By Mauricio Rubio
Heading into the 2012 MLB season the Chicago White Sox find themselves at a crossroads. Since Kenny Williams became the GM in 2001, they’ve never used the loaded term…rebuilding. Kenny has gained a reputation as being a gambler, someone who will throw all the chips down on the table and acquire the talent he believes will help him win a title. It paid off big in 2005. That year Williams had the courage to move a power hitting left fielder for a singles hitting lead-off man, dumping Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik. He assembled a strong rotation that year, bringing in Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia via trade. He then signed Orlando “El Duque” Hernández, Dustin Hermanson, Jermaine Dye, A.J. Pierzynski and Tadahito Iguchi via free agency. All of those pieces were key in the Sox championship run that year.
The perplexing moves began in 2006 as a fracture in Kenny’s relationship with then manager Ozzie Guillen began to show itself with the acquisition of Jim Thome. Kenny and Ozzie would always have a rocky relationship that often manifested itself in the media, leading to the eventual departure of Guillen to Miami and the new-look Marlins. Kenny won the battle over Ozzie, but he’s put himself in quite the predicament. .
Kenny knows that the pressure will be on from Sox fans throughout the season. Williams used the rebuilding word earlier this season when talking to the media, but when he was put in front of a crowd of White Sox fans, he stated, “If we hit, we’ll compete,” when talking about how they will fare in the American League Central.
The message is an odd one, especially considering the Tigers’ acquisition of Prince Fielder. He stated that the Sox were starting the rebuilding process. He even referenced trading away an emerging young face of the franchise, Sergio Santos, for prospects. Entering 2012, there are three White Sox players that need to have a bounce back season in order for the team to contend: Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham. That’s what I believe Kenny is talking about when he says that the Sox have to hit. Rios and Dunn were exclusively Williams’ moves. Rios was acquired in 2009 from the Blue Jays, and Dunn was signed to a 4 year, $56 million contract in 2011.
Dunn and Rios (the blue line is MLB average) were both spectacular failures last year. Dunn was historically bad, and it led to the disintegration of the 2011 White Sox. Ozzie kept marching out that now infamous .167 average day after day, and it sunk the team. Some saw it as an act of defiance against Kenny.
Beckham turned in a solid defensive performance in 2011, but his offense hasn’t lived up to the expectations he built up during his rookie season in 2009. Ramirez and Konerko have turned themselves into the cornerstones of the South Siders’ offense (Ramirez was a surprise. He’s increased his walk rate and kept his strikeout rate down, en route to being one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball). Quentin is gone, AJ’s offense is slowing down, Juan Pierre is gone and Brent Morel is still a developing young player, so it will depend on how those three perform at the plate.
Kenny knows it; he hired Robin Ventura, a rookie coach with zero coaching experience, to buy himself some time. Williams will have to recapture some of the magic he had early in his career if he doesn’t want to waste the final good years of his veterans.
As the Sox bats go, the team will go. Right now, that’s a major question mark.