sit against tough lefty starters.
Konerko did everything he possibly could, both offensively and defensively, to help this White Sox team win last season. It was yet another year where he performed like an MVP candidate but got no recognition because the rest of his team didn’t perform. He hopes next season that will change. Beckham was supposed to be the perfect number-two hitter for this lineup, and some (Hawk Harrelson) even envisioned him growing into a number-three hitter, but instead, he lost all the mojo he had his rookie year. As of now, he is an eighth or ninth place hitter and doesn’t look to be getting any better. Ramirez, one of the better shortstops in the AL, also looks to have hit his peak. He is a .270-.280 hitter with some pop (12-18 HR), solid defense and no base running ability, despite having speed. Comparing that to other shortstops around the league, Ramirez is very valuable. Odds are next season will feature Morel once again at third. He is an exceptional fielder but just doesn’t provide enough offense to play there every day. Last season, he hit .245 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs. The good news is he hit eight of those home runs in the final month of the season, so he could quite possibly be getting better. With no financial flexibility to upgrade the position, the White Sox hope so.
Here is what we know: De Aza will be replacing Pierre (free agent) in left field. Viciedo will also start the season in the majors, so he is likely to be in right field. Rios’ contract is too big to be moved, so he will remain on the team in 2012. Lillibridge will be back as the team’s utility man and could see consistent playing time in Rios’ spot if he struggles again. So, what happens with Quentin? He is a power bat with one year left at a respectable rate (about $7MM due from arbitration) so that makes him a very attractive trade piece. Quentin’s health has been the biggest reason Williams has refrained from committing to him long term. So with a youth movement ahead and Rios stuck here, Quentin looks like the odd man out. If he was to stay, he would likely play left field and De Aza would slide over to center, which means Rios either in a reserve role or quite possibly a platoon role with Dunn at DH seeing how he was horrendous against lefties last season. I wouldn’t count on this, though, heading into next season.
What will Dunn do next season? I am sure we all thought, at some point, he would get out of his slump and begin tearing the cover off of the ball like we are accustomed to seeing. But it just never happened. Dunn’s track record led me to believe something had to be wrong with him physically. I mean, I know he had been in the National League his whole career and had always played the field, but none of that explains why this man could not hit the baseball. He seriously squared up a pitch maybe once or twice a week. I just don’t think someone as good as Dunn can lose it all in the blink of an eye. So expect new manager Robin Ventura to come out and put Dunn right in the middle of the order and let him prove he still has it. But also expect Ventura to pull the plug on Dunn a lot quicker than Guillen did, seeing how things went last season. If Dunn struggles, expect a mix of Quentin (if he stays), Viciedo and Rios at DH with Lillibridge filling their outfield spots accordingly.
2012 expected lineup
LF De Aza