AL Central Preview: Chicago White Sox

UPDATE (2/14/2012): We can’t say the White Sox haven’t added anybody any more. They signed Kosuke Fukudome. It’s tempting to make fun of the deal, but it’s really a no-risk deal for the Sox since they got him for little more than the league minimum in 2012 and have an option for 2013 that would cost them just another $500K to buy out. – JC

Sometimes I wonder if the Twins actually have a true “rivalry” with any other MLB team. I think we’re all tired of getting our brains beat in by the Yankees every series, whether in the regular season or post-season, but everyone hates the Yankees and, after all, a true rivalry requires some level of mutual dislike, doesn’t it? I’m not altogether sure that Yankee fans even realize the Twins play in the same league as their team.

The closest thing to a rivalry the Twins have probably has to be with the White Sox (or BitchSox, as Batgirl taught us to refer to them). I admit that they’re the AL Central Division team I’ve come to know and despise the most.

I look at the SouthSiders as pretty much the “anti-Twins” organization. Even the way their front office operates has pretty much been the polar opposite of the Twins’ method of operating. Their approach seems to be to headline-making trades, without regard for fiscal issues, in a nearly annual attempt to “win it all” and if (more like “when”) that doesn’t work, blow things up and do it all over again.

GM Kenny Williams has been making noises about blowing the team up this off-season, but has he really done that? Let’s take a look.

Last Year:

Record: 79-83

Standings: 3rd place AL Central by 16 games behind Tigers

Playoffs: None. Their last playoff appearance was in 2008 (a memory Twins fans would just as soon forget)

Players of Note Lost: P Mark Buehrle, OF Carlos Quentin, P Sergio Santos, P Jason Frasor

Players of Note Added: Nobody whatsoever

M*A*S*H unit: P Jake Peavy has yet to prove healthy enough to make any significant contribution to the White Sox. Other than that, however, the Sox really can’t blame their misfortunes on injuries. Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham all stayed quite healthy in 2011… they just sucked at baseball.

Outlook: Between the four players noted above and Edwin Jackson, who the Sox shipped away during the middle of 2011, Williams has cleared about $40 million of payroll. If they open the season with what’s currently on their roster, they’ll be shelling out close to $10 million less in salary than the Twins will. Well over half of the Sox current contractual commitments for 2012 is wrapped up in four players. Ordinarily, that may not be such a big deal, but when three out of those four big ticket ballplayers have produced the way Peavy, Dunn and Rios have, that’s a problem.

While Twins fans fret over whether Justin Morneau will return to health sufficiently to see a reasonable return on the team’s remaining financial commitment ($15 million in 2012 and again in 2013), the Sox faithful are left wondering whether Adam Dunn will produce at a level to earn his $15 million salary this season… or next season… or the season after that.

And if you think it’s tough wondering whether Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn will bounce back from their struggles a year ago, I’d rather take my chances with that trio than hoping that Jake Peavy will finally earn the money the Sox are paying him… an amount, by the way, that will be half a million dollars more than what the Twins will pay Baker, Liriano and Blackburn, combined.

The Sox still have Paul Konerko anchoring the middle of their batting order, but unless Rios and Dunn find their grooves, it’s difficult to imagine where their offense will come from. They also still have Gavin Floyd and John Danks in their rotation and it sounds like they’ll be adding Chris Sale. That means, however, that Sale won’t be available out of the bullpen and without Santos (last year’s closer), former Twin Jesse Crain could finally get his shot at being a closer. Lefty Matt Thornton may be another option.

Of course, the guy Twins fans may miss the most isn’t even a player. Manager Ozzie Guillen has taken his talents to South Beach (along with arguably his best pitcher, Mark Buehrle), so we’ll all miss Ozzie’s colorful post-game press conferences. Robin Ventura, who has zero managing experience, will take over the Sox clubhouse.

In the end, the White Sox have perhaps even more question marks than the Twins do and I don’t think they’re going to like how those questions are answered. I’m picking the Sox to pull up the rear of the AL Central in 2012. They may not lose 99 games the way the Twins did while finishing last in 2011… but then again, they might.

– JC