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WSI's FLYINGSOCK.COM.  Chicago White Sox coverage with totally biased attitude!

Eighty-Three Years and Waiting


1999 Season Wrap-up

by George Bova

The Chicago White Sox finished the 1999 season in second place, 75-86, .466, 21.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians.  That's five fewer wins and 12.5 games further off the pace than the 1998 club achieved.  It's also the worst performance by a White Sox team since 1989  when they won just 69 games and finished dead last in the old A.L. West.

This is what Sox management calls progress.  Let's hope they're right.  Here's a look at the White Sox at the conclusion of the 1999 season.

The Outfield
Magglio Ordonez is a budding star and appears to have right field locked up for years to come.  Beyond that, everything in the Sox's outfield is up in the air.  Chris Singleton played beyond anyone's expectations, will get Rookie of the Year votes, but remains questionable as a true major leaguer.  Another Rookie of the Year candidate is Carlos Lee. Converted from a third basemen, Lee was called up from the minors to pick up the slack from slumping McKay Christensen.   He hit too well to ever get sent back down.  A late season experiment playing first base was successful enough to warrant further study.  A spring injury left would-be starter Brian Simmons waiting for a chance to shine.  He amazed Sox fans with some incredible circus catches in center field. Jon Lieber was sent to the minors, spent the season tearing up the opposition's pitching, then came north and impressed everyone with a terrific September.

The Sox have more talent than available positions.  How this outfield log jam is resolved probably depends on what direction the team takes at  first base and designated hitter.  Spring in Arizona should be very interesting.

Third Base
Boy, did we miss Robin Ventura.  Third base was an absolute disaster all season for the White Sox.  The hope was Greg Norton would prove himself an everyday player if allowed to play his natural position.  Norton only proved he could be relied upon to get on base.  His fielding was atrocious and he led the club in errors which in turn had the worst fielding average of any club in the league.  U-G-L-Y!!!

At least now we know Norton is nothing except a utility fielder and perhaps also a pinch hitter.  If he is still the opening day third basemen next year you can be sure the club is merely holding the spot open for minor league prospect Joe Crede.   There is also the possibility of trying Paul Konerko at third base but the team is probably loathe to mess with the kid's mind now that they have him hitting the way he is capable.  Carlos Lee could be converted back to third base but he might not be much better than Norton playing the position.  Omigod!

The best hope lies with Crede and he might still be a year a way from the show.  Barring a trade or free agent signing, next season could be another ugly one at third base for Sox fans.  Meanwhile, the Mets appear to be doing just fine.

Shortstop
What can you say about Mike Caruso?  This was a nightmare season for the kid, but you sometimes wonder if he is smart enough to know it.  His hitting and on-base percentage both suffered.  Until tightening it up late in the season, his fielding was no better than the awful level he achieved his rookie year.

His mental gaffes are legendary.  It has gotten so bad, Jerry Manuel joked that Caruso shouldn't have had his wisdom teeth removed.  You feel sorry for him because he has been placed under such extreme pressure by his manager, but it seems he is just too dumb to understand or care.

Liu Rodriguez showed nothing.  Craig Wilson can't be expected to fill the hole either.  Jason Dallaero has a gun for an arm but needs further seasoning in the minors -- something Caruso could have used, too.

The Sox's shortstop cupboard looks pretty bare unless Mike Caruso can bounce back in 2000.  Don't bet on it.

Second Base
At first glance, second base would appear to be the most set position for the Chicago White Sox.  Ray Durham is young, an all-star, and signed to a long contract.  Yes, he still has a bad habit of falling asleep once or twice a game, and he may need to assert more leadership for his young teammates.  He could easily be here for another ten years.

He could also be gone tomorrow.  The infield situation is in such a state of flux, Ray Durham shapes up as one of the few established players the Sox could trade for something of value needed elsewhere.  Many observers have long speculated that Mike Caruso would make a better second basemen than shortstop.   Sox GM Ron Schueler has stated he will be more active in trades than free agent signings.  He's probably loathe to trade any of his young pitchers and is likely to learn few teams will offer much for big-stick/no defense first base/designated hitters.

Expect Ray Durham at second base next season.  Don't be shocked if he isn't.

First Base & Designated Hitter
The direction the Sox choose to pursue in 2000 with these two positions will likely affect the team's destiny for years to come.  Frank Thomas wants to be the designated hitter, but the club wants him to play first base.  Thomas has consistently hit better in games he played first base and the team fears he hasn't the heart or head to be as successful sitting on the bench between at-bats.

A convenient bit of out-patient surgery is likely all that kept Frank Thomas from hitting beneath .300 with soft power this year.  Meanwhile Paul Konerko played the position well defensively (gifted with a strong arm), and Carlos Lee also showed promise in a handful of experimental late-season starts. Greg Norton hits from the left and gives Manuel flexibility in the line up, too.  Designated hitters can be gotten for cheap -- Harold Baines for example.  Frank is underpaid but his trade value is hurt if only A.L. clubs can use him at his "preferred" position.

1B/DH is the biggest problem for the Sox to resolve.  Could Frank Thomas end up with another club?  Heaven help us!

Catcher
The Sox had way more luck at the catcher's position than they could have hoped for.  The team had no solid plan who would be the catcher entering spring training-- a fairly serious matter for a club relying on a young inexperienced pitching staff.  Brook Fordyce came in trade from the Reds,  did far more with the bat than expected, and generally handled the pitchers well.   Meanwhile Sox farmhand Mark Johnson stepped up, especially late-season, and made a credible showing for future starter consideration.  Still, the Sox catchers couldn't throw anybody out stealing second and nothing on the horizon indicates this will likely change anytime soon.  Minor league call up Josh Paul hasn't shown the technique or arm strength either.

