2nd Place Sox Exchange

By Soxman and Paul M. Banks

For the 2nd straight week, Soxman is once again in the driver’s seat at the Sportsbank, and plays host as Paul M. Banks pulls up a chair to talk 2nd place, 2nd thoughts on Brian Anderson, and a 2nd injury to Chris Getz.  We also move forward with the 2nd week of Maybe or Mirage, the Sportsbank’s White Sox version of ESPN’s 30-second drill.

SM: Well we are almost one month into the 2009 season and the standings say we are just an average team at 9-9.  I’m thinking of writing a book called A Tale of Two Teams to describe our Sox this season.  Want proof?  The Toronto Series.  We have seen some spectacular defense, such as the amazing diving catches by Brent Lillibridge and Jerry Owens, offensive execution and timely hitting in Saturday’s game, and then sloppy defense by Alexei Ramirez and Brian Anderson with offense that was just plain offensive in Friday’s 14-0 embarrassment.   Which performance do you think is reflective of the real team?

(PMB) Like on Sesame Street, “this week’s Sox Exchange is brought to you by the number 2.” I think this “two-faced” team is on pace for a 83 to 85 win season. I think you’re right about the roller-coaster. Expect a lot of results on this team (and in the AL Central overall) to not make a whole lot of sense. Ozzie told the media right before the season started that this team will be faster than last year’s, and that the only slow guys on this team are well, the middle-of-the-order guys we all know and love. This team should be able to move and bump and grind (with apologies to R. Kelly) out a few more runs than last season.

But I think the record will still decline from last year because I have bigger questions about our starting pitching, and as the old baseball saying goes “momentum is only as strong as tomorrow’s starting pitcher.” So that’s why we’ll see so much polarity.

SM: Speaking of Brian Anderson, it appears as though he’s making the most of his opportunity to become the everyday CF.  As you know, I have been one of his harshest critics, mostly because of the attitude he carried early in his career.   Don’t look now, but BA is leading the team in BA (pardon the pun), and has walked seven times leading all regulars with a .444 on base percentage (OBP).  Is it time for Soxman to admit that BA has finally arrived?

(PMB) Remember how down you were on Gavin Floyd at the beginning of 2008? His rapid progress shocked you (and pretty much everyone who saw him pitch in the Phillies organization) Still I just criticized BA harshly here last week.  His career batting average (.222) and on-base percentage (.282) are LAUGHABLY bad. However, Bobby Jenks was also once a prospect who seemingly loved the nightlife a bit too much and let it get in the way of augmenting his game. Ozzie helped straighten him out, if Anderson has got his ego in check…Perhaps now he’s matured and is ready to focus on developing his natural talent into making himself a true Major League hitter?

SM: Now onto the player who most resembles my exchange partner, Chris Getz, who could end up on the DL.  Can this kid catch a break (pardon the pun) or what?  He broke his wrist last season, hurt his hand early in the season, and now a broken finger.  He was handling lead-off duties well, hitting .340 with 3 SB and a .404 OBP., second best on the team.  Ozzie said Sunday that Gordon Beckham will not be called up in 2009 leaving Brent Lillibridge and Jayson Nix as the only viable alternatives.  Who do you think will man 2nd base and the lead-off spot?  Huge swallow…from a speed and statistical perspective, Brian Anderson is currently the best candidate.

(PMB) I’d love to get a Getz jersey t-shirt, but I’m hoping that he can stay off the DL long enough to get them from production to market. Ozzie raves about his potential- especially as a leadoff hitter. He’s certainly paid his dues, perhaps karma is about to bring him some well-deserved and better fortune. Nix’s injury was equally unfortunate and set him way back in the second-sacker race. Perhaps we can move Alexei back to this spot and bring back Orlando Cabrera? It took him awhile to get signed in the off-season…(J/K LOL!) Obviously, we’ll see pigs fly first.

If we could just build a Lillibridge to the portion of the season with a healthier roster and better depth, By that I mean, just tread water with Brent leading off until we have options again, I think it’s our best scenario. BA as the best plann?!?! You just scared the beJesus out of me as well as baseball fans from the South Loop to Tinley Park with that statement.

