Philadelphia, PA – (SportsNetwork.com) - The only place to go is up for the Chicago White Sox in the 2014 season.
After a disastrous 2013 campaign in which the White Sox produced just 63 wins (63-99) and finished last in the American League Central, expectations are not meteoric for a club hovering on the cusp of average.
Chicago probably thought 2013 was going to be a promising one after coming up short on a playoff bid the previous season, when the club recorded an 85-77 record and finished second in the division. The Detroit Tigers were able to beat out the White Sox and move into the postseason.
The postseason is something the White Sox haven't been a part of since 2008.
If another year passes without the "South Siders" making a run toward a World Series title, the front office will have to make some more changes. Putting manager Robin Ventura in a head-lock with his walking papers could be a way to go, but he signed a multi-year contract extension in January.
A finalist for American League Manager of the Year in 2012, Ventura is optimistic his club will turn the corner.
"I'm excited about the direction of the club and the moves we have made this offseason, but there is still a lot of work to be done so I think we're all ready to get to spring training and get started," Ventura said.
The White Sox made some additions this offseason in landing infielders Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson, and outfielder Adam Eaton. Abreu has a ton of pressure on his young shoulders and will replace ChiSox legend Paul Konerko as the everyday first baseman. The Cuban phenom has good size, strength and will bring much-needed pop to the lineup.
Davidson and Eaton join a lineup that already features Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and streaky designated hitter Adam Dunn. Ramirez led the Pale Hose with a .284 average last season, while Dunn was tops in home runs (34) and runs batted in (86). Alexjandro De Aza was right behind them with a .264 average, 17 homers and 62 RBI.
Chicago finished at the bottom in the AL last season with 598 runs, so more production is needed to stay relevant in the Central.
Pitching is solid for the White Sox and having left-hander Chris Sale at the top of the rotation doesn't hurt. The left-hander led the team in wins (11), ERA (3.07) and strikeouts (226), but had 14 losses in 30 starts. He went 17-8 as a full-time starter in 2012.
Sale will be on the hill for Opening Day.
"I'm ready to take the ball whenever they hand it to me," Sale said during an interview with MLB.com. "It's not for me to say what I am or who I am. I'll take the ball every fifth day, leave everything I have on the field and try to help us get the win."
Now that's what you want to hear from your staff ace.
2013 FINISH (63-99) - Fifth Place (AL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: 1B Jose Abreu, 3B Matt Davidson, OF Adam Eaton, C Adrian Nieto, RHP Felipe Paulino, RHP Ronald Belisario, LHP Scott Downs
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: RHP Jake Peavy, RHP Jesse Crain, RHP Addison Reed, RHP Gavin Floyd, OF Alex Rios, 3B Brent Morel
PROJECTED LINEUP: OF Adam Eaton, LF Alexjandro De Aza, 1B Jose Abreu, DH Adam Dunn, RF Avisail Garcis, SS Alexei Ramirez, 3B Connor Gillaspie, 2B Gordon Beckham, C Tyler Flowers
PROJECTED ROTATION: LHP Chris Sale, LHP Jose Quintana, LHP John Danks, RHP Erik Johnson, RHP Felipe Paulino
PROJECTED CLOSER: RHP Nathan Jones
MANAGER: Robin Ventura
WHAT CAN THE WHITE SOX EXPECT FROM ABREU?
The Cuban slugger will be mentored by Konerko, who is calling it quits after this season. Abreu can only benefit from advice from Konerko and by watching the longtime White Sox slugger in action. A lot is riding on Abreu, whom the White Sox hope will be the face of the franchise one day.
Abreu must carry over the pop he displayed in Cuba for Chicago, which was 12th in the American League last season with 148 home runs. Only Houston, New York and Kansas City were worse in that category. Abreu agreed to a six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox as a free agent and
"He's a very serious hitter. He has a plan and idea of how he goes about what he's doing," White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson said.
