Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Around the division: White Sox

Maybe this is coming together.

During the offseason of 2004-05, I wasn't taking the Chicago White Sox very seriously. The Twins had beaten them in three straight divisional races, and the Sox had spent much of the early part of the winter shedding imposing hitters — Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee. That was what the Sox had as a strength, right-handed power, and now they didn't have that.

And then they signed A.J. Pierzynski, and I had a sudden feeling of "uh-oh." Now, suddenly, the moves Kenny Williams had made started making sense. Now, suddenly, the Sox looked like a team, not a bunch of stat collectors who were content to lose as long as they got a couple of knocks. It's fashionable for Internet guys like me to downgrade "grinders" and "grit" — but teams need one or two of those players as well as the stars, players who — as Leo Durocher said of Eddie Stanky — can't hit or field or throw, they just come to beat you. That's A.J., and Aaron Rowand, then their centerfielder.

And the Sox won the World Series — and then promptly traded Rowand for a stat-collector (Jim Thome). In the four seasons since, they've edged into one divisional title, part because they haven't had a real centerfielder or leadoff hitter.

Enter today Juan Pierre (above), veteran centerfielder and leadoff hitter. And suddenly the White Sox look, on paper, like a serious contender.

On paper. Williams' reconstruction job has gone heavily on recycled materials. Pierre is widely regarded as a punchline because the Dodgers badly overpaid him; he's 32 now and has been a part-time player the past two seasons, his very presence on the LA roster an embarrassment to the GM. Alex Rios may have provided less production per dollar than anybody who actually played last season. The year before that, the title belonged to Andruw Jones.

All three are on the Chicago roster now. As is Mark Teahen (.325 OBP, .409 SLG — dismal production for a corner infielder). And Carlos Quentin, who followed up an excellent 2008 with a stinker of a 2009.

The recent past on these guys says one thing. Their previous track records suggest something else.

Williams has assembled a lineup heavy with players who had poor 2008s. He's counting on bouncebacks — maybe not from all of them (the odds that Jones will regain his former glory are slim indeed), but from most of them.

There's enough of a chance of that to give me that "uh-oh" feeling again. I'm taking the White Sox more seriously now than I did before they added Pierre.

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