Sunday, March 30, 2014
5 for '14: Chances of winning season?
By Doug Padilla
Alexei Ramirez's growth will be key to the White Sox's success this season.
CHICAGO -- The easy parallel for Chicago White Sox fans to make for their worst-to-first hopes is last year’s World Series champion Boston Red Sox, who bottomed out in the American League East in 2012 only to recover and win it all last year.
If the White Sox are to follow the same path, a lot will have to go right from young offensive pieces reaching their potential early to the pitching staff coming together despite major question marks.
White Sox captain Paul Konerko is as optimistic as they come, and even he didn’t want to go overboard when asked about the team’s chances.
White Sox Season Preview: 5 For '14
ESPNChicago.com's Doug Padilla tackles five big questions facing the White Sox as they get set for their season opener on Monday against the Minnesota Twins.
“I’m not going to draw a straight line like everybody is doing to the Red Sox,” he said this spring “I’m not going to go like that, but you see a lot of turnarounds every year and I hope when this one happens with the guys in there, position-player wise, they run it out for a while. That will make me happy.
“Four years from now if this team is a good team year in and year out for that nice four- to six-year run before guys start leaving in free agency and getting older and all that stuff, to know I had a hand in that to help some of these guys along that will make me feel good when I’m playing golf somewhere.”
So even when you break down the captain’s statement, even he isn’t expecting the team to blow through the competition this year. But by breaking it down, you also see that Konerko likes the direction the team has gone, and no doubt he is excited with the moves general manager Rick Hahn made to improve the offense.
So when it comes to deciding if this is a “winning season,” perhaps the answer isn’t as simple as wins and loses. A “winning season” could be as simple as getting on the correct path to sustained success.
If the White Sox aren’t going to end up 25 games over .500, then they must at least show they are getting better as the season moves toward the second half and not get drastically worse like they did last year. If they aren’t going to be knocking on the door of the division leader in August or September, then they at least have to be making life difficult for teams that are starting to print playoff tickets.
Youngsters like Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia and Erik Johnson certainly will struggle at times this season. Prolonged slumps aren’t even out of the question. But if they can emerge from struggles and show they have learned something in the process, then all will not be lost.
Management isn’t saying it is writing off this season. Nobody in the front office is that crazy. But by making the changes it did, everybody from Hahn to executive vice president Kenny Williams to chairman Jerry Riensdorf has admitted that a new direction was needed.
Konerko liked the changes enough to return for one last season on the South Side. Considering that he wanted to rid himself of the taste that a 99-loss season wrought last year, it seems as if he thinks this season will be markedly different.
Technically, a winning season would mean 82 victories, not impossible but definitely a challenge for a club that could only walk off the field satisfied 63 times last year.
Perhaps a winning season can be defined as a majority of the young players showing they have what it takes to compete at this level. Perhaps success will be the chance to see where the team can grow, instead of having to look back at what went wrong.
If the White Sox can move into next offseason on a positive, they will do so knowing that the contracts of Adam Dunn, Konerko and Matt Lindstrom all come off the books. They will also know what areas of the roster need to be worked on for 2015, although if Garcia and/or Abreu stumble dramatically this season, answers might not come as easy.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1. The White Sox have had a successful run of closers from Keith Foulke to Bobby Jenks to Sergio Santos and Addison Reed. Nate Jones is the next in line, with Daniel Webb possibly behind him, and the quicker they can find somebody to embrace the role, it will be one less piece to have to worry about moving forward. Perhaps recent waiver claim Javy Guerra fills the void until Jones is ready to take over.
2. Matt Davidson won’t start the season in the major leagues, but by no means is the club disappointed in the decision to acquire him from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Reed. Davidson rebounded nicely during the second half of the spring and is expected to eventually be a big part of the young core the club is developing. If all goes to plan, Davidson is getting significant chances later this season and is in line to take over at third base next season.
3. When the White Sox signed Alexei Ramirez to a four-year $32.5 million extension that runs through the 2015 season, the idea was that he would be pushing into the All-Star and Gold Glove conversation by now. He isn’t and the main concern is that there isn’t a slam-dunk option to take over for him at shortstop any time soon. His improvement will be just as vital as any growth seen from Abreu, Garcia or Eaton.