Monday, July 15, 2013
Woeful first half likely to usher in change
By Doug Padilla
This season hasn't gone according to plan for Alexei Ramirez and the White Sox.
CHICAGO -- When the final chapter is written, the Chicago White Sox's 2013 first half likely will go down as one that altered a franchise.
A roster that had some young elements, while also being aged and expensive, completely failed to deliver on its potential in a flop that was as much injury-driven as it was failure-based.
No fewer than 10 players have spent time on the disabled list this season, including three starting pitchers, two middle-of-the-order mainstays and the entire right side of the infield.
Captain Paul Konerko fits in two of those categories, and his early-season struggles, combined with his back injury and eventual expiring contract is a big reason the White Sox find themselves at their current crossroads.
Had the White Sox been able to show any signs of life in the opening 3½ months, the front office would be working on adding to the roster this month in order to challenge for the title a winnable AL Central Division. There have been plenty of reasons the White Sox flatlined instead, although much of it has to do with an offense that failed to deliver.
It started early with a disappointing beginning from leadoff man Alejandro De Aza and No. 2 hitter Jeff Keppinger, whose ability to make contact was a big appeal during the offseason free-agent search. Instead, the Keppinger trait that surfaced the most was a low on-base percentage.
It's not as though a higher OBP at the top might have made a difference, though. Konerko, Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo all failed to deliver as expected, although at least Dunn has been much improved since the start of June.
Too little, too late.
Will Paul Konerko find a new home by July 31? Anything seems possible with the White Sox.
What has developed is a classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario. Do midseason trades -- starting with Matt Thornton's deal to the Boston Red Sox -- mean that the White Sox will have no interest in pursuing Konerko this offseason? Or did a team plan to set Konerko adrift this winter make the decision to dismantle the current roster that much easier?
The likelihood that Konerko would have been brought back seemed remote at best anyway, with the disappointing season sealing that fate and inspiring the team to rebuild, or at least retool.
Now, instead of tweaking the roster this month to compensate for inefficiencies such as the aforementioned offense, a shockingly porous defense and a shaky bullpen, the White Sox have been left to figure out what pieces are worth building around and what assets might be coveted by contenders.
Even Konerko could be dealt before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, although he has the ability to veto any trade, and his lack of production this season would limit suitors.
In any event, the White Sox are in a place they have rarely been over the past decade-plus, as a team that hasn't been competitive with a base that can be stripped down to the bare bones.
Chris Sale is one of the few building blocks, although young and affordable power arms such as Addison Reed and Nate Jones have their value to use as players to build a roster around.
How long the rebuild takes could come down to whether the White Sox can obtain players close to a breakthrough. It doesn't help that pieces previously considered valuable such as Jake Peavy (rib injury) and Alex Rios (offensive struggles) aren't piquing major interest. Since his six-hit game Tuesday, Rios had just one hit over the final five games of the first half.
Before it is complete, the White Sox figure to be looking at a two-part rebuilding process. After trading pieces that have value, they will wait for other pieces to play out their contracts. Konerko ($13.5 million) fits that bill for this year, while Rios ($13 million), Dunn ($15 million) and Peavy ($14.5 million) fall into that category after the 2014 season. Other deals to come off the books after this year are Gavin Floyd ($9.5 million) and Jesse Crain ($4.5 million).
The only contracts the White Sox have that carry on past 2014 are those of John Danks (five years, $65 million through 2016), Alexei Ramirez (four years, $32.5 million through 2015) and Sale (five years, $32.5 million through 2017).
The first-half performance, not to mention all the heavy contracts coming to a close soon, makes the time right for change. Now it's time to see what the White Sox do with the opportunity.
Not only is the Konerko era expected to end, it figures to bring with it a whole new era of White Sox baseball.