Scouting the competition: The White Sox

The White Sox could be one team to watch this winter. They need a shortstop and have pitching to trade, while the Braves need a starter and have Edgar Renteria available. The Braves Show's Bill Shanks has more.

It was the worst season in 13 years for the Chicago White Sox as they went 72-90 and finished in fourth place in the American League Central Division. We know now that Manager Ozzie Guillen will be back after signing an extension, and we also know that he and General Manager Kenny Williams will be tremendously busy this winter fixing this team.

The horrible season can be blamed on several injuries, a horrific bullpen, and an offense that took the year off. Joe Crede had back surgery in June and missed the rest of the season, while infielder Pablo Ozuna broke his leg and missed four months.

Chicago's rotation was okay, posting a 4.47 ERA. But the bullpen's ERA was a full run higher (5.47) and the individual ERA's for some of the relievers are just frightening: Andrew Sisco (8.36 in 19 games), Nick Masset (7.09 in 27 games), Mike MacDougal (6.80 in 54 games), David Aardsma (6.40 in 25 games), Ryan Bukvich (5.05 ERA in 45 games), Boone Logan (4.97 in 68 games), and Matt Thornton (4.69 ERA in 68 games).

The closer was extremely good as Bobby Jenks had 40 saves and a 2.77 ERA. But the only other reliever that had an ERA lower than 4.69 was right-hander Ehren Wasserman, who came out of nowhere and pitched 33 games this season.

And the White Sox just had some off years at the plate from some of their bigger players. The offense was just anemic at times, with no player on the roster hitting over .278. That's right, not one player on the Chicago roster hit higher than .278 for the season.

Look at the averages of some of the White Sox's bigger players: Jim Thome (.275), A.J. Pierzynski (.263), Paul Konerko (.259), Jermaine Dye (.254), Darin Erstad (.248), Josh Fields (.244), Scott Podsednik (.243), Juan Uribe (.234), and before he got hurt Joe Crede (.216).

The team batting average was .246 and the on base percentage was .318, both figures last in the league. In other words, White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson spent a lot of time this season saying ‘he gone' about most of the Chicago players.

Chicago extended Pierzynski's contract before the end of the season, so he'll be back next season; same with right-fielder Jermaine Dye, who got a new two-year contract. Thome hit his 500th career home run and doesn't seem finished, so he'll be the DH again next season.

The White Sox need more from Konerko, who is a career .280 hitter and had driven in more 97 runs or more in each of his last five healthy seasons. And with Joe Crede uncertain for next season, the White Sox might have to count again on Fields for third base, who hit 23 home runs despite his low average.

There are questions in left and center field, and at second base and shortstop. There have been rumors for a year now that Chicago might be interested in one or even two of the top outfield free agents this winter. Aaron Rowand played in Chicago before and they might want him back. Andruw Jones was a target of Kenny Williams back in 2004 and could be again. And the Sox might talk with Torii Hunter, whom they've seen aplenty in the American League Central Division with the Minnesota Twins.

Josh Fields got some action in left field, so if Crede returns to third they could keep Fields in the outfield. It's doubtful Scott Podsednik will return. He's eligible for arbitration, but a .243 average will not get him a raise this time around. The Sox traded Rob Mackowiak to San Diego late in the season so he's no longer an option.

Jerry Owens gave Chicago some speed in center field, swiping 32 stolen bases in 93 games. But the Sox will probably prefer to have an upgrade there as well. It's doubtful they'll pick up the $3.5 million option on Darin Erstad, who started 43 games in center last season.

Tad Iguchi got traded to the Phillies and that opened up second base for Danny Richar. He hit just .230 with 6 home runs and 15 RBI in 56 games. There's no guarantee Richar will be penciled in as the starter for next season, so that might make Chicago in the market for a second baseman.

The team must make a decision on shortstop Juan Uribe, whom they have a $5.5 million dollar option for next season. Uribe hit 20 home runs and drove in 68, but the .284 on base percentage hurt tremendously. It's doubtful the Sox will bring Uribe back, which makes additional discussions with Atlanta regarding Edgar Renteria very possible.

