PRESEASON PREVIEW: Chicago White Sox

PRESEASON PREVIEW: Chicago White Sox

After playing second fiddle to Minnesota the past few years in the AL Central, the White Sox front office decided it was time for a change. And so, they've spent the offseason re-tooling a team, converting it from one based on power hitting to one more reliant on pitching and defense. But will the changes spark a change in the division standings?

ADDITIONS:

INF Tadahito Iguchi (free agent from Japan), C A.J. Pierzynski (free agent from San Francisco), RHP Orlando Hernandez (free agent from Yankees), OF Scott Podsednik and RHP Luis Vizcaino (trade with Milwaukee), LHP Kevin Walker (minor league free agent from San Francisco), RHP Dustin Hermanson (free agent from San Francisco), OF Jermaine Dye (free agent from Oakland).


LOSSES:

2B Roberto Alomar (free agent, signed with Tampa Bay), SS Jose Valentin (free agent, signed with Los Angeles), LF Carlos Lee (traded to Milwaukee), C Sandy Alomar Jr. (free agent, signed with Texas), LHP Scott Schoeneweis (free agent, signed with Toronto). RF Magglio Ordonez (free agent)

PROJECTED LINEUP:

1: CF Scott Podsednik

2: LF Aaron Rowand

3: DH Frank Thomas

4: 1B Paul Konerko

5: RF Jermaine Dye

6: C A.J. Pierzynski

7: SS Juan Uribe

8: 3B Joe Crede

9: 2B Tadahito Iguchi

In light of their shift to a pitching and defense oriented team, the White Sox moved a big bopper, Carlos Lee, to get a speedster to put at the top of the lineup. The Sox are hopeful Scott Podsednik will resurrect his on base percentage, all while wreaking havoc on the basepaths.

With the addition of Podsednik, Aaron Rowand will likely shift to left field. Rowand very quietly had an excellent season for the Sox, leading the team in OPS (.905). In turn, the 27-year old was rewarded with a new $8.5 million contract over the next three years.

Frank Thomas has struggled with his health in the past, but when able to play, is still one of the best hitters in all of baseball. However, ankle surgery might delay his start to the season in which case the Sox have veteran Carl Everett to step in and adequately replace him. Paul Konerko is once again a force in the middle of the lineup for the Sox at first base.

The next two spots in the lineup likely will go to new additions; Jermaine Dye and A.J. Pierzynski. Dye was signed to help replace the offense lost by moving Lee, while Pierzynski should give the White Sox a reliable catcher who can swing the bat as well, something they haven't had the past few years, and was always a spot of concern for the team.

After a breakout offensive season in '04, Juan Uribe will shift to shortstop, where the team hopes he can replace departed Jose Valentin. A former shortstop, Uribe shouldn't struggle with the move defensively – the larger questions concerns whether or not Uribe can repeat his offensive performance.

The team keeps waiting for Joe Crede to breakout, but he hasn't yet fully grasped the big league game yet. He certainly hasn't done poorly (21 Home Runs last year), but his average has been low, and he's struggled in stretches.

A last second signing has made one final change, inserting newly acquired Tadahito Iguchi into the lineup, in place of Willie Harris. No one knows what to expect yet from Iguchi, but obviously the Sox weren't happy enough with Harris to go into the season as their lone option.

BENCH:

C Ben Davis

IF Wilson Valdez/Willie Harris

OF Joe Borchard/Willie Harris

OF Carl Everett

Ben Davis was originally expected to split time with Jamie Burke for the catcher position, but with the Pierzynski signing, he's relegated to backup duty. He's not guaranteed the job either; he'll still have to beat out Burke to grab it.

Harris, who still hopes to have a shot at competing for the starting second base spot, will now likely be left with a backup infielder role. Harris may still demand a trade. It's likely that the team will keep around Wilson Valdez as well, to backup the left side of the infield.

Joe Borchard may not make the club out of spring training due to a lack of available playing time, but as one of the top prospects in the organization, the team will surely make room for him soon enough. Carl Everett is an experienced bat off the bench, but if Borchard appears ready, the possibility remains that he could still the job on the bench from Everett, especially if Thomas proves healthy.