Konerko is the same way. He had just 12 homers and 54 RBI in 126 games last season, his lowest output since the late 1990s. But Konerko can teach Abreu how to conduct himself as a major leaguer and what to expect from pitchers at this level.
It won't be a fast process with Abreu and the White Sox have to be patient. At least he's surrounded by teammates who know what it takes to succeed.
"Paulie has been a big part of the White Sox for the last 13-plus years now, and he has a high influence on (the younger players) in terms of what he's been through," Steverson added. "He will have a good influence in the clubhouse. He can explain everything he's gone through already."
WHAT'S AFTER SALE IN THE ROTATION?
Sale is aiming for a bounce-back year and the White Sox are, too. But what can the club expect from the rest of the rotation?
Left-hander Jose Quintana is entering his third season in the majors and went 9-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 33 starts in 2013, one year after a 6-6 record and a 3.76 ERA through 25 games (22 starts). Quintana is a nice fit for a White Sox club that is young and full of talent.
Banged-up veteran lefty John Danks hopes for a prosperous and healthy season after a shoulder injury ruined his 2012 campaign and parts of last season. He made nine starts two tears ago, then compiled a lowly 4-14 mark through 22 starts last season to go along with a 4.75 ERA.
Danks said he feels good for a turn-around season and Ventura sees it.
"He's stronger, throws a little harder, but consistently he can do that," Ventura said. "That just helps with his location. Placing it where he wants to is going to be the biggest key. He just has a better ability to do that than he has in the last year-and-a-half."
Danks has been working on a cut fastball, something former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera perfected during his Hall of Fame career.
Whether Ventura uses three left-handers in a row is uncertain. He has righties Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino. Paulino signed a one-year deal in December and has compiled a 13-32 record with a 4.93 earned run average in 93 career games (61 starts) for Houston, Colorado and Kansas City.
The 30-year-old Paulino was impressive in seven starts for the Royals in 2012, posting a 1.67 ERA, before undergoing ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow in July of that season.
Johnson is a young prospect with little major league experience.
DO THE PALE HOSE HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO COMPETE IN CENTRAL?
Not this season. The White Sox will battle Minnesota in hopes of staying out of the division cellar and won't be able to make tremendous strides just yet. The nucleus of the team is relatively young, while "dinosaurs" such as Konerko and designated hitter Adam Dunn will serve as mentors.
Konerko should have a better season than last and Dunn always brings that strikeout-home run ratio into every spring. That's why it's important for Abreu to blossom and for the others to follow.
The additions of Eaton and Davidson were vital for Chicago, but the latter knows he will be battling Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger for a spot on the big league roster. Eaton, who goes by the moniker "dirtbag," brings balance and speed at the top of the lineup as well as in the field. Eaton is excited for this season and will bring immediate energy to the clubhouse,
"I thrive on energy. I break up a double play and see the fire in the guys and they feed off that. ... I'm high energy and trying to help our team score as many runs or win as many games as possible."
Eaton will have to save some energy for the next few seasons when the White Sox become relevant again and can compete with Detroit and Cleveland.
X-FACTOR: GORDON BECKHAM
He may have an award named after him at the University of Georgia, but Gordon Beckham's 2013 season was far from MVP caliber. Beckham played in 103 games last season and batted .267 with five homers and 24 RBI -- both career lows. He is entering his sixth season in the big leagues and general manager Rick Hahn is hoping Beckham can be a part of the young nucleus "should he put it all together." Beckham is expendable with the White Sox, who have plenty of depth in the infield, and evened questioned his future with the only team he knows. Chicago needs Beckham to have a bounce-back year to set an example for the younger players.
The White Sox are counting on Abreu to be major league ready and to help fix their offensive woes. Konerko and Dunn will get their usual numbers and the rotation has two or three solid arms at best with Sale the staff ace. There is reason to be optimistic for the future of the ballclub, but right now patience is key. Player development is vital for Chicago and expect the club to win about 75 to 80 games.