Much of the excitement leading up to the 2014 season has been built around anticipation for the young building blocks Rick Hahn acquired over the past six months.
In Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia and pretty soon Matt Davidson, the White Sox have players fans can get excited to watch develop over the course of the next season and beyond.
The development of those four, as well as the likes of Erik Johnson and Marcus Semien, will be a major factor in whether 2014 is viewed as a success or failure. But while how those guys fare is key in shaping the team for success in 2015, 2016 and beyond, the team's success or failure in 2014 will largely be shaped by the performances of the incumbents.
I know, I know. What a buzz kill, right?
The Other Guys, as I've not-so-cleverly dubbed them, are largely to blame for last season's 63-99 record. The group consists of prospects unable to live up to expectations, over-the-hill veterans and guys who just simply performed below what the team might've expected. Let's take a look.
Flowers was the prized acquisition when the White Sox dealt Javier Vazquez to the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2009 season and he played sparingly behind A.J. Pierzynski for parts of four seasons before the White Sox finally handed him the keys to the car last season.
And it couldn't have gone any worse.
The knock on Flowers as he progressed through the minor leagues was his lack of patience. Well, he struck out in 34 percent of his plate appearances last season — nearly double the league average during the last five seasons. Teams can tolerate high strikeout numbers if, when a player puts the ball in play it goes really, really far, but Flowers didn't do that, either.
Flowers did battle injuries last season and seems to be fully healthy for the start of this season, so if you're looking for a bit of optimism to cling to, there it is. But at 28 years old, Flowers is far from a prospect anymore, so if he's going to put it all together, this season's probably his last chance. Don't expect Hahn to sit on his hands about the catcher position for another offseason.
The oblique strain Beckham's battled throughout spring training already has White Sox fans clamoring for Semien, and it's possible that if Beckham starts the year on the DL and Semien gets off to a hot start, we've seen our last of Beckham as a regular with the White Sox.
But while it's fun to look at potentially greener pastures, Beckham has become a perfectly acceptable, league-average starter at second base. At 27, the dream of him blossoming into the star that was once envisioned is all but dead, but having an above-average defender at second base makes his below-average offense more bearable, especially if the lineup is constructed in a way to be able to bury him at the bottom of the order.
Semien could very well be the future of the White Sox at second base, but he's far from a sure thing. Tolerating Beckham's offense and appreciating his defense (I'm aware the metrics don't love him) is completely fine.
The days of Alexei Ramirez: Home Run Hitter are long gone and that's perfectly OK if he goes back to being an above-average defender who hits at a decent clip. Ramirez's year-to-year fielding stats, whether you're using traditional methods or advanced statistics, fluctuate drastically.
Last season wasn't great, but he was still worth 2.6 bWAR and projects to be one of the better White Sox regulars this season. He's also 32 years old and will be a serious trade candidate if (when?) the White Sox fall out of contention, just as he was last season.
The problem with that, of course, is that the White Sox don't have any feasible replacements waiting in the wings.
Conor Gillaspie (and others?)
Davidson is starting the season in Triple-A and Jeff Keppinger's arm doesn't work anymore, so the third base job for now, at least, belongs to Gillaspie.
The book is out on Gillaspie and it says he can't hit left-handed pitching. In a perfect world (OK, not perfect but you know what I mean), the White Sox could platoon Gillaspie with Keppinger, who has fared better against lefties throughout his career. But as James Fegan noted Monday, it doesn't appear Keppinger is anywhere near being able to play the field, especially on a semi-regular basis.
Dayan Viciedo/Alejandro De Aza
I lumped these two together for obvious reasons. It has seemed likely the White Sox would move one of the two before the season started but with less than a week until the regular season opener, they're both still here and how Robin Ventura will manage the situation is at least somewhat intriguing.
In De Aza, the White Sox have someone who profiles as a decent defensive corner outfielder but probably shouldn't be more than a fourth outfielder on a good team. In Viciedo, they have a one-time top prospect who has underwhelmed in more than 1,200 career plate appearances over four seasons.
The White Sox appear to be ready to give Viciedo the first chance to secure the job out of camp, as Doug Padilla notes, but it's entirely likely the pair splits time until another move is made.
Viciedo still has at least a small chance to turn things around at only 25 years old, so you can understand why he'd be the one the White Sox are more likely to give him the first shot, but he also can't field a lick and profiles more as a DH-type. Of course, he can't stick there because...
Adam Dunn/Paul Konerko
...the White Sox already have two lumbering, DH-types taking up roster spots.
I won't belabor the point with these two because you already know what we're getting. The best to hope for is that they aren't too much of a black hole in the lineup, mash a few taters and ride off into the sunset after the season.