ROTATION:

LH Mark Buehrle

RH Freddy Garcia

RH Orlando Hernandez

RH Jose Contreras

RH Jon Garland

The team sports one of the best 1-2 combos in baseball, as Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia form a formidable duo at the top of the rotation. These two should both give the Sox a chance to win each time they come out, especially if Garcia starts receiving more run support.

The front office then went out and signed Orlando Hernandez to a 2-year deal, in hopes of providing a strong number three in the rotation. Hernandez is getting up there in the age, but the White Sox are hoping he can still give the team another season or two, and should certainly prove to be better than the youngsters they kept trying in the rotation last season.

Jose Contreras (who was swapped for Esteban Loaiza at the trade deadline) will hope to finally put everything together and be a solid starter for the White Sox, something he proved unable to do for the Yankees. Nevertheless, he still won 13 games in '04 and should be able to repeat such a performance in '05.

Closing out the rotation is someone who receives little praise, but has been a steady contributor for the White Sox the past three years in the rotation. Jon Garland is just 25, but has already won 46 games in his career, and even eclipsed 200 innings for the first time in his career. Needless to say, the team believes Garland's best days are still ahead of him.

BULLPEN:

Closer Shingo Takatsu

MR Dustin Hermanson

MR Damaso Marte

MR Cliff Politte

MR Luis Viscaino

LR Jon Adkins

Shingo Takatsu returns to the club as the team's closer, but is already 36 years old, and certainly isn't getting any younger. Nonetheless, he converted 19 of his 20 save opportunities and should be relied upon again.

But if Takatsu proves unable to hold the closer role, Dustin Hermanson will happily slide in. Hermanson was the Giants' closer last season and certainly isn't expecting to come in and simply be another middle reliever.

Damaso Marte, the lone lefty in the ‘pen, proved to be the team's most reliable reliever, with a 3.42 ERA, and a team high 21 holds. Marte will once again be relied upon to bridge the gap between the club's starters and Hermanson/Takatsu.

Further down the middle relief chain, Cliff Politte wasn't a slouch himself in 2004 – earning 19 holds for his middle relief work. The team also acquired Luis Viscaino to give the team another reliable reliever.

Jon Adkins fills out the bullpen, and while he may not necessarily be the typical long reliever, he can go more than an inning, and the team believes it is solid throughout where they shouldn't need to rely on a long reliever to give the team 3+ innings of work in relief.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK:

Frank Thomas' health

Thomas has been one of the most dominating hitters of his generation, but the 36-year old's body has been wearing down over the years. That hasn't stopped him from being productive when in the lineup (an OPS near 1.000 in '04 proves just that), but for the team to make a run at the division crown, they're going to need his bat in the lineup on a daily basis, especially with the production they've lost from Lee and Magglio Ordonez. If Thomas can't stay in the lineup, it will put more pressure on younger guys like Rowand and Uribe to carry the load even more.

BREAKOUT PLAYER:

Tadahito Iguchi

With Joe Borchard waiting for playing time to open up, and Joe Crede yet to prove fully ready to have a dominant season like so many had hoped, watch out for Iguchi, who could do big things for the White Sox. Little is known of the Japanese product, but in Japan Iguchi had hit for plenty of power, a high average, and has even won a pair of stolen base crowns. The team won't put too much on Iguchi to start, but could be a big player for the team down the road.

PROJECTION:

After years of trying to make the power-hitting lineup work, GM Ken Williams decided there needed to be a change, a change in personnel, and a change in philosophy. This revamped lineup won't have the same power potential as it did last season, but with Konerko and Thomas, there is plenty of power between the two of them. They also for the first time believe they have five reliable starters – though, Contreras has yet to truly produce, and Hernandez is aging quickly. The team should be improved in 2005, but unless a number of things go right for the team, it's hard to see them overtaking the Twins at the top of the AL Central, yet again leaving them in second in the division.

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