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A Lot Of "If:" White Sox 2012 Preview

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Apr 5, 2012 7:00PM

Photo Credit: Kris Bryant

Many are expecting 2012 to be the worst year for baseball in Chicago in at least 30 years. After disappointing seasons on the North and South sides, both teams made wholesale changes within their organizations. While the Cubs fans are in "half full" mode on account of Theo Epstein's hiring and his initial steps toward retooling the Cubs, White Sox fans are more "half empty" as they head into the new season.

A lot has happened to the White Sox since last fall, and not many changes have done much to make fans feel optimistic about the team's future.

General Manager Kenny Williams trimmed payroll after a record $128 million payroll in 2011 still resulted in a disappointing 79-83 season. The team parted ways with outspoken manager Ozzie Guillen days before the season ended and then saw free agent ace Mark Buehrle join Ozzie in Miami with the Marlins. The Sox also traded All-Star outfielder Carlos Quentin and closer Sergio Santos. Leadoff hitter Juan Pierre and ageless utility infielder Omar Vizquel signed elsewhere. Despite all the departures, the Sox only made one addition of any note, signing former Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to be their fourth outfielder.

Jerry Reinsdorf hired former White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura to replace Guillen. While a fan favorite and respected team leader during his playing days he has no previous coaching or managerial experience. In fact, Ventura had been out of baseball since his retirement until coming back in a consultant role last year. This hiring sounds a lot like Reinsdorf's hiring of Vinny Del Negro to coach the Bulls a few years back, and that wasn't exactly the best idea. But if the goal was to go cheap, then we're glad to see a fan favorite like Robin Ventura get a shot... let's just hope he keeps his good name even if the team doesn't win.

Key Departures:
Mark Buehrle - SP
Carlos Quentin - OF
Juan Pierre - OF
Sergio Santos - Closer
Omar Vizquel - IF

Key Additions:
Kosuke Fukudome - OF

Starting Line-up:
Alejandro De Aza - CF
Alexei Ramirez - SS
Adam Dunn - DH
Paul Konerko - 1B
Dayan Viciedo - LF
Alex Rios - RF
A.J. Pierzynski - C
Brent Morel - 3B
Gordon Beckham - 2B

Starting Rotation:
John Danks
Jake Peavy
Gavin Floyd
Philip Humber
Chris Sale

As for the guys on the field, a number of veterans have departed to make way for youngsters — too bad the Sox aren't known for having a deep farm system. If the younger players struggle or vets don't rebound, the White Sox may not have any other viable options.

For the White Sox to have any success, veterans will need to return to previous form. Adam Dunn had perhaps the worst season ever for an everyday player, and he was a former All-Star! After averaging 40 home runs and 100 RBIs over the previous seven season's Dunn hit just 11 homers while driving in 42 in 2011 to go along with an epically horrible .159 batting average. The biggest question for the Sox is whether Dunn can get past last season and put up numbers closer to his career average. Not far behind Dunn in the disappointment department is Alex Rios, who hit just .227 with 13 home runs and 44 RBIs, all well below his career averages. White Sox fans also want to see Gordon Beckham step up and display numbers closer to those of his rookie season than those of the past two years.

Pitching is a concern, too, especially with the departure of Buehrle. The most durable and dependable of aces, the Sox will now look to John Danks and Gavin Floyd to step up while also hoping that Jake Peavy can finally return to form. A former Cy Young winner, his tenure with the Sox has been defined by his many trips to the DL. Can he stay healthy and still pitch effectively? Or is he yet another eight figure salary weighing down the team? Rounding out the rotation are less proven pitchers Philip Humber, who started out hot in 2011 before falling back to earth, and hot prospect Chris Sale. The team's top pick in the 2010 draft, Sale makes the move from the bullpen to the rotation after a solid season pitching in relief.

With the trade of Sergio Santos, the White Sox find themselves without a true closer. Matt Thornton gets the nod to begin the season, but he's struggled in that role in the past. Addison Reed and Jesse Crain may get a chance to vie for the job. Zach Stewart will fill the long relief role, while Will Ohman is one of the few vets in a young pen that will also include Hector Santiago and Nate Jones.

In 2011, the Detroit Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games, while the Sox finished a game back of the Cleveland Indians in 3rd place. Given the Tigers' addition of Prince Fielder to a 95 win team, we're about ready to concede the Central to Detroit in 2012. As with last year, we expect to see the Sox flirt with .500 and end up in the middle of the division. While the offense seems like it can't possibly perform as poorly as last season, there are many more questions on the mound and a rookie manager in the dugout. 75 wins seems about right for this club, and we'll be pleasantly surprised for anything beyond that. Of course, if the team's out of contention come mid-season, Kenny Williams may start dealing more veterans to replenish the farm system. If productive players get moved and all that remains are rookies and white elephants, things could get ugly at the Cell come August and September.