A good clubhouse needs a few guys who play like their hair is on fire, a couple of motivators. It seems we got rid of our two, so who are we left with now?
-- Norb, Marion, Ill.
I'm assuming you are referencing A.J. Pierzynski and Kevin Youkilis, although Brett Myers and even Orlando Hudson could fall in that category in regard to 2012 players who left. Pierzynski provided the White Sox much needed attitude or edge during his eight stellar years in Chicago, but it doesn't mean other players can't step into that same role. I'll give you Jake Peavy, Gordon Beckham, Chris Sale and John Danks as players who can provide that sort of feel, and of course, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn put forth great leadership in a more low-key sort of way.
As general manager Rick Hahn pointed out during SoxFest, you don't just pick a player and say he's going to be the new "agitator" like Pierzynski. He also made a very salient point in that manager Robin Ventura, bench coach Mark Parent and the White Sox staff really set the tone for this team from the start of last Spring Training.
"Because of that tone, where the focus is on winning tonight's game and not worrying about anything other than winning tonight's game, it doesn't fall on one individual to be that type of guy," Hahn continued. "We have veteran guys like Jake, Paulie, Adam. ... The clubhouse environment that they have created really doesn't require one individual to carry the water in that regard."
You don't really think the White Sox can compete, do you? You think Alex Rios, Peavy, and Sale can have repeat years? You think Tyler Flowers can put up numbers like A.J.? I like the young pitching staff but that's about all they have right now (and Paulie). Third place at best.
-- Frank, Chicago
To paraphrase Konerko's comments from the start of Spring Training '12, the White Sox could finish third and still have a good season. The American League Central might be good enough where three teams win 85 games or above, although the Royals still have to prove they are more than just potential.
Don't get me wrong: Last year's success was based more on young players developing and veterans bouncing back. And after 117 days in first place last year, anything short of the playoffs is failure. Actually, falling short of the playoffs represents failure every year for the White Sox. But I would answer "yes" to all your above questions regarding the White Sox contending, Sale, Peavy and Rios, and add that Flowers' won't match Pierzynski's numbers but will be more power-based and fall upon on-base potential.
What do you think of the White Sox farm system? Everyone bashes them year after year, but look at what was in our bullpen last year.
-- Chris, Harwood Heights, Ill.
The White Sox system definitely is improving. They still don't have the depth or the true frontline prospects to pull off a Justin Upton sort of deal as an example, but with Courtney Hawkins, Trayce Thompson, Carlos Sanchez and Erik Johnson on the rise, there's a group of young players who have the chance to make a real and long-term big league impact.
They would follow the 2012 group of homegrown arms you spoke of, Chris, in Addison Reed, Nate Jones and Hector Santiago.
What do you think of a proposed Sale plus Dayan Viciedo trade for Giancarlo Stanton plus a pitching prospect?
-- Ralph, Naperville, Ill.
Stanton is one of the most talented sluggers in the game and just 23 years old. He also would hit 50-plus homers playing 81 games at U.S. Cellular Field. I still would not trade Sale or Viciedo. Why get one dynamic young player and give away two dynamic young players as you proposed?
Who do you think the starting five will be?
-- Eric, Addison, Ill.
At the start of the season, I'm going with Peavy, Sale, Gavin Floyd, Jose Quintana and Santiago. John Danks will probably follow the Peavy path of 2011, in that he gets a couple of extra weeks in April to really make sure he's ready. When Danks returns, it would be either Quintana or Santiago to the bullpen or maybe a trade could follow.
What is realistic to expect from the left-handed bat pursuit?
-- Dave, Hobart, Ind.
Adding Lars Anderson brought another complementary left-handed bat to the 40-man roster, but he's not the ultimate answer. The White Sox will continue looking, as they always do, but I don't see any move of significance until after the season gets going -- like the Youkilis move last year -- when they know exactly what is needed to improve playoff chances.
Any chance the White Sox sign Brian Anderson to a Minor League contract?
-- Elena, Milan, Ill.
I just spoke recently with Anderson and he's still working toward hooking on somewhere as a pitcher. He's also contemplating a move into broadcasting, where his personality makes him a fairly natural fit.
With a good spring out of Brent Morel, could you envision a scenario where Jeff Keppinger supplants Beckham at second base?
-- Vince, Atlanta
Beckham is the White Sox second baseman, and the team is not hedging its bets or putting him on the hot seat. But with Keppinger, a healthy Morel and Carlos Sanchez, the White Sox have options if Beckham struggles or they decide to move him -- options they didn't really have in the past. Beckham might not hit .300, but I expect him to make strides offensively.