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I won’t waste much time setting up the final installment of the 40 Most Important White Sox project. I looked up after finishing the final blurb and saw the total nearing 2,000 words. I suppose that’s why they’re important!
In case you missed the earlier posts:
No. 13: Tony Pena (You said: No. 20)
This is where the bullpen starts getting real. Previous relievers on this list can’t be counted on for various reasons, both understandable (Randy Williams’ fungibility, Sergio Santos’ inexperience, J.J. Putz’s injury history) and maddening (Scott Linebrink’s utter ineffectiveness).
Kenny Williams put a lot of responsibility on Pena’s shoulders by trading a pretty good prospect for him in Brandon Allen. Pena brings some unique elements to the Sox bullpen — he has definitely been the most durable, and most accustomed to recording more than three outs. Likewise, his weaknesses are well-documented, stemming from his streaky nature. He gets into ruts where every other slider is a roller and lefties can tee off on him, and it can take five outings or more before he straightens up and flies right.
Pena will make Guillen work harder than any other reliever, and if Guillen reads the barometer right, Pena will be good for a lot of innings. If he doesn‘t know what‘s in Pena‘s heart, well, Chris Rongey has a lot of long evenings ahead of him.
Big difference! This might be the biggest difference of them all, because the highest you guys had him was No. 14. I’d be surprised if anybody else led the Sox in relief innings at season’s end, unless Carlos Torres joins the team in April and lasts the entire year. And unlike Torres, I think we’ll see plenty of Pena in important situations.
No. 12: Mark Teahen (You said: 17)
There’s something unsettling about the vibe around Teahen, in that he’s both being counted on for things he hasn’t done and a level of production he hasn’t reached in four years. Even Joe Posnanski buys into the idea that returning to one position for a team that wants him will turn him around.
The saving grace is that the White Sox have typically dealt with one zero infielder the past few seasons. Last season, it was second base. Before that, third base, shortstop and second all had lengthy periods without production. Before that? Shortstop.
Chances are, Teahen will be better than the worst infielder the Sox have played over the past few seasons. Not high praise, but he shouldn’t hurt too much. But it would behoove him to turn things around, because he could turn into a Linebrink-grade subversive albatross with that three-year extension.
Big difference! Teahen had one of the widest variations, with one person considering him the fourth-most important Sox and five in the top 10. I think a “good” season will go a long way, both for the team — which could stand to have average contributors at all infield positions for once — and for Teahen and the Sox front office as well.
No. 11: Alexei Ramirez (You said: 9)
One strange thing about Alexei Ramirez’s 2009 season — in 606 plate appearances, he hit just 14 doubles. And only one triple.
It’s not an odd profile by the numbers alone, but they imply things that aren’t true about Ramirez, like that he might be a poor hitter (he’s decent), have no power (he hit 15 homers) or that he’s lead-footed (he stole 14 bases). He basically had the doubles rate of 2006 Frank Thomas, without the foot or weight problems.
The list of guys who maxed out at 14 doubles in 600 plate appearances — while being able to run well enough to steal 14 — isn’t a short one, but it’s short on players with Ramirez’s tools. There are a couple outliers, such as Carlos Beltran (who hit 10 triples, so not comparable) and even Hawk Harrelson (who slugged 30 homers), but most of them are the slappy, speedy guys.
His severe uppercut swing makes me think that he’s never going to find the middle ground that’s going to make him an explosive, All-Star candidate. He’ll hit homers and bounce singles through the left side, but that’s not a recipe for a real great OPS.
But he’s this high on the list because of his glove. Over the last two months — especially in September — he ironed out the mental lapses and displayed good range, good hands and a terrific arm. Until we find out whether Gordon Beckham can make a smooth transition to second base, the Cuban Missile is the one Gold Glove candidate the infield has. With a lineup that looks like it might struggle to get runs, the Ramirez of the last two months could be a defensive lynchpin.
No. 10: Bobby Jenks (You said: 8)
Jenks’ innings totals have been on a three-year slide, and just this spring he was working through a calf injury. The Sox can’t be counting on him to last the entire season. That’s why he isn’t the most important reliever on this list.
Still, a relatively healthy and effective-enough Jenks keeps the bullpen in order. Perhaps J.J. Putz can regain his All-Star form, but no matter how you shift around the right-handed relievers, each has a part in keeping Scott Linebrink away from high-leverage situations.
And then there’s the money. Everybody knows Jenks is overpaid, but closing games for the Sox is the closest he’ll get to making himself worth it.
No. 9: Alex Rios (You said: 4)
Rios seems like he needs a big bounce-back season to make his gaudy contract ($62 million over five years) worth it, but that’s not necessarily the case. Even when he was underwhelming in Toronto, he earned his money. His sum was greater than his parts — people notice the non-elite hitting, but it’s harder to see the sterling defense and baserunning.
Since Aaron Rowand went west, the Sox haven’t had a guy who could pass as passable at two of those three things. If Rios only hits .270/.320/.415 — all under his career averages — he might bring tears of joy to Guillen’s eyes.
A center fielder who can hit a little. My kingdom for a center fielder who can hit a little.
Big difference! The standards help Rios immensely. The Sox don’t need him to be great, and I don’t think he will be.
