Rick Hahn takes over for Kenny Williams as general manager (Williams was bumped upstairs to executive vice president), but his first offseason was a quiet one. The big loss was longtime catcher Pierzynski, coming off a career-high 27 home runs that nearly matched his total from the three previous seasons. Tyler Flowers gets the starting job, and he may hit 20 homers but also hit .210. Jeff Keppinger hit .325 last year for Tampa Bay and takes over for Youkilis. He hit .376 against lefties and .302 against righties, so we'll see how he does in an extended role.
Without much of a farm system to deal from, the White Sox just lacked the ammunition to make a trade. And because this has never been a franchise to spend on the big free agents, the talent gap between the White Sox and Tigers didn't seem too close.
Of course, maybe that talent gap is overstated. After all, the White Sox scored 22 more runs than the Tigers a year ago and they didn't have anybody winning the Triple Crown.
The problem in looking at the White Sox lineup: Who is going to have a better season? Maybe Dayan Viciedo, but it's not as though there's big upside for a guy with a 120/28 SO/BB ratio. Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko both collapsed in the second half (Dunn from a .859 OPS to .729, Konerko from .932 to .771). Alex Rios had a big year but he's notoriously inconsistent. And while Pierzynski was unlikely to hit 27 home runs, that still means a likely decline in offense behind the plate. The White Sox hit 211 home runs last year, third in the AL. If they're going to score 748 runs again, they'll have to rely on the same approach, but I just don't see the 37-year-old Konerko, 33-year-old Dunn and 32-year-old Rios matching their overall numbers from 2012.
Three big question marks for the Chicago staff: (1) Can Chris Sale repeat his terrific season? (2) Can Jake Peavy start more than 20 games two years in a row for the first time since 2008? (3) Can John Danks rebound from shoulder surgery?
If the answer to all of those turns into a "yes," then maybe the White Sox have a chance to win 85 games again -- or even improve on that record. This looks like a team that will go as far as those three can take it.
The bullpen should once again be a strength, especially if closer Addison Reed improves upon his rookie numbers (4.75 ERA). Hard-throwing Nate Jones, veteran lefty Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain give the Sox a reliable middle corps with Donald Veal showing potential as a big-time lefty killer.
Heat Map to Watch How good is Chris Sale's slider? Right-handers hit just .160 in 138 PAs ending with that pitch. As you can see from the heat map, it's not so much the location of the pitch that makes it tough -- a lot end up over the middle of the plate -- but the movement on the pitch and Sale's deceptive delivery. Those 138 PAs ended with 76 K's, five walks and only two home runs. With two strikes, look for Sale to go to his knockout pitch.
Chris Sale's slider was his out-pitch against right-handed batters last year.
The White Sox seem to be overlooked every year, but they're usually in the race or on the fringes of it. Last year, they played with the Tigers until losing 10 of 12 in late September.
The Tigers will once again be heavy favorites in the Central and, on paper, it appears the White Sox don't match up. They'll be relying on an aging core of sluggers, two starting pitchers with health problems and one who has to prove he can turn into a consistent 200-inning pitcher. In the end, I'm left with the same question I posed earlier: Who is supposed to play better on this team? Because I see several candidates ripe for regression.