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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Sports Boobs!
by Hal Vickery

As spring training approaches, and the buzz around the country is all about the Baltimore Orioles taking Sammy Sosa off the hands of the club on the North Side and on the Detroit Tigers committing at least $12 million on the question mark that is Magglio Ordoñez, the Sox have quiet rebuilt their club into the type of club that manager Ozzie Guillen has said he wanted.

Apparently this was done so far under the radar that ESPN’s Rob Neyer wasn’t even aware of some of the acquisitions made by the Sox in the off-season. To Neyer’s discredit when called by readers of his online column for neglecting to mention Jermain Dye, Luis Vizcaino, and Dustin Hermanson, Neyer blamed his source as leaving “much to be desired.”

Source? A writer who devotes his time to a column covering the major leagues needs a source to tell him what trades and acquisitions have been made? Assuming Neyer has access to a major market newspaper, all he has to do is clip the agate pages. If he doesn’t want to do that, he could always go to Sports Weekly’s transactions page. And if doesn’t want to do that, he can just go to each club’s official web site and read their press releases.

It’s amazing what passes for sports writing these days.

At least Neyer admitted that once he knew about the Sox roster changes that they were no longer on his list of the “10 teams who did the least to help themselves” this off-season. He wouldn’t grant that the Sox were in the group that had done the most, and I can’t fault him that. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof that these roster changes will pan out will be demonstrated on the playing field.

The Sox, though, at least have the appearance of being a much more balanced ball club. Since the 2003 season the starting rotation has undergone a massive overhaul. Only Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland remain from just two years ago. With the additions during the 2004 season of Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras and the acquisition this off-season of Orlando Hernandez, the Sox no longer have a gaping hole in the number five slot in the rotation.

Of course there are question marks. With the Sox there are always question marks. Garcia was somewhat disappointing to a lot of fans in 2004. He has still not regained the dominance he had in Seattle before he developed a problem with his inner ear that has since been corrected. Contreras was a question mark with the Yankees, but the Sox thought they saw a problem in his overuse of his split-fingered pitch. They are hoping that he has corrected that and will show the same form he did at the end of 2004.

El Duque is another matter. He came off rotator cuff surgery late last season and was dominant. His problem is that no one really knows how old he is. If he is as old as some people think, he could be at the point in his career where he loses his effectiveness. Although he currently appears to be the number three man in the rotation, he hasn’t logged the innings the past few years to make one feel comfortable trusting him to pitch around 200 innings.

That’s where Williams’ bullpen acquisitions come into play. Hermanson and Vizcaino shore up the weakest part of the bullpen. Fans are hopeful that the performance of this pair will alleviate the groans emitted by fans every time Mike Jackson walked out of the pen. Hermanson, a proven closer, also can spell either Damaso Marte in the setup role or Shingo Takatsu as closer as needed.

As for Williams’ other acquisitions, we’ve covered a lot of this before. Jermaine Dye isn’t Magglio Ordoñez, but in 2004 neither was Magglio Ordoñez, who spent most of the season on the disabled list. Dye doesn’t really replace Ordoñez. He’s replacing the tandem of Joe Borchard and Timo Perez, and that definitely is an improvement.

However, Dye is another of those guys who has battled injury problems. This means that right field is still a bit of a question mark. In case of problems, however, Guillen can turn to a slimmed down Carl Everett, who reportedly is now down by nearly twenty pounds from his bloated conditions in 2004. Everett may start the season as the designated hitter if Frank Thomas is not sufficiently recovered from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his ankle.

For years the Sox have been a team in search of a leadoff hitter. The acquisition of Scott Podsednik is Williams’ way of addressing that issue. Podsednik has stated that he started swinging for the fences last year to try to generate more offense for the hitting-starved Brewers. He needs to revert to the leadoff style he demonstrated in 2003.

To help set the table for the sluggers remaining in the lineup with the departure of Carlos Lee, Williams signed second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. Iguchi was an all-star player in Japan, known for both his glove and his offensive prowess. Iguchi will have two adjustments to make to his game in 2005. He was a number three hitter in Japan, so he will have to shorten up his swing in certain situations, and while doing that he will also have to adjust to major league pitching.

The acquisition of Iguchi puts Willie Harris on the bench and allows Juan Uribe to move to shortstop to replace Jose Valentin.

Then of course there was the problem with catching. This was probably the weakest position on the club. Ben Davis can’t hit and Jamie Burke’s defense wasn’t all that good. Williams’ signing of A.J. Pierzynski for the 2005 season addressed that issue, if only for one year.

Of course there are lots of reports coming from San Francisco about Pierzynski’s behavior that indicate that Pierzynski might be more trouble than he is worth, at least if those stories are to be believed. Pierzynski has not addressed some of those stories, but has said that he wants to prove himself. Sox fans can hope for the best.

So, Rob Neyer notwithstanding, here are the issues Kenny Williams had to address this offseason and the results:

No fifth starter: Addressed by the acquisition of El Duque, perhaps moving Jon Garland to the fifth spot.

Inadequate middle relief: Addressed by the acquisition of Dustin Hermanson and Luis Vizcaino.

Poor hitting in right field: Addressed by the acquisition of Jermaine Dye.

Willie Harris: Addressed by the acquisition of Tadahito Iguchi.

Weak leadoff hitting: Addressed by the acquisition of Scott Podsednik.

Weak catching: Addressed by the acquisition of A.J. Pierzynski.

Possible loss of Frank Thomas for part of the season: Making it clear to Carl Everett that he needed to slim down and get into playing shape.

Joe Crede’s failure to develop as a hitter: Not addressed, although Greg Walker has reportedly worked with him this winter in a batting cage Crede had built at his home.

Williams is confident that the Sox still have seven players in their lineup who are capable of hitting at least twenty home runs. What he has done is improved the pitching to reduce the number of games in which opponents score more than five runs, and put players at the top of the lineup who have shown they are capable of getting on base to convert the multitude of solo shots we’ve seen over the past two years to two and three run homers.

Maybe it’s just my springtime optimism coming early, but I like the looks of this team. I grew up in the era of the Go-Go-Sox who relied on pitching, speed, and defense. The 2005 White Sox should have all of that plus a lot more power than the Go-Go-Sox could have ever dreamed of. I like what Kenny Williams has done.

Now all they have to do is go out and prove that they are no longer frightened by the mere mention of the words “Minnesota Twins.”


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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