Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Chicago White Sox. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various White Sox players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will continue tomorrow with the Cleveland Indians.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Chicago White Sox finished the 2011 season with no manager and a 79-83 record. They got off to an awful start, hitting 11-22 before rebounding to a .500 record, where they hovered for most of the season. Neither their hitting nor their pitching was remarkable, but they did excel on defense, thanks in part to the strong double play combo of Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham. Like the Blue Jays, whom I profiled yesterday, the White Sox' main commodity last season was ordinariness.
Unlike the Blue Jays, Chicago is trending downward, at least in the near future. Gone are Carlos Quentin and bullpen stalwarts Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor, all traded away for prospects. However many legitimate prospects you think the White Sox acquired in those trades (I'll leave the Nestor Molina discussion for somebody else), add 1 to that number and that's how many they have overall. It's tough to start a rebuild from scratch, and it's even tougher when the general manager can't bring himself to commit to it totally. Signing a 3 WAR pitcher to a 5 year, $65 million extension (with a no-trade clause!) is something contending teams do when they think such a move will put them over the top. The White Sox are not a contending team, near-.500 record notwithstanding, and if they continue on this path, they won't be for a long time.
U.S. Cellular Field was actually below average in giving up runs in 2011, a departure from the norm. It remained, however, a great place to hit a home run, thanks to hitter-friendly dimensions in the power alleys and short fences all the way around the field. Power hitters thrive in this environment.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Robin Ventura has never managed at any level, but it's a safe bet that he'll be the polar opposite of the man he replaced, Ozzie Guillen. Ventura has said all the right things in the media, but the truth is that he doesn't have a whole lot to work with. It's also worth noting that the second Google Image Search result for "Robin Ventura" is this gem. Did you really think I wouldn't reference it?
Expected Position Battles
There's not much to report here, except for the battle for the closer role, and I've got to save something for the bullpen section. I was surprised that the White Sox immediately named Kosuke Fukudome their fourth outfielder instead of telling him he can compete with for the left field job, but really it's probably a good thing that they're committed to giving Dayan Viciedo guaranteed playing time.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Alejandro de Aza - CF
Alexei Ramirez - SS
Alex Rios - RF
Paul Konerko - 1B
Adam Dunn - DH
A.J. Pierzynski - C
Dayan Viciedo - LF
Brent Morel - 3B
Gordon Beckham - 2B
At this point, wouldn't trading Paul Konerko at the deadline be a win for both parties? Konerko doesn't want to hit in a lineup that has 4 guys with sub-.300 OBPs, and Chicago would be wise to get some value for him while they can.
Gavin Floyd | John Danks | Jake Peavy | Philip Humber | Chris Sale
The wild card here is Chris Sale, who started in college and possesses the arsenal to succeed in a starting role. Workload may become a concern late in the season, and if Jake Peavy continues his trend of pitching barely over 100 innings, there will be plenty of opportunity for Dylan Axelrod, Zach Stewart, and others to get some work in.
Matt Thornton is the presumptive closer, but a disastrous April last year has many fantasy players skeptical that he will hold on to the position for long, especially with Addison Reed waiting in the wings. Reed is a flame-thrower who has missed bats at a prolific rate throughout his career. There's value in grabbing Reed late in drafts, but don't sleep on Thornton, either. Sure, it's not the safest job in the bigs, but there's no guarantee he'll be relinquishing the spot. Thornton can also strike guys out and he has experience at the major league level, which strikes me as something Robin Ventura will value. The rest of the bullpen is filled to the brim with high-risk, high-reward arms, guys who have the potential to either strike out the side or walk the bases full in any given outing. If you're desperate for holds, you could take a chance on Jesse Crain, but there are too many elite options available elsewhere and he's too buried on the bullpen depth chart to be worth a draft pick.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
Alejandro de Aza is not going to hit .329/.400/.520 over a full season, but his .404 BABIP from last season is not as far out of line as you might think (.xBABIP = .359). Assuming health, he's going to provide 20 steals and be a threat for double-digit home runs while not killing your average. Right now, he's being drafted behind Bryce Harper (still not a guarantee to get called up before September), former teammate Carlos Quentin (U.S. Cellular to Petco is a massive step down), and current teammate Alex Rios (seriously?). De Aza will get his PAs as long as he's healthy, so make sure he does it for your team.
Spring Storylines to Watch
What kind of manager is Robin Ventura going to be? Is he going to be a veterans guy, opting to play Fukudome over Viciedo more often that not, or is he willing to let guys fail as they figure the league out? It's hard to get a bead on this during spring training, but watch and see how the players react to the leadership of a man barely older than some of his players.
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Scott Merkin (Blog | Twitter)
Chicago Sun-Times beat reporter: Daryl Van Schouwen (Blog | Twitter)
Chicago Tribune beat reporter: Mark Gonzales (Blog (Beware of crazy intrusive banner ads) | Twitter)
ESPNChicago.com beat reporter: Bruce Levine (Blog | Twitter)
SBN: South Side Sox (Blog | Twitter)
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.