Back in the summer the Braves and White Sox talked about a Renteria-for-Jon Garland trade. Then-Braves' prospect Matt Harrison was rumored to be in the deal as well. The White Sox supposedly turned the trade down, which makes you wonder if they were more interested in Yunel Escobar than Renteria.

But the White Sox need a veteran player like Renteria, and they have the pitching depth in the rotation to fill the Braves' need for a starter. Chicago was fourth in the American League with 88 quality starts, and they had five starters make 150 of the 162 starts for the season.

Mark Buerhle is around for the long haul after signing an extension over the summer. Buerhle was 10-9 on the season with a 3.63 ERA and 201 innings pitched. Two-thirds of his 30 starts were quality appearances.

Javier Vazquez was perhaps Chicago's best starter last season. He was 15-8 with a 3.74 ERA, with 20 quality starts and 213 strikeouts in 216.2 innings pitched. The Braves have had interest in Vazquez before when he was in Montreal and he could be a target again if there are more talks. He's under contract through the 2010 season at $11.5 million each year.

Garland can file for free agency after the 2008 season, which might make him less attractive to the Braves. He had a good season in 2007, going 10-13 with a 4.23 ERA in 32 games started. Garland just turned 28 and he'll make $12 million next season, so he's going to be looking for a huge deal twelve months from now.

Jose Contreras is the fourth starter. He'll be coming off a tough 2007 campaign with a 10-17 record and a 5.57 ERA.

But that's where it gets interesting, and perhaps possible for the White Sox to peddle some pitching this winter. John Danks will be back after making 26 starts in his rookie season. He was 6-13 with a 5.50 ERA in 139 innings pitched.

They'll have Gavin Floyd competing for a rotation spot next spring after a solid stint late in the season. He was 1-5 with a 5.27 ERA, but in September Floyd made five starts and had an ERA of 3.19. Four of those starts were quality starts, and the Sox feel Floyd is ready to live up to the potential he had as a heralded Phillies' prospect before he was traded to Chicago last December.

There are three young kids who are very close to being ready for the big leagues, and if a trade is made they will jump right into the competition next spring in Arizona. Lance Broadway was 8-9 in 26 starts in AAA, but he made an outstanding start for the White Sox the last week of the regular season (six shutout innings and eight strikeouts versus Kansas City).

Gio Gonzalez and Jack Egbert are two outstanding prospects who were solid in AA in 2007. Gonzalez is a lefty who came with Floyd from the Phillies in the Freddy Garcia deal last winter. He was originally signed by the White Sox but went to Philadelphia in the Jim Thome deal a few years ago. Gonzalez was 9-7 in 27 starts in Birmingham, with 185 strikeouts in 150 innings pitched.

And Egbert was right behind him in the strikeout race with 165 in 161.2 innings of work. He's a right-hander and was 12-8 in 28 AA starts with a 3.06 ERA. Both Gonzalez and Egbert could push for a rotation spot if there are openings next March.

So will the Braves talk to the White Sox again? Well not knowing how the summer discussions ended is a bit tough, but it would almost be silly for the teams to not talk again. The Braves need a starter, and that's the White Sox' strength. Chicago needs a shortstop, and Edgar Renteria is more than available.

It's hard to imagine the White Sox trading Vazquez, since they just signed him to an extension last March. He's always been a favorite of Bobby Cox, so you would think there's some interest. But would the White Sox demand Yunel Escobar instead of Renteria in a deal for Vazquez?

Garland is a solid pitcher and would fit perfectly behind John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, but his pending contract status makes that situation dicey. The Braves already have to deal with Mark Teixeira's ending contract after next season. Could they afford to try and re-sign Garland as well?

Buerhle is unavailable and the Braves can do much better than Jose Contreras. So it pretty much narrows it down to either Vazquez or Garland. Adding one of those two pitchers could be the key to the Braves' offseason. And for the White Sox, adding a veteran like Renteria could supply some stability that was sorely missed in 2007.

Potential Free Agents: Craig Wilson, Juan Uribe *, Mike Myers, Darin Erstad *
Eligible for Arbitration: Scott Podsednik, Joe Crede, Alex Cintron


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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