(SM) Alright lets close this week out with a piece growing in popularity Maybe or Mirage, where we hit 5 quick points on the White Sox and offer our opinion whether it is a sign of things to come or something likely to fade quickly.  Remember, no answer can be longer than 20 words!  Let’s play ball…

Lance Broadway will solidify the innings eater void in the bullpen.

(SM)  Mirage, “Jazz Hands” was 0-2 with a 5.63 ERA (10 ER/16.0 IP) and 15 strikeouts in three starts with Charlotte this season.  Two words:  Aaron Poreda.

(PMB) Mirage. I can’t think of any pitcher named like the lead in a cheesy elaborate big-budget musical who’s ever been good. He’s a bust like Joe Borchard.

Ken Griffey Jr. will hurt the White Sox in his return to Chicago this week.

(SM) Maybe.  Despite hitting just .192, Thomas and Crede homered in their return to the Cell.  Cue the Soul Glow music.

(PMB) Mirage. Jr. back in Seattle is like Willie Mays as a New York Met or The Babe as a Boston Brave: a way-past-their-prime legend returns to the city he started in to finish his career

Paul Konerko is back.

(SM):  Maybe.  A .537 slugging percentage and 13 RBIs in 12 games.  The Paulie wall is once again lit in the Sox Cave.

(PMB) Yes. What’s this? I’m just as optimistic if not more than SM this week! Usually I’m cynical.

Carlos Quentin is hiding an injury

(SM): Mirage.  2 hits in 11 at bats?  Bah.  He learned the damage bats can do. Now someone tell him about fastballs!

(PMB) Mirage. He had 7 HRs in like 10 days, He’s just coming down to Earth after an off-the-charts beginning.

John Danks is the Best Pitcher on the White Sox.

(SM): Maybe. 2-0, and a 0.95 ERA, second best in the AL.  I’m officially on the Danks bandwagon.

(PMB) Agreed. He’s developing into a star, which is especially great because Jack Egbert (6.43 ERA, 1.57 WHIP in AAA ball) and Jeff Marquez (0-3, 13.06 ERA for the Charlotte Knights) don’t seem to be!

Inside-Out Sox Exchange

By Soxman and Paul M. Banks

In a role reversal, our South Side super hero Soxman grabs the interview reigns to lead this week’s Sox exchange, as Paul M. Banks has been completely consumed by the three P’s…Play-offs, Politics, and Pitching (for his local softball team)

In this week’s exchange, our sports media dynamic duo discuss the AL Central race this young season, the CF conundrum, and a new piece called “Maybe or Mirage.”  What is it?  Read and find out.
SM: Well I guess you can say two weeks into the 2009 MLB season, it’s pretty easy to see exactly why so many experts had a hard time predicting the AL Central.  Three teams are tied for first place and the Cleveland Indians are the only team that is obviously struggling.  As I said on opening day, every team in this division has question marks and thus far, as we both agreed, the Royals are much improved. 

The secret to the Sox pulling ahead of the bunch will be consistency.  While Sunday’s offensive “broiling” of the Rays was great, the Sox entered Sunday’s game in a fashion reflective of 2008.  They were hitting .218 with runners in scoring position.  With our starting pitching looking fairly solid thus far, it appears as though we must improve this number if we are going to repeat as AL Central Champs.  Your thoughts?

PMB: First off, I’d like to say thank you for the introduction and taking the lead in this exchange as I’ve been ridiculously busy this week. We’ve had two exceptionally positive developments early this season: the Indians getting off to a very slow start as you pointed out. Last year they had a wretched beginning and never quite recovered. If they don’t kick it into high gear soon, they could be talking about 2010 by June.

Secondly, Paul Konerko (.341, .388 OBP, 11 RBI) is off to a great start: exactly what he needed after such an off year in ’08. Perhaps you were right about Paulie taking his strong finish down the stretch of last season to then carry it into the start of 2009? Jermaine Dye (.370, .388 OBP, 9 RBI) and  Carlos Quentin (.426 OBP, 7 HR, 13 RBI) are joining him in having phenomenal Aprils too.