Starting Rotation
In a season of rebuilding, the Sox found two starting pitchers which they can rely upon for a future contender.  As a bonus, both are lefthanders. Mike Sirotka was as close to a #1 pitchers as the Sox had.  He proved he was amongst the best pitchers in the league, sporting one the lowest ERA's all season long.  His teammates played poorly around him and failed to make him the winner he deserved to be in most of his starts -- a disturbing trend for the future.

Jim Parque completed his first full season in the majors and won nine games by the all-star break.  He hurt his thumb and failed to win another game the remainder of the season.  What started as simply a day to day injury became an ailment which cost him his winning form which he never regained.  He is less than three years removed from college so everyone rightly has high expectations for him in the 2000 season.

After Sirotka and Parque, the Sox's starting rotation becomes more problematic.  For James Baldwin 1999 only proved he cannot be relied upon to pitch effectively for an entire season.  Mr. Second Half was the opening day starter, slept through a disastrous first half, then became nearly unbeatable the last three months of the year.  The club is unlikely to reward him with the contract he seeks.

John Snyder had everyone in the American League fooled for the first six weeks of the season.  Early talk even included an all-star appearance.  His balloon popped soon enough.  A trip to the minors and an ineffective return has pretty much sunk his future chances.  Consider him next year's Scott Eyre -- hanging on in the majors by a thread.  As for # 5 starter Jaime Navarro, consider him worm food.  His Three-peat quest fell just short and the club is ready to throw in the towel.  They'll trade him if they can; they'll release him if they can't.  Two years too late really.

So who are the likely candidates to take a spot in next year's Sox rotation?  The most likely person is Kip Wells.  He was 4-1 in seven starts.  If Jaime Navarro's fat salary hadn't been around to clog up available space, Wells likely would have gotten another 15 starts.  He won't be denied in 2000.

Aaron Myette is another farmhand who will eventually get his shot in the rotation.  His late season performances were mixed but he's still young.  Jon Garland spent September pitching for Charlotte in the minor league playoffs.  Otherwise he would have gotten some September starts, too.  Look for him in his first major league start in 2000, too.

You know the Sox are desperate if John Snyder, Scott Eyre, or Carlos Castillo get starts.  Look for one of them to be a long relief specialist (i.e. Close to looking for a new career outside of baseball).

Relief Pitching
With so few starters lasting beyond the sixth inning, Jerry Manuel had to nurse his bullpen almost all season.  Only one truly stood out, Keith Foulke allowing just 26 earned runs in 105 innings work.  He struck out six times as many batters as he walked.  He's easily the most talented player the Sox have garnered (so far) from the 1997 "White Flag" trade.  He may be the best set up man in baseball.

Bob Howry was the closer and saved 28 games but left Sox fans swallowing their hearts each time he took the mound.  He recovered from a midseason swoon but hasn't shown he will ever be a top-flight stopper.  Sean Lowe showed some promise in long relief but figures to have lots of competition  in '00 from all of Ron Schueler's failed starting pitcher wash ups. Jesus Pena pitches with his left arm -- his primary qualification for major league duty.  No replacement is in sight.

The remainder of the relief corps is made up of wash-ups and never-were's. Bill Simas proved once and for all that he is nothing but roster filler.  His 3.75 ERA is the softest in the league.  He only pitched well after he allowed all his inherited runners to score.  He's soft in the head, too, whining when Derek Jeter tricked him into committing a balk.  Nothing but a busher falling for a bush league trick.

Carlos Castillo casts the widest shadow in the major leagues.  Where did they find pants big enough to fit him?  He showed enough to likely make next year's roster.  Scott Eyre, Todd Rizzo, Bryan Ward, and David Lundquist should all consider a new line of work.  Be sure Sox management will make the decision for them.

The Big Picture
If you think we've covered all the important players from the 1999 White Sox, you are wrong.  In fact, we haven't even mentioned one of the players that made Jerry Manuel's opening day line up!  Who can forget that Jeff Abbott was considered the whiz kid of the Sox outfielders at the conclusion of the 1998 season.  He was in left field to replace Albert Belle last April and it was he, not Magglio Ordonez, who everyone expected to achieve success at a youthful age.

How far has Jeff Abbott fallen?  After a weak start and getting sent to the minors, he got hurt, recovered and spent the remainder of the season at Charlotte.  While several of his teammates got call ups to the parent club at season's conclusion, Sox management told Abbott to go home.  The outfield is too jammed with prospects and there simply wasn't room for him.  So Abbott is now behind Ordonez, Singleton, Lee, Simmons, and Liefer on the Sox outfield depth chart.  So much for everyone's expert opinion last year.

That's what's scary about the Chicago White Sox of 1999.  For all the talk about rebuilding this club, we likely have as many question marks to answer and holes to fill as existed twelve months ago.  For every player that stepped up (like Ordonez) another stepped back (Mike Caruso).  Do the Chicago White Sox have a plan for rebuilding into a contender and if so, are they being straight with us on how long it will take to accomplish?  Will they spend the cash to fill weak spots -- or should we expect another child-like tantrum from the owner who says his club's shrinking fan base is made of "crazies" for thinking the team can contend?  Who knows really?

You can bet we'll be right here to comment on the whole sordid affair in 2000.


George Bova is editor and founder of White Sox Interactive.  You can write George at george@whitesoxinteractive.com

More features from George Bova here!

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