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.

Twins Preview: Starting Infield

By David Palmer

I’m going to give you the position-by-position breakdown of where the Twins are at this spring regarding their starting infield.  It includes some new faces, some old faces and some killer sideburns thanks to Joe Mauer.  This team should get the most consistent offensive and defensive consistency from this position group.

In case you missed it, I broke down the Twins starting rotation last week right here.

Without further ado, I give you Justin Morneau.  The 2008 Canadian Athlete of the Year.  Not the best baseball player, the best athlete.   That means he beat out 90% of the NHL (including Crosby), Steve Nash, Mike Weir, and, well, that’s about it.  Anytime you can beat out hockey players in Canada at anything is a good thing.  Anyway, Morneau is the team’s first baseman and premier player, and if anything happens to him, we’re basically screwed.  He had 129 RBI last season, but it seemed more like 1,109.  I swear he drove in two-thirds of our runs.  The great thing about Morneau is that he wants to even get better.  He has publicly taken more of a leadership role, and transformed himself into a Gold Glove caliber first baseman.  He is also the only Twin that I can reliably say will hit more than 20 home runs this year.  I feel comforted by the fact that he is our first baseman for the foreseeable future.

After a solid rookie year last season, Alexi Casilla will be holding down second base and likely the second spot in the batting order also.  I’m a little skeptical about what his production at the plate will be this year.  He was red hot after being called up in June, but slowly cooled off as the scouting reports caught up to him.  Now that opposing teams have nearly 400 at-bats to look at from last year, he is looking like a possible candidate for the dreaded sophomore slump.  The upside is that he has tremendous range in the field and is a switch hitter, but still has a tendency to boot easy plays (ala Christian Guzman).  Hopefully, he can make the necessary adjustments and remain an offensive contributor.

The second half of our double play combination is shortstop Nick Punto, or “Nicky” as Gardenhire affectionately calls him, or “Bitch” as I like to call him.  I really have no idea what we are going to get out of him this season.  He might have the widest range of possibilities of any Twin this year.  He could hit .210 and play below average defense with a few Web Gems mixed in, or he could hit .290, score 85 runs, and cause chaos on the bases, while playing a Gold Glove shortstop.  All I really know is that Gardy has a total man-crush on Punto and will give him every chance to succeed.  Rumor has it, in this economy, the Twins put a clause into his new contact that says he has to do his own dry-cleaning from getting so many jerseys dirty the last couple of years.  He likes diving.  I think he’s found a way to get grass stains from Astroturf.   In all seriousness, his best asset is working pitchers.  Really, that’s about all he does well.  He goes to the plate with the mindset of fouling off as many balls as possible.  Not getting a hit, just slowly wearing a pitcher down.  Basically, he’s the anti-Delmon Young.  Hopefully he can justify his new 2-year $8.5 million deal.

I want to thank the White Sox organization and Kenny Williams for not re-signing Joe Crede.  Thanks to them, he is now our third baseman.  His back issues have been much discussed recently, but in my mind, it is a great pick-up even if he never gets one at-bat.  He was a notorious Twin killer.  In 40 AB against us last year he had 16 hits, 5 doubles, 7 home runs and 17 RBI.  Read that statline again.  Yeah, that says seven dingers.  Take that away from the Sox and we’re the ones hoisting a Division Champion banner in the rafters this April.  It will be interesting to see if Crede can live up to expectations at the plate.  With the pressure of staying healthy, playing for a new team, being the “power guy” from the right side and adjusting to the turf, I see a slow start out of the gate for him.  With that said, I still think he gives our team a little extra swagger.  Just knowing we took him from the Sox adds to the growing confidence of this group of guys.

Joe Mauer is the guy on the team that every girl wants to sleep with and every guy wants to be like.  He’s the quiet, unassuming, good-looking, hometown hero.  He was a high school player of the year in both football (as a stud QB) and baseball his senior season.  He’s a pretty decent athlete.  Joe is coming off his second AL batting title in three years.  I don’t think he’ll ever be the twenty plus homerun hitter that scouts thought he could become, but I’m okay with that if he can keep a .420 on base %, and play Gold Glove defense. Back inflammation has bothered him ever since his (since removed) kidney obstruction.  Hopefully he should be ready by the opener, or shortly thereafter, because he is a crucial cog in the machine.