I have to agree with you that clutch hitting will be the key. I get sick of Sox fans complaining to me “we’re just too reliant on the home run again, like last year.” There’s nothing wrong with homers…when you’ve got guys on base. The “table setters” at the top of the order in ’07 weren’t able to put out the proverbial plates, dishes and silverware so the “big-boppers” in the heart of the order could feast. And that’s why 90 losses occurred. If we get hits and draw walks at the top of the order (so far Brent Lillibridge leading-off  is clearly not the answer) then we’ll continue to have series just like the one concluded Sunday- one pitch away from sweeping four at Tampa Bay. Seriously, where was this offense last October at the Trop?

Speaking of Soxtober, I just want to throw in a mention that the White Sox had the opportunity to visit the White House today and Barack told me he wants to see them back there soon- as World Series Champions. 

SM: Among other things, part of the reason for the offensive inconsistency was the lack of a lead-off hitter (leading to Lillibridge obtaining that opportunity) and a somewhat unsettled position in CF.  With Dewayne Wise out 6-8 weeks, it appears as though Brian Anderson has been awarded full-time starting CF duties until he proves he cannot handle them.  Jerry Owens has also been re-called from AAA but appears to be nothing more than a pinch runner at this point.  Making things interesting the Sox re-signed 2005 WS hero Scott Podsednik to a minor league deal. 

The Sun-Times also resurrected the Aaron Rowand rumors last week, and The Washington Nationals floated a rumor that the Sox may have interest in bringing back Willie Harris.  To make things even more interesting, there have been other rumblings the Sox could call up Gordon Beckham and move Alexei to CF.  What do you see as the most likely scenario?

PMB: DeWayne Wise (up until 08) was a career minor leaguer for a reason, I don’t expect him to really augment his game when he returns. He earned the job simply because as the Dave Matthews Band once put it, “they’ll make the best of what’s around.”

I saw Owens go hitless (and remain hitless on the young season) in AAA the night before Easter, when I was in Charlotte. He has speed, but nothing close to the tools necessary to become a consistent major league hitter.

“Mr. Anderson” (cue the voice of the Matrix villain) is on what his 17th chance? 18th chance? I’d like to know when we can officially give up on him and maybe trade him while there’s still has some value. He’s a great defender, he’ll have to continue showing increased patience at the plate, because this is plan A.

Can Gordon Beckham make the jump directly from AA? Some of his towering homers in spring training make that seem plausible. Then again, it’s spring trainin, and owning Cactus League pitchers is a far cry from tearing up Scott Baker or Cliff Lee during the middle of an August pennant race.

In summation, White Sox centerfielders are starting to remind me of Bears Quarterbacks (prior to the Jay Cutler signing) or Bulls low-post players. There’s obviously no blue chip stock in the portfolio, so the best thing you can do is take your collection of junk bonds, and rotate them in a way that you could try to maximize your return.  



SM: Ok so as the Sportsbank is trying to keep postings shorter, we will close out with a new section on the Sox Exchange.  Maybe or Mirage, where we hit 5 quick points on the White Sox and offer our opinion whether it is a sign of things to come or something likely to fade quickly.  Remember, no answer can be longer than 20 words!  Let’s play ball…
Scott Podsednik will play CF for the White Sox in 2009.
SM:  Mirage.  From 2005 to 2007, Pods played only 10 of 330 games in CF for the Sox.
PMB: Mirage. The Sox player with the all-time hottest wife is washed up. This acquisition is 2008 Loaiza signing version 2.0

Alexei Ramirez will suffer the sophomore jinx.
SM: Maybe.  He’s getting nothing but breaking balls and swinging at everything.  Pitchers adjusted.  He needs to as well.
PMB: Maybe. I thought his seeing more time further down the order would relieve pressure and loosen him up, wrong on both counts.

