The season is finally here, which gives us all one last chance to pontificate on what we think the season will be without a shred of information.
Let me preface this by saying that I really liked what Hahn did during the offseason and I think the White Sox are heading in the right direction. However, I just don't see how the offense is going to be better than last year. I do think that it will be more interesting and at least produce runs in ways we didn't see much in 2013. I think it's too much to ask for each of the young players to step right in and produce while also expecting improvement from the dead weights still in tow from last season (i.e. Konerko, Dunn, Viciedo, Keppinger, Beckham).
On the pitching side we pretty much know what we are getting with Sale and Quintana. Danks, now almost two years removed from shoulder surgery, should hopefully take a step forward this year but that is by no means guaranteed. Then, in the fourth and fifth spots the question will be whether or not Johnson or Paulino can hold onto those jobs. It will otherwise be a revolving door of Rienzo, Axelrod, and Co. that I know none of us want to see. The bullpen is an area that looks like it could be really strong next year. I solid mix of veterans and young guys as well as a ton of sinkerballers should work well in U.S. Cellular field.
I don't think the White Sox end up at .500 this season. My guess would be that they end up 76-86 with error bars of 3-4 games either way.
Even if my expectations for 2014 are lower than with the old core that has been dismantled, it is still far more interesting to see which players develop and approach their ceilings than it is to just see if older, merely okay players can hold it together for one more year and hope it's enough. This is a year where it is hard to know what to expect from a lot of players. There are a huge range of possible outcomes for Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson, Erik Johnson, Felipe Paulino, Daniel Webb, Nate Jones, etc.
When I say that, I mean there are very realistic - and some extremely likely scenarios - where those players break out, bust horribly, or anywhere in between.
My gut when I looked at this roster as it approached completion was that this is a team that wins between 73-78 games. There are scenarios in my head where the team winds up winning 85 or 65, but when you throw together a ton of variance I figure some things break well some things break poorly and it averages out somewhere in there.
It's not the most useful prediction, but I don't think I can honestly say something else - and no matter what, it should be a lot more interesting than last year.
Yeah, yeah, good organizational direction and all that. No more cheap drafting, no more international scouting directors funneling money to their Phoenix nightclubs, less hoping 30-something vets have late-career rendevous with the fountain of youth. It all sounds like a very scintillating game of SimCity that the front office is playing.
But in regards to baseball games that are about to be played, the “huge range of possible outcomes” that Nick hints to regarding the unknown potential of Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton and the disorganized box of tools known as Avisail Garcia, likely hints to a season full of inconsistent performances. Lows—like frustrating losing streaks—and amusing highs like a late-season streak that stamps out the last vestiges of, oh, let's say the Royals' playoff hope.
'They'll be a lot better in the second half than the first half' seems like a phrase that a million typing Hawk Harrelsons would write, but with the number of unknown pieces in play, the Sox will likely have a lot better idea of who in their organization is worth playing in August than April. That's true for every team, but the Sox will probably be a lot more wrong in April than most. Since those games still count, they'll probably stay under 80 wins. If it turns out that Erik Johnson is a tomato can and Avisail Garcia is Lyle Mouton, then it could drop under 70 again.
As a fan it's often difficult to separate yourself from your rooting interests and realize what reality entails. It's something I've struggled with as I've progressed from a young fan to a more critical thinker and analyst. Still, every year around this time I find myself playing the "what if?" game when pondering the White Sox's chance of success.
This year is much more subdued, considering the White Sox are coming off their worst season in most of our lifetimes. Still, it's fun to wonder:
-WHAT IF Jose Abreu is the real deal?
-WHAT IF Dayan Viciedo, Tyler Flowers and Gordon Beckham finally and inexplicably put it all together?
-WHAT IF the young guys, such as Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson and Avisail Garcia, contribute more than you might expect out of guys with their level of experience and expectations?
-WHAT IF John Danks returns to the John Danks we saw early in his career?
-WHAT IF the bullpen completely locks down teams late in games?
-WHAT IF the White Sox get a little lucky?
It's a fun game to play but will ultimately drive you a little crazy. IF the things I listed happen, the White Sox could be contenders. But the reality is that it's highly, highly unlikely. The reality is that the Viciedo, Flowers and Beckham are exactly what they've shown over the past several seasons. The reality is that their young guys are, in fact, flawed and inexperienced. The reality is that Danks may never go back to what he was before he was injured. The reality is that the White Sox have a lot of flawed players taking up a lot of important positions, and you don't turn a 99-loss team around overnight.
And the reality, quite frankly, is that there are still a lot of teams that are a lot better than the White Sox.
This will be a fun season to watch if for no other reason than because the White Sox have a lot of intriguing young players who will be fun to watch progress. In Abreu, Eaton and Davidson, Rick Hahn made quick work to pull the team out of a dead end and headed back in the right direction. Distinct improvements in several areas will be expected, and it will show in the win column, where the White Sox shouldn't come anywhere near last year's 99-loss total.
But it's still going to be a long season filled with headaches and dadgumits. Patience will be required.
Jose Abreu, Jose Abreu, and Jose Abreu. That’s where the money went and that’s where the excitement lies. The 2014 White Sox have just an outside chance to compete for the division, so watching for excitement might be best for one’s expectations. We know what we have in Chris Sale, and there’s plenty of excitement there. Adam Eaton will be playing with reckless abandon in center field, a style typically viewed as exciting. Marcus Semien starting the season on the team is a signal both of the youth movement that is afoot and also a reminder that oblique injuries are terribly unexciting.
My 2014 outlook may be rooted in the fact that the team is likely to be infinitely more watchable than the 2013 version but let’s not forget as fans that putting a run on the division is not actually impossible. Chris Sale is Chris Sale, Jose Quintana is out to prove that he’s for real and earn his contract. John Danks has reached the point where his arm strength is built up enough that he’s either going to turn a corner or have to search for a new excuse for failure. Felipe Paulino may not have put up a significant amount of innings since 2011 but he’s armed with both a new cutter and the assistance of Don Cooper and Herm Schneider. Imagine for a moment that all 4 of these men pitch to their capabilities and that the emerging Erik Johnson proves himself a deserved major leaguer. That takes a lot of pressure off of an offense that has had some trouble producing runs. With a full season of Avisail Garcia, still just 22, Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu hopefully representing upgrades over 2012’s production and platoons at LF and DH hopefully optimizing output as well there is at least some hope.
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