I like where we’re at with this current group of infielders, and all of them should get a lot of at-bats to prove they belong.   And if Mauer isn’t healthy we can at least look forward to more Mike Redmond face time and nothing more.

Twins Pitchers, Catchers and Grounds Crew Reporting

By David Palmer

With pitchers and catcher officially reporting to spring training in the next couple of days, the Twins go to war with basically the same roster they had to finish last year.  The biggest acquisition we made was hiring a groundskeeper for Target Field.

Before Twins General Manager Bill Smith came around, Terry Ryan was widely known as one of the league’s best and smartest.  I have raked on the Twins front office quite a bit this off-season, but for good reason.  Trades and free agents continue to slip through our fingers for no particular reason.  We are like the Troy Williamson of professional franchises.  As Peter Christian has mentioned before, Bill Smith might possibly be the worst negotiator of all time.  I would love to hear the phone conversation between Bill Smith and Scott Boras in negotiations for Joe Crede.  It probably goes something like this:

Smith: Hey Satan, it’s Bill Smith.

Boras: Umm, Who?

Smith: You know, GM for the Minnesota Twins.  Any chance of coming down on the Crede price?

Boras: Minnesota has a baseball team?

Smith: How is his back doing?

Boras: He’ll be fine, and we’re only asking for $7 million for 1 year.

Smith: Whoa, Whoa, Whoa there Scotty, who do you think we are, the Yankees?

Boras: Sorry Bill, that’s the best we can do.  I’ve got to go, there are some orphanages that I have to burn down.

Smith: Okie dokie, before you go, do you have any free agent pitchers over the age of 40 that we could sign?

Boras: No, but I hear Scott Erickson wants to come out of retirement.

Smith: NICE! Do you have his number?

It might be the biggest negotiating mismatch since the US purchased Alaska from Russia for 2 cents an acre in 1867. 

You will be hearing a lot about the Twins bullpen over the next six weeks, and rightfully so- they sucked ass last year.  If Guerrier can’t regain his 2007 form and Mijares doesn’t pan out, we are in serious trouble.  No fear though, Luis Ayala brings his 5.71 ERA from the Mets to our ‘pen.  That should straighten things out.  Hopefully he can bring some of that great Met karma with him too.

On a lighter note, as I mentioned before, we just picked up our second groundskeeper in franchise history; the great Larry DiVito was hired to head the crew at Target Field in 2010.  For those who haven’t followed Larry’s career in depth, he was head groundskeeper for the Nationals the past three seasons.  He cut his teeth as a groundskeeper in Rhode Island for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.

This is where he first learned his craft under the tutelage of the legendary Dino Caparelli. Things didn’t come easy at first for Larry.  He struggled with the fortune and fame of groundskeeper apprentice.  Fast women, a faster buzz (from mixing Vicodin and laundry detergent), and high-stakes games of cribbage consumed his nights.  But, it all caught up to him on August 2nd 1999.  During a day game between Pawtucket and Scranton, DiVito ran naked onto the field with some sort of spray screaming, “the dung beetles are everywhere, we’ve got to get rid of the dung beetles!”   He was checked into rehab the next day.

This is where he became a born-again Christian and vowed to never touch laundry detergent again.   Ok, I obviously made that whole behind-the-music type of story up, but if Larry can keep the infield grass a little longer, Gomez might have 150 bunt hits in 2010.  Brett Butler, who had 41 bunt hits in 1992, holds the MLB record.  That is well within reach for Gomez.  He led the majors with 30 last year, on turf I might add.  The left side of the infield at Target Field should be a marshland.

This is one of the best times of year because this is when hope springs eternal for all major league squads; everyone thinks they have a chance, even the Brewers.  The weather is thawing a little bit, and baseball can seriously be discussed for the next 8 months.   I couldn’t be happier, World Series here we come.