The White Sox started the season with great expectations and are limboing under the bar of mediocrity at the All-Star break. Where did it all go wrong? More importantly, what can be done to fix it?
Deals will most certainly be done, but what type of deals depends on how the White Sox respond on the road trip that greets them after the All-Star game. If they do well there, look for the Sox to be buyers. If not, look for the Sox to be sellers. I could argue that the Sox might stay put, but the history of Kenny Williams suggests otherwise. If the Sox have a winning record on their nine game road trip through Detroit, Kansas City and Cleveland (all division games), they will be in a great position to contend. That's a big if. The Sox have done poorly in games against the AL Central so far. The upside is that the AL Central is a weak division right now and is still up for grabs. Stranger things have happened.
The starting pitching is going nowhere unless there's a huge white flag fire sale. Even if one starter does go, there are five capable starters left and a new spot opens up in the bullpen. Kenny Williams loves to hoard pitching, which is why the Sox are scouting Atlanta organization heavily. All I can say is, please Kenny, no Scott Linebrink.
Speaking of the bullpen... it was the team's greatest liability in April and now is one of the team's strengths. It was only a matter of time. If the bullpen had been even average in April, the Sox would be in first place right now. There are always moving parts in the bullpen, but it is pretty solid overall.
The catching position is locked, unless A.J. Pierzynski gets decapitated between now and the end of the season. Somehow, I don't see decapitation stopping Pierzynski from insisting that he be in the starting lineup. With Ramon Castro out for possibly the rest of the season, due to a broken hand, Tyler Flowers needs to step it up and make every bit of this opportunity count. If Donny Lucy or Josh Phegley need to be called up in place of Flowers, he will find himself in another organization next season.
There's no moving Konerko, Beckham or Alexei Ramirez. Why should they? The fielding isn't broke, so why try to fix it. Beckham has been showing signs of breaking out of his batting slump, so that can only lead to good things. Brent Morel is a great fielder who needs to work more at being consistent at the plate. That's why Omar Vizquel is on the team. He can play third, short and second and knows how to work the plate properly. His age is the only thing keeping him from being an everyday player on Ozzie's team. Omar's role as mentor and backup suits him and the Sox at this stage of his career.
The status of supersub Mark Teahen is baffling. There really isn't a need for him on the team. He's a nice guy who can play third, first and the outfield, but he makes me cringe every time I see him in the field. He's great off the bench, but only at the plate. Teahen has a great Twitter account, but that doesn't translate to good defense in the field. As a late inning defensive replacement he's cost the Sox a few games.
The outfield is pretty much set. Dayan Viciedo won't be coming up unless Juan Pierre is dealt. Pierre has done just enough lately to be in Ozzie's good graces, but is doing no one any favors being a starter. His work ethic is outstanding though.
Carlos Quentin comes as advertised. He is closer to his 2008 self than the question mark we've seen the last couple of years. This is always a good thing.
Brent Lillibridge is the true supersub. He usually makes highlight reels with his defense and he can win a game with his bat, but he is effective only in small doses. As an everyday player, he doesn't have the consistency.
Where do I start with Alex Rios? He is overpaid for what he does and the effort he puts into it. He has already been benched by Ozzie Guillen for lack of hustle, which would have meant instant death had the benching happened on 70s night. In April, he was complaining of turf toe, a condition which he claimed to have been suffering from for five years! I'm sorry, did he say five years?! Is this something that was disclosed before the Sox picked him up off of waivers for an astronomical price? It hasn't stopped Rios from starting in well over one hundred games each season. It can't be hampering his play that badly. Attitude is everything. I think that Rios has a poor attitude and a poor work ethic on the field. I have routinely seen him slack off in the field and give up on running to first, even on what would have been close plays. Trade him or cut him. Eating his salary, if necessary, would be the best option to move ahead.
Where does this leave the state of center field? Barring a trade or the sudden emergence of a rookie, center field would be in the hands of a platoon. Brent Lillibridge and Alejandro De Aza would split time in center. Each can be productive. Each player works best in small doses. Each can play any outfield position. It would give the Sox a 50/50 split in center, while still having a sub for the outfield. And in case of emergency, Mark Teahen can sub in right, but only in case of emergency.
With my suggestion of dumping Rios, many people would assume I would want to dump Dunn too. They would be wrong. Adjusting to a full time designated hitter is a tricky thing. Just ask Frank Thomas. He became a full time DH in 1998 and saw his batting average dip 82 points. He did rebound the next year. It is an adjustment, especially for someone who has never played in the American League before. Dunn says and does the right things, and that is why he will be embraced by the Sox fans. This is also why he has the best chance of bouncing back in a big way.
As far as management is concerned, I don't expect any changes. Ozzie Guillen will stay. So will Kenny Williams. So will all the coaches. Looking for a scapegoat is not this club's style. The problems lie with the talent on the field, not with the coaches or general manager.
The White Sox are surprisingly still in a good position to win the division. That's just a testament to how weak the division actually is. The Sox will swim or sink in divisional play. They must get better there in order to win. If not, they will be kicking themselves for losing an easily winnable division. Nobody needs to have a career year to win the division, they just need to play close to their average capabilities.