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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Roster Crunch! 

Spring is winding down, time to take a look at what we know about the roster, what Jerry still has to decide and what decisions he should make.  First the guys we know will be in the lineup and we already know well don't need to be talked about so we're setting aside the guys below who come to you with their 2001 OPS and projected 2002 OPS courtesy Stats, Inc.
                           
                            2001 OPS/Projected 2002 OPS
Frank Thomas                757/971
Paul Konerko                  856/855
Ray Durham                   803/791
Jose Valentin                 845/806
Royce Clayton                708/698
Carlos Lee                      789/824
Kenny Lofton                  720/791
Magglio Ordonez            915/895 
Jeff Liefer                    833/887
 
I threw in Jeff Liefer even though he's not a regular because he's probably the most dangerous lefthanded bat we have including the switch hitters after posting an 833 OPS last year, he just happens to play Frank Thomas' "position."  I'd call those projections good estimates except for Konerko and Lee.  I think theirs are low starting points, either one could break out with an MVP season.  What's that group missing?  A catcher of course, the party line is that San DL-omar will be the starting catcher if healthy but when is a guy with 46 knee surgeries (give or take a few) under his belt ever healthy?  Things are complicated further by if either Josh "Versatile" Paul or Mark Johnson doesn't make the roster they have to clear waivers to join the Charlotte Knights. 
 
I actually think the chances of both passing through are good, Paul is an organizational favorite, as irrational as that is, so odds are the rest of the league isn't as high on him and most of Mark Johnson's value lies in walks and defense.  Players who walk a lot are generally undervalued and defensive catchers who aren't Proven Veterans (TM) in the Brad Ausmus/Joe Girardi mold are often ignored.  Similarly undervalued Marlins catcher Ramon Castro passed through waivers last year so I wouldn't bet on losing either of these guys.  However the chance to lose one is there and since the Sox even like Paul's sweaty jockstrap and can't be stupid enough to throw Mark Johnson away considering he's clearly outperformed his competitors.  I think all three guys make the team which has been rumored and the Sox will wait for Sandy to land himself on the DL which should happen before the end of April.
 
Moving on to the infield/outfield benchies becomes much less obvious with the catching situation the way it is.  The Sox have an interesting crew here, Tony Graffanino is a lock to go north which means only one out of Aaron Rowand, Willie Harris and longshot Brian Simmons will make the team.  Rowand is the obvious choice and the one who impressed Sox brass with a .385 major league OBP last year but that would leave the Sox with only one backup infielder.  And then there is Versatile who says he's willing to embarrass himself at third in a pinch just like he embarrassed himself as a pinch runner.  Why do the Sox let Paul's relative speed and organizational brown-nosing make him a candidate for a real job?  Willie Harris can play second and is more of a real centerfielder than Rowand.  Simmons presents the same problem Rowand does but has a weaker bat so he's leaving this discussion in a hurry.
 
So who makes the team, Rowand or Harris?  My call is Harris in an upset.  Why?  The Sox shouldn't face any tough lefty starters in the early season that would possibly force Kenny Lofton to the bench.  Plus Harris would be the fleetest foot on the team, he swiped 92 bases over the last two minor league seasons, and hey they already screwed Rowand once by signing Lofton.  After a couple weeks, Rowand can join the team anyway when Sandy Alomar joins the DL squad. 
 
Fortunately the pitching situation is a lot more straight forward.  Mark Buehrle, Todd Ritchie, Dan Wright, Jon Garland and Jon Rauch is the starting rotation being set in stone by Jerry Manuel as you're reading this with Godzilla errrr....Rauch making his debut outing out of the pen before the team needs a fifth starter.  Since Jim Parque isn't yet throwing harder than Nardi Contreras he'll start the season on a rehab assignment in Charlotte.  Keith Foulke, Gary Glover and Bob Howry are returning pen locks.  Antonio Osuna and Lorenzo Barcelo were said to be throwing well by K-Willy himself so they should be there too.  That only leaves one remaining spot. 
 
Matt Ginter showed a flash or two last year between outings where he had his head handed to him on a silver and black platter but the rest of the pen is filled with righthanded arms so looks for a southpaw to get the last job.  Ex-token-lefty-candidates Thomas Jacquez and Onan Masoaka have been shipped out.  If Sox fans say Sean Lowe must have slept with Kenny's wife then Ken Vining must have slept with Kenny's daughter because that guy has never gotten a real shot, no getting fed to Mark McGwire doesn't count when you're a lefty specialist.  That leaves Kelly Wunsch of questionable health and Mike Porzio of questionable background.  Since Porzio is the only one out of the lefty brood to get any kind of support in spring I give the job to him with Wunsch getting snuck onto the DL.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have your 2002 Chicago White Sox! (I think)

Editor's Note:  Andrew Ritchie is known by WSI's message board crowd  as Kermitthefrog and writes about the White Sox based on statistical analysis.  Andrew like statistics because it helps cut through the bias when talking baseball.  Andrew pledges to be as objective as possible, but hey--nobody is perfect!  You can email Andrew at kermittheefrog@ameritech.net

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