White Sox in position to contend beyond 2011

White Sox in position to contend beyond 2011

CHICAGO -- There comes a time in the tenure of many frontline White Sox players when a call has to be made by general manager Ken Williams, assistant general manager Rick Hahn and their staff. That call is in regard to where these individuals fit in the organization's future.

"Well, everyone has their time," Williams said. "And we have to make a decision whether they are going to be part of the core and for how much longer, either at the beginning of the career or sometimes at the tail end."

The four-year, $32.5 million extension agreed upon between the White Sox and shortstop Alexei Ramirez indicates a decision on an accomplished player at the relatively early stage of his career. Where Paul Konerko's three-year, $37.5 million deal is concerned, bringing him to an iconic franchise run of 15 years with the White Sox when completed, this most recent decision reflects a player near the end.

Konerko's free-agent deal adds to the White Sox record payroll, climbing into the $123 million range for the 2011 season, and the team clearly has gone "all-in" while searching for its second World Series crown since 2005. But that "all-in" sentiment doesn't translate exactly from the same poker terminology where the White Sox are concerned.

Going "all-in" conveys a strictly win or lose type of idea. There's nothing left in poker if that happens and your hand falls short. But even if the White Sox ultimately draw a full house against the Twins' winning four-of-a-kind in 2011, the South Siders won't have to reload much and certainly not rebuild for 2012.

Let's take a look at each area of the team and how the White Sox are set up past 2011, a season which begins in full force Thursday, when pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Ariz.

STARTING PITCHERS

Mark Buehrle's illustrious and often undervalued career could be in its final stage on the South Side of Chicago, with his four-year, $56 million deal running out. Edwin Jackson also becomes a free agent after 2011.

John Danks and Gavin Floyd are under team control for 2012, with the White Sox holding an option on Floyd for 2013. Jake Peavy is in the same situation as Floyd, but earning $17 million to Floyd's $7 million in 2012, and Chris Sale will slide easily into the rotation.

A move to re-sign Buehrle for another two years would leave the White Sox going into a season with all five starters in place once again, and no need to scour the free agent or trade market for help. The farm system doesn't have much to offer immediately aside from Charlie Leesman, who is considered by some in the organization as more of a reliever.

RELIEVERS

Early on in the 2010 season, Matt Thornton told MLB.com how he would like to extend his career with the White Sox. But with his second of two club options picked up this year, Thornton might explore the closer's market as a free agent if he does not become the team's 2011 closer.

Sale most likely will move to the rotation, but Jesse Crain is signed through 2013 and Will Ohman through 2012. Sergio Santos is considered a closer of the future, while Tony Pena is under control for another season. Look for good things from Anthony Carter, who thrived in 2010 in a move from the rotation to closer for Double-A Birmingham.

CATCHER

At 34 and in the best physical condition of his career, A.J. Pierzynski could be back for another couple of seasons after this current contract runs out following the 2012 season. If not, the White Sox look relatively deep at this position for the first time in years.

Josh Phegley, despite battling illness last year, seems to now be Pierzynski's future replacement. The White Sox are high on Michael Blanke, the organization's 14th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and a .329 hitter in 2010 with Great Falls. Tyler Flowers also still remains in the picture.

INFIELD

Locking up Ramirez for four years means the White Sox have their entire infield set through 2013, assuming Brent Morel earns the third-base job. Eduardo Escobar is capable of taking Omar Vizquel's utility job when, or if, the veteran decides to retire.

OUTFIELD

Alex Rios turns 30 on Friday, and the veteran could remain the anchor in center field through 2014, with a team option for 2015. Carlos Quentin is under team control for 2012, before becoming a free agent in 2013, while Juan Pierre plays in the final season of a five-year deal.

Jared Mitchell was the hope to replace Pierre in 2012, but the season-ending ankle injury suffered last spring by the White Sox top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft set him back at least one year. Jordan Danks could grab this starting spot, with Brandon Short also on the rise after a stellar 2010 effort for Class A Winston-Salem.

Dayan Viciedo took fly balls at Camp Cora during the offseason, meaning the Cuban Tank also figures into the outfield mix in the finale of his four-year deal. And don't forget Lastings Milledge, a late offseason signing to a Minor League contract, who has the talent to become an everyday player.

DESIGNATED HITTER

With a $56 million commitment made to Adam Dunn through 2014, the White Sox have one of the game's most prolific power hitters holding down this spot at hitter friendly U.S. Cellular Field. It looks like a great match.

OUTLOOK

Payroll for 2012 already checks in at around $89 million. But the White Sox have fixed costs behind the plate, around the infield, in center field and in three rotation spots, leaving them room to maneuver.

Yes, the team is committed to going all-in and winning the jackpot in 2011. But they are positioned to play some fairly significant hands in 2012 and 2013.

"We certainly are focused on years beyond this upcoming season," Williams said. "But I never liked to get too far off the current season because you can only win the championship in the season you are playing."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Being Ozzie Guillen and follow him on twitter at @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.