AL Central Watch: The White Sox

It's pretty hard to improve on a team that three months ago claimed their first World Series title since before the Depression. As scary as it sounds, it's entirely possible that the Chicago White Sox did just that in their offseason after their world championship.

Last year, the White Sox one big spot of turmoil was designated hitter, where they couldn't find one player to step up and take the role consistently. Frank Thomas and Carl Everett were nominated as possibilities, but neither proved to be able to be both effective and healthy.

So, in hopes of solidifying the position, the White Sox swung a deal that netted them Jim Thome from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for outfielder Aaron Rowand. The deal was made likely in part because Paul Konerko was a free agent, but the White Sox would later resign Konerko for five years, leaving Thome to protect him in the middle of the order as the DH.

Thome struggled in '05, largely due to injuries, hitting just .207 with 7 homers in 193 at bats, but in 2004 Thome launched 42 homers.

The next big part of their offseason was retaining Paul Konerko, who looked around the free agent market, but ultimately decided that the defending champs were the best team for him.

Resigning your top free agent and adding a veteran slugger to a team that just won the World Series would typically be classified as a success, but the Sox weren't done there. Deciding that their already top-tier rotation could use an upgrade, the Sox swung Orlando Hernandez to the Diamondbacks in exchange for starting pitcher Javier Vasquez, who wanted out of Arizona a year after being traded there from New York.

So, now a rotation highlighted by All Stars Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia, as well as postseason ace Jose Contreras, now has a strong innings eater with an ERA in the low 4's to complement the rest.

Of course, even the White Sox still have some question marks.

In trading Aaron Rowand, they've opened up a hole in centerfield, and will rely on 23-year old Brian Anderson as well as former top prospect Joe Borchard to help carry the load. Borchard though has just a .596 OPS in 298 career at bats, while Anderson has just 34 big league at bats under his belt and an .807 OPS above A-ball.

The team also will rely on a bullpen that has its share of questions marks. October hero Bobby Jenks emerged as the team's go to man in the ninth, but he closed just six regular season games, and has yet to endure the rigors of a full big league season. The team also jettisoned Luis Vizcaino, a key middle reliever for the team in '04, and will now give bigger roles to youngster Neal Cotts and veterans Cliff Politte and Dustin Hermanson (both of whom have proven to be inconsistent in the past).

But make no mistake about these question marks; these are the equivalent of nit-picking on an ‘A' paper, the White Sox are a stacked team ready to defend their title.

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