No. 8: Paul Konerko (You said: 12)
Konerko led the Sox in homers last year with 28. Jermaine Dye (27) and Jim Thome (23) took place and show, respectively, and both are no longer on the team. It’s safe to say their replacements won’t make up the difference.
The Sox need Konerko to rise to the occasion for one more season. Should his troublesome thumb sap his power for extended periods of time, it’ll be up to Mandruw Kojones to replace that power output. Would you bet on that happening?
Big difference! I once again seem to be emphasizing power more than average.
No. 7: Matt Thornton (You said: 10)
Joe Mauer. Justin Morneau. Jason Kubel. Jim Thome. Denard Span. Grady Sizemore. Shin-Soo Choo. Travis Hafner. Johnny Damon.
Thornton may end up only pitching 4 percent of the innings thrown by White Sox pitchers, but damnit, they’re going to be pressure-packed. Have at it, Easy Heat. At least Victor Martinez isn’t in the division anymore.
No. 6: Gavin Floyd (You said: 7)
A question raised by bigfun wondered why Floyd ranked considerably further behind John Danks. I think the reason is that because Floyd allows more homers and doesn’t have as effective of a fastball, he’s going to have more evenings where he goes to the mound with nothing working.
But let’s not kid ourselves — the Sox need 190 innings of the 4.00 FIP performance Floyd he’s averaged the last two seasons. If any one of the Big Four falls flat, it’s going to be a tough season.
No. 5: John Danks (You said: 3)
If Danks is going to capitalize on his front-line starter potential, there’s no better time than this season. He gutted through circulation and blister issues, pitching better than his peripherals suggested. He also figured out something about efficiency when he threw the first complete game of his career in September.
All of of the ingredients are there for Danks. Getting back to 100 percent will help him with the three true outcomes portion, and hopefully he learned about lessening his workload while pitching through pain. If Danks puts them all together, the Sox have that dreaded one-two punch that no team wants to see in a short series, and Buehrle will be the most heralded No. 3 starter around.
No. 4: Mark Buehrle (You said: 5)
We only need to look back to two recent seasons to show how big of an impact Buehrle has on pennant races.
In 2006, Buehrle had the worst second half of any pitcher to last the entire thing, and was the biggest reason why the Sox dropped out of contention. Two years later, he sac’ed up in September and put the post-Quentin Sox on his back with short-rest brilliance. Danks may have thrown that beautiful eight innings in The Blackout Game, but Buehrle got them there.
He may not be the lead dog anymore, but he’s thrown 200 innings more times in his career (nine) than Floyd, Danks and Jake Peavy combined (five). That combination of quality and quantity is something Guillen relies on, and the results bear that out.
No. 3: Gordon Beckham (You said: 6)
The Sox think so highly of Beckham that they have done frighteningly little to insure themselves against a sophomore slump. Then again, there aren’t many middle infielders who can produce the way the Sox think Beckham will.
Simply put, he gives the Sox doubles. One two-bagger kept the Sox from finishing last in that category (the Sox hit 246, Detroit hit 245). Beckham hit 53 between the minors and majors in 2009.
A lot has been made about the culture shift, getting away from homers and featuring a hell-on-the-basepaths approach. Beckham is a great compromise, somebody who brings a good OBP to go along with good power. His power just manifests itself more in doubles than homers, but it should result in more regular scoring, and help keep the Sox away from feast-or-famine mode. It’s hard to understate the value of being able to score four or five runs every game.
If he falters, the Sox are even shorter on guys you’d want hitting in the top half of an order. He’s been in the second spot in just about every lineup I’ve seen, and the Sox will need him to be that rock.
No. 2: Carlos Quentin (You said: 2)
No Sox player has a greater range of possibilities than Quentin.
Could he recapture the MVP form that he showed through the first five months of 2008? I can see it happening.
Could the plantar fasciitis flare up again and cost him another half of a season? That seems even more likely.
Still, that frailty’s name is Carlos doesn’t change the fact that the Sox need something from their corner outfielders, and the other one is Juan Pierre. The Sox are banking on a big Quentin comeback, and whenever he has to run at full speed, everybody in the Cell will be holding their breath.
No. 1: Jake Peavy (You said: 1)
It took all of three successful September starts to establish Peavy as the alpha dog of this White Sox team, and you get the idea that he sleeps with a pad of paper next to his bed in case he dreams up a way that he could be even more intense.
There’s a reason why only Kenny Williams called San Diego ex-GM Kevin Towers about Peavy at last year’s trade deadline: injuries. Peavy’s had an assortment of them, some related to throwing, and he’s thrown only 271 innings over the last two seasons as a result.
But there’s a reason why three teams were competing for Peavy’s services before he tore his ankle tendon. Peavy has the stuff and the attitude to lead a team to the playoffs.
Peavy fulfilling his duties as staff ace and tone-setter means that half the battle is won. Williams built the entire team around the idea that he’d have a powerhouse pitching staff, which is why he built an offense that’s designed to not get shut out. If Peavy delivers, the Sox have a rotation that appears on posters with menacing glares and lightning in the background, ones that will be yellowing on the wood paneling of Chicago dive bars 25 years down the road.
This concludes our offseason coverage.