Spring Postcard: Rotation depth can keep White Sox in playoff hunt
Jake Peavy appears to be healthy after missing most of 2009 with an injury
Mark Teahen could be ready for a breakout year in his first season in Chicago
Alex Rios has been impressive in camp as he seeks to regain his All-Star form
This spring, SI.com writers are filing postcards from all 30 major league spring training camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
1. The rotation is five deep
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen believes that his team has as good a five-man starting rotation as any in baseball. Ozzie has been known to overstate things every now and again, but if everyone stays healthy then a five-man rotation of Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia does seem pretty sturdy. Peavy appears to be healthy again; in spring he has strongly resembled the pitcher who won the Cy Young Award in 2007. Buehrle wore down at the end of 2009, but he is the only pitcher in baseball to throw 200-plus innings and win 10 games or more in each of the last nine season. Danks and Floyd have been good each of the last two seasons. And Guillen believes in Garcia, who has struggled since injuring his shoulder in 2007. He won 116 games with a 113 ERA+ from 1999 to 2006.
2. The White Sox are growing old together
The White Sox were an old team in 2009 ... and they let go Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye, which you would expect would have helped make them considerably younger. Not so much. The White Sox traded for 32-year-old Juan Pierre to play left field and, presumably, lead off. They signed soon-to-be 33-year-old Andruw Jones and traded for 34-year-old Mark Kotsay to share the designated hitter role. White Sox general manager Kenny Williams is aggressive, and it's quite clear he thinks that in the American League Central the time to win is right now.
3. It will never be dull with Ozzie
That's always been true, but this spring has been particularly entertaining. There was Guillen's dive into the world of Twitter (A representative Tweet: "Very nice day at work loved they are luck good."), which worried Kenny Williams. Then there was the Twitter reflections of Ozzie's son Oney, which actually led to his resignation from the team's scouting and video technician (A representative Oney Tweet: "3 geeks who never played baseball a day in there [sic] life telling experts what to do.") All the while, Ozzie has entertained and baffled the masses with daily updates of who isn't playing well, how he should have become a bullfighter and why the White Sox can win the division with their pitching. It's always entertaining.
It has to be that starting pitching staff, though there are questions throughout. Is Peavy healthy and set to be his old dominating self? Is Buehrle, after a restful offseason, ready to overcome his struggles in the second half last season (2-7, 4.78 ERA after throwing his perfect game)? Is Danks or Floyd ready to take a step forward and become elite pitchers? Is Freddy Garcia really back? If the White Sox game some positive answers on those questions, then they undoubtedly can compete in the division.
New Face, New Place
It has been an interesting career for Pierre, who is one of only 11 active players with 6,000 plate appearances and a lifetime .300 batting average. In many ways, Pierre is the perfect 1970s and 1980s leadoff hitter. He's remarkably durable -- he played in all 810 of his team's games from 2003 to 2007. He hits for average, steals a lot of bases, bunts a lot. He also, by all accounts, is a positive influence in the clubhouse. This has made him the favorite of a lot of baseball managers. It has also made him the focus of a lot of grumpy analysts who will point out that Pierre is overrated because he hardly ever walks, hits for no power and is probably not as good an outfielder as his great speed would suggest. Of course, Ozzie Guillen does not care about any of that and Pierre, after a year on the bench in Los Angeles, figures to once again be hitting leadoff every day.
I have been a Teahen booster for a long time, and except for a terrific second half in 2006 -- when he hit .319 with 18 homers in 83 games -- he has mostly disappointed. I tend to believe that most of it has had to do with his circumstances in Kansas City, where the Royals moved him from position to position and bounced him up and down the lineup. Teahen is now settled in Chicago -- he will be the White Sox everyday third baseman (his favorite position). And he will be playing in the best home run park in the American League. Scouts keep telling me that Teahen is what he is -- a .270 or so hitter with only moderate power and good base running instincts. I think he might be a bit more.
Not Done Yet
Last year, in the middle of an absolutely dreadful season, the Toronto Blue Jays basically left Alex Rios out on the lawn in the rather desperate and unlikely hope that someone would take him and the $60 million left on his contract. Kenny Williams shocked just about everybody -- including, no doubt, the Blue Jays -- when he bit. Rios rewarded the White Sox by hitting .199 the rest of the way. But there are scouts who say during spring Rios has looked more like the two-time All-Star he is. When Rios was at his best, he played terrific outfield defense and pounded balls into the gap as a hitter. He will play center field and bat in the heart of the White Sox lineup. The White Sox still hope he will make them look smart.
With 23-year-old Gordon Beckham and second base and 28-year-old Alexei Ramirez at shortstop, the White Sox do have some youth up the middle. Beckham is the guy to watch -- he more than held his own last year after only 59 games in the minor leagues. If you are looking for breakout stars, he's a pretty good candidate.
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