Brian Anderson remains the everyday 2009 CF.
SM: Maybe.  What other choices are there?  He’s still a free swinger but is also walking (.429 OBP).  Defense is always solid. 
PMB: Maybe. He’s turning into our Shawon Dunston, numerous chances to fall short of years of high expectations.

Mike MacDougal will turn things around.
SM: Mirage.  A 12.46 ERA and a 3.23 WHIP.  He’s pitching scared and likely needs a change of scenery.
PMB: MIRAGE. I was genuinely angry that he was granted a roster spot coming out of Glendale

The Nick Swisher Trade was a Bust.
SM: Maybe.  He’s back.  Evaluate the trade by also looking what we gave up to get him in 2008.  Ugh.
PMB: Maybe, well actually a huge certainty. Maybe he just didn’t fit in well with Ozzie and the Sox clubhouse?

Soxman, great job with this new feature! I could see this becoming a regular staple here on the Sox Exchange.

2009 White Sox Significantly Overhauled from Last Year

By Paul M. Banks

When the White Sox defend their 2008 AL Central title this season, they will do so after overhauling a third of their lineup. Opening Day brings new starters at the center field, second and third base positions. Additionally, last year’s 2B, Alexei Ramirez. moves over to shortstop.

For this season to have the same thrilling conclusion as 2008, when the Sox finally won the division race over the Twins in game No. 163, it’ll be because of the new guys.

CF and hitting leadoff, DeWayne Wise:
Was it a smart move to start Wise in the leadoff spot, given his awful on-base percentage? He’s simply the least of three evils for manager Ozzie Guillen, as Jerry Owens can’t hit at the major league level and backup Brian Anderson continues falling way short of the expectations he came into the league with. Reserve infielder Brent Lillibridge can play the center field position when called upon as well.

3B Josh Fields: His name may be Fields, but fielding is not Josh’s strong suit. Joe Crede’s replacement does have plenty of power though, slugging 23 homers with 67 RBIs in just 373 at bats in 2007.

“I think he had a tremendous spring training, both offensively and defensively. Unfortunately, the rough day he had was against the Cubs with everybody in Chicago watching the game, when we don’t play the Cubs, people don’t watch (preseason) baseball, but I don’t worry about Josh. I expect him to have a great year,” manager Ozzie Guillen said with his usual Borat-like candor.

2B Chris Getz: What do you get with Getz? A possible Rookie of the Year candidate with a history of getting on base consistently at every level and solid range on defense. As he gains more experience, he may find himself hitting leadoff — should Wise struggle in the job. Ozzie Guillen bluntly assessed the situation.

“If things don’t work the way the way we want to, I’m not afraid to change lineups. I’m not too patient either. I think what I see from Getz is pretty special. Can this kid lead off? I don’t have any doubts, but him batting second we can do a lot of things,” Guillen said.

Spring Training Sox Exchange

By Paul M. Banks and Soxman

(PMB) Last weekend included St. Valentine’s Day, a time of year that more women than men look forward to quite frankly. But once it’s over, Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers begin reporting to spring training, which is to most guys what chocolate, jewelry and flowers are to women.  Speaking of love, I consulted Soxman, the person who loves the White Sox more than any other individual on this Earth about what occurred in the offices on 35th and Shields this winter. You might recognize Soxman from, well pretty much anywhere local media may roam. We began this exchange by discussing the biggest move of the offseason, the Javier Vazquez trade:

(SM) After his miserable play-off performance, almost every Sox fan would agree that Javy wore out his welcome on the Southside, The trade was crucial in rebuilding our anemic farm system as it yielded two of the top 20 prospects overall in the Braves system.

2B/SS Brent Lillibridge is the player to watch in 2009.  He’s expected to battle Chris Getz and Jason Nix for the starting job at second base.  Kenny Williams believes he’s capable of stealing 40 bases if he gets 500 Abs.

Tyler Flowers could develop into the Sox next big slugger and 3B prospect Jon Gilmore has drawn comparisons to Scott Rolen.

(PMB) The Southside Dark Knight also opined on the signings of the so-called “Cuban Babe Ruth” Dayan Viciciedo and Bartolo Colon.

