This weekend was the 15th Annual SoxFest Fan Convention at the Palmer House Hyatt in downtown Chicago. The timing was mixed for Chicago White Sox fans, as it just so happens that the convention fell on the weekend prior to Super Bowl XLI, and the Chicago Bears just happen to be playing in that Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years. Chicago Cubs fans know how that goes with the last two seasons of Bears playoff home games coinciding with the Cubs Convention, but fortunately, the week is slow for Super Bowl news.
The big news out of SoxFest was GM Kenny Williams inadvertent torching of P Mark Buehrle’s chances of being with the White Sox past the ’07 season. The White Sox made plenty of news this off-season by trading P Freddie Garcia to the Philadelphia Phillies for P Gavin Floyd and P Gio Gonzalez, a move I liked, by the way. I felt the more sketchy move was trading P Brandon McCarthy to the Texas Rangers for P John Danks and P Nick Masset. I felt McCarthy was the young pitcher that Williams was using to build his strategy of post-title rebuilding to stave off the hyper inflation of pitcher salaries. This is a HUGE roll of the dice with the payoff being very marginal, at best.
Regardless, if the White Sox are to have a chance to get back to the post-season and compete for a World Series title, I predict 5 key needs/things will have to happen. They are:
1. Bullpen needs to be way more solid. Last year’s bullpen was a bit of a mess, especially in left handed relief. The White Sox had a hard time bridging the gap to closer Bobby Jenks. LHP Matt Thornton was a terrific surprise for the White Sox, but P Neal Cotts (since traded to the Chicago Cubs) was a disaster. The White Sox bullpen is now filled with power arms from both sides with the addition of RHP David Aardsma (from the Cubs trade), LHP Andrew Sisco, and late season pick up RHP Mike MacDougal. Add LHP Boone Logan into that mix and there are a lot of power arms that can really bring it. If this group can somehow find the consistency that was non-existent last season, this will put the White Sox worlds ahead of where they were last season.
2. Fill the hole in CF — CF Brian Anderson was a major disappointment last season. He will be the first to admit that. That being said, there is no way the White Sox can go into the 2007 season with that same kind of hole in their lineup. Anderson actually caused two holes, as his hitting in the 8/9 spot was virtually an automatic out in a strong White Sox lineup and caused power hitting 2B Tadahito Iguchi to have to hit in the #2 spot, which he is able, but would be much better suited to hit lower in the order. I’m very encouraged by the signing of OF Darrin Erstad and the developement of OF’s Jerry Owens and Josh Fields. Brian Anderson has a fight on his hands this season. He could very well end up from the starting CF in Chicago to starting CF in Charlotte.
3. Buehrle needs to come back in form, need strong seasons from the #4/#5 starters – P Mark Buehrle needs to rebound from a career worst 12-13 4.99 ERA season to be the typical Mark Buehrle we are used to seeing. P Javier Vasquez finished the season on a strong note, but was essentially a 5 inning pitcher for most of the season. The since departed P Freddy Garcia had an up and down season, but finished very strong. (although his fastball lost some life this past season) The struggles of the starting rotation only highlighted the difficulties in the bullpen, as they were forced to pitch more in bad/ineffective/short outings by starters Buehrle/Garcia/Vasquez. The bottom of the rotation is now new, with Vasquez holding down the #4 spot in the rotation, and the #5 that could be Gavin Floyd or Charlie Haeger. Either way, the bottom of the order plus Buehrle need to step it up bigtime for the White Sox to compete.
4. Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko need to keep up with the big bats – otherwise, the White Sox have no chance. Any significant drop in one or two of the Big 3 will spell doom for the White Sox. The White Sox have an almost perfect balanced lineup, power hitters and avg./contact hitters, hitters with speed, and fairly good lefty/righty balance. The Big 3 keeps producing, the White Sox are in the race. If not, will be a long, grinder season that won’t be pretty.
5. Develop a replacement for LF Scott Podsednik – I am not a big Scott Podsednik fan. I thought in 2005, he did what he needed to to ignite the White Sox and in the playoffs he was huge, but 2006 really showed that he and Anderson were the weak links in an otherwise formidible White Sox lineup. Now, Scottie Pods starts out 2007 behind the 8-ball with groin surgery. The White Sox need an effective leadoff hitter badly and Scottie Pods is not the answer…..another season like ’06 and the White Sox find more trouble.
The White Sox lived off of the 2005 World Series last season, but things change quickly. The intoxication of the first World Series victory in 88 years is nearly worn off and the construction on the Dan Ryan expressway is a year over schedule, so the White Sox have some work to do to get even close to last year’s attendance record. Do all 5 above, the White Sox are in the playoffs. Anything less, the AL Central is too strong and the White Sox will find themselves on the outside looking in.