Saturday, March 24, 2012

Around the AL Central: Chicago White Sox

The "Smells Like Mascot" take on the White Sox winter.
There is a different sense about the Chicago White Sox this year. Mark Buehrle, the rotation anchor for most of the past decade, is gone. Ozzie Guillen, for better or worse the focal point of the clubhouse for eight seasons, is gone. Kenny Williams, the (overly) aggressive general manager, has pulled in the reins. Robin Ventura, who has never managed on any level, is the dugout boss.

The Twins had the most disappointing season in all of baseball last year, but the White Sox were pretty unhappy with their lack of achievement too. Last year's motto, after all, was "All in." Now Williams is talking about rebuilding -- and that's not easy to do when you have (a) a collection of immovable contracts -- Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy -- and (b) what is widely regarded as the weakest farm system in the game.

Old habits die hard, and the habit of regarding the Sox as a threat in the division is not dead yet. Wounded, but still breathing.

Much depends on those three aforementioned big-money disappointments. Peavy had five no-hit innings last weekend and says he feels better than he has since coming to Chicago. Dunn's horrendous 2011 may have been linked to his appendectomy and hurried return; that kind of falloff is otherwise inexplicable. I suspect he's primed for a good season. Rios has been bad two of the past three seasons; perhaps moving him out of center field will snap him back to the production he had as a right fielder in Toronto.

I don't see a middle ground here. If the big-money guys stink it up again and Ventura is over his head as manager, this could be a disaster; if Ventura instills a calmer atmosphere and the veterans snap back to the levels that got them their big contracts, they may even contend.

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