(SM) Sox fans should not expect Viciedo to immediately perform like Alexei as he’s only 19. There’s a ton to be excited about however.  He slugged over .500 in two of the past three seasons in Cuba and was an All-Star in Cuba’s top league at age 16.   Colon is exactly the type of pitcher I expected Williams to sign.  The once awesome, now aging pitcher plagued by injuries trying to revive his career…at an ultra cheap price.  In limited action with the Red Sox last season, he looked very good.

(PMB) In the case of Bobby Abreu and Jermaine Dye, we spent weeks listening about trade deals and prospective signings only to see no moves made. It kind of felt being stood up on a date. So what does the love interest of female Sox fans everywhere think of the non-deals- the trades that didn’t happen.

(SM) I was surprised the Sox did not go after Orlando Hudson as he still has not signed with a team, Soxman saidI think that the deals Kenny was interested in just didn’t materialize. With the economy it is pretty much a buyers market right now. I think Kenny will see how the 2-3 position battles pan out and if any bargains fall his way, he’ll pounce.

(PMB) Last week Baseball Prospectus predicted the Chicago White Sox to win just 74 games and finish dead last in the AL Central. Although the formulae and prognostications of these sabermetrician geeks sounds bleak, we must remember that almost no one predicted the Sox to win the AL Central last season. In the World Series year of 2005, most people predicted the pale hose to finish third! Also, lots of people forecasted the Sox to win the division in ’06 and ’07, yet they controlled the division for just 36 combined days in those two seasons. In summation, it’s all wide open

One guy with White Sox knowledge second place to no one is Soxman who sprang into action with his take on the Sox spring prospectus.

(SM) There are a ton of question marks going into 2009 that should make for an exciting spring. I can’t remember a time where there were so many position battles.

CF will be fun to watch, where Jerry Owens is expected to battle Brian Anderson.  The early favorite to win the job is Owens as we also expect him to assume lead-off duties.  However, Getz and Lillibridge could also factor in as Ozzie claims that speed alone does not entitle Owens to bat atop the lineup.

3B is Josh Fields to lose, but if he does, Wilson Betemit could slip right in.  The Cuban Babe Ruth, Dayan Viciedo may need some minor league seasoning before being considered a serious threat to assume full-time 3B duties.

There is also a back-up catcher position open and 1-2 spots in the bullpen.

If that’s not enough, it will be interesting to see how Alexei Ramirez handles fulltime SS duties, how healthy Bartolo Colon is, and how well Scott Linebrink’s shoulder has healed.

Soxman sees the White Sox lineup shaking up this way:

The everyday line-up will truly reveal itself during the final days of spring training, I’m really hoping that Ozzie does not decide to hit Thome, Konerko, and AJ back-to-back.”

This is the projected line-up as of today:

Owens- CF
Ramirez- SS
Quentin- LF
Thome- DH
Dye- RF
Konerko- 1B
Fields- 3B
Getz/Lillibridge- 2B

(PMB) With the Cuban Missile Alexi Ramirez moving over to shortstop, second base will be see a wide-open and heated competition for playing time.

(SM) It’ll be a wide-open between battle Chris Getz, Jayson Nix, and Brent Lillibridge.  All three players combined have 61 games of MLB experience and just 143 Abs.  While none of the candidates are proven, this is one of two open positions where the Sox should get a speed boost.  While Getz has the early edge, this is truly anyone’s job to win.

(PMB) Another issue on all the minds of Sox Nation is the battle for the fifth starter. Although Jose Contreras is now supposed to be way ahead of schedule, the Sox will still need major innings from one of the prospects such as Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard or the man with the most alternative lifestyle sounding name in White Sox history, Lance Broadway.

(SM) After his heroic performance in September, Clayton Richard is the early favorite to win the 5th spot but will likely be challenged by Aaron Poreda and Jeff Marquez.  Broadway will likely battle the losers of the rotation competition for the long relief spot in the bullpen.  Poreda likely has the most long-term upside, but is likely to start the season in AAA.

Editor’s note: a version of this story ran on NBC 5’s webpage, that you can read here and here.