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WSI News - Season Features

'01 Team Analysis

The Position Players

After the disappointment of the 2001 season, it's time to take a look at where the Sox' strengths and weaknesses actually are.  What follows is a position by position analysis of the Sox as they stand today, and how that projects into 2002.

First Base:  Paul Konerko is an interesting case study.  He makes the 3-6-3 double play look easy.  He appears to be a .280 or so hitter capable of hitting at least 30 homers and driving in over 100 runs a year.  But one of the first names who comes up whenever possible trades are mentioned is Konerko's.  There were times when Konerko appeared to be a butcher on defense.  Then there was the game in Minnesota where he made a couple of really nice plays.  A Twins fan behind me said, "They've got a pretty slick fielder at first base." 

Overall though, Konerko's defense is probably about average.  The problem
is that if the Sox trade him, they have nothing better to replace him with at defensively.  Frank Thomas isn't as bad defensively as his reputation would have one believe, but comparing the two makes Konerko look like Mark
Grace.  The Sox, despite Jerry Manuel's rather odd philosophy, need to improve their defense.  If Konerko goes, the Sox need to replace his bat and find a better glove man.  I wish you luck in naming someone who will do that.

Second Base:  Ray Durham apparently feels that now that he's a millionaire he doesn't need to do the little things anymore - like keep his head in the game.  His overall game was worse in 2001 than it has ever been.  His fielding was questionable, his batting average was way down, and he didn't steal as many bases.  His on-base percentage was barely acceptable for a leadoff hitter, although his runs scored were still acceptable.  The problem is that the Sox don't have anyone in the system who can replace him, so the only way they can improve at second base is for Durham to wake up or for the Sox to make a trade.

It's possible that Durham will improve in 2002 because he becomes a free
agent following the season.  It's amazing the effect that that can have on a player.

Shortstop:  Royce Clayton has to go.  It was the stupid decision to trade for Clayton that caused the major problems the Sox faced during the start of the 2001 season.  I'm looking for an adjective to describe Clayton's offensive performance in April and May.  "Miserable" is not strong enough.  A lot of people have commented on Clayton's strong comeback after Jerry Manuel finally sat him down and Jose Valentin got hurt.  The problem is that by the time Clayton remembered how to hit, the Sox were out of contention.

I don't know if Jose Valentin is the answer.  His errors are often the result of the same type of problem Ray Durham has.  Valentin flubs the easy plays, meaning he doesn't have his head in the game.  Some have suggested trading Durham and playing Valentin at second base.  I have no idea how good Valentin would be at making the pivot during a double play, but that's critical to a second baseman.  The problem with the "Valentin at second" crowd is that they forget that second base isn't the same as shortstop but only on the right side.  It's a position that has to be learned.

Third Base:  Jose Valentin isn't the answer.  Herbert Perry will probably be gone in 2002 because Jerry Manuel has pretty much accused Perry of making excuses for not playing.  That would explain why Perry was the forgotten man in 2001.  According to Manuel, Perry was hurt and couldn't play for awhile (when he had a "dead arm") and then after that asked to not play.  However, I don't have much faith in Jerry Manuel as a diagnostician.  His diagnosis of Thomas trying to get out of playing games blew up in his face when it turned out that Thomas had the largest bone spur in his ankle that his doctor had ever seen.

Then there is perennial "third baseman of the future" Joe Crede.  Manuel
thought enough of Crede to say this fall that he wouldn't play him because "we know what he can do."  Crede will supposedly get his shot next spring.  It's just a guess, but it might be that at least in the opinion of Sox management, Crede just isn't as good a prospect as they thought he was.  If that's the case, the Sox have a hole at third base.

Outfield:  Will Carlos Lee learn to catch the ball?  Will he learn to hit the cutoff man?  Lee's defensive woes carried over and affected his offensive game during the last half of the 2001 season.  Still, Lee has showed that he can play left field well enough as long as he is hitting.  The problem is that Lee stopped hitting.  Lee is another subject of trade rumors.  The problem is, you really hate to lose a hitter with Lee's potential.

Chris Singleton had a tremendous comeback once Jerry Manuel discovered
that Jose Valentin wasn't an outfielder and that Julio Ramirez couldn't hit half his weight.  Singleton is another subject of trade rumors, particularly with the semi-emergence of Aaron Rowand in 2001 and the prospect of Joe Borchard arriving sometime in 2002.  Singleton could be expendable, as could Lee.

Magglio Ordonez is the only sure thing right now in the outfield.  He has turned into a legitimate .300/30+/100+ hitter.  His defensive play is average to above average.  This makes right field the only defensive position in which the Sox are adequate.

Catcher:  Sandy Alomar, Jr. will spend much of the remainder of his career
on the DL, which leaves Mark Johnson and Josh Paul.  In 2000 Johnson was the Rodney Dangerfield of the Sox catching core, being kept off the playoff roster in favor of Josh Paul.  Of the two Johnson is the better hitter and defensive player.  Alomar still has another year on his contract.  If Alomar is ready to play in April, Johnson should be his catching mate.

Designated Hitter:  Frank Thomas will be back, but will he be BACK?  Will we see the Thomas who was a near-MVP in 2000, or will we see the Thomas who can't adjust when pitchers find his weaknesses and then argues with umpires when they call strikes on him?  Thomas will have one burden off his mind.  Jerry Reinsdorf has chosen not to use the diminished abilities clause in Thomas's contract.  Of course this could make Thomas a free agent following the 2002 season.

What about the pitching staff?  What about the field staff and the front office?  And of course, what about OWNERSHIP?  Hal Vickery takes aim at these targets in Part Two!

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