Vegas picked the White Sox to finish fourth in the AL Central this year, pegging them to win about 74.5 games. Chicago's season essentially ended last night when the Tigers clinched the division, but that means the Pale Hose' playoff hopes lasted until October, about four (five?) months longer than the Twins. They also made anyone who bet the “under” in Vegas look like a fool, exceeding Vegas preseason estimate by 10 games and counting.
I am one of those fools. In our Gleeman and the Geek
podcast, I predicted a miserable season on Chicago’s south side. They had won 79 games in 2011, but with a run differential that looked worse than that. And then they lost Mark Buehrle to the Marlins and traded away slugger Carlos Quentin and closer Sergio Santos. They had also lost manager Ozzie Guillen, for better or worse.
But the White Sox responded by getting career (or at least bouncback) years from several suspect veterans. Pitcher Jake Peavy, who had spent most of the last few years injured, led the team in innings. Adam Dunn and Alex Rios were much maligned last year when they were getting paid $24M to knock home just 84 RBI. This year they exceeded that number by 100. Kevin Youkilis came over from the Red Sox to fill a serious gap at third and AJ Pierzynski slugged a career high 27 home runs.
However, none of those guys is less than 31 years old and several of them are going to be free agents. The White Sox had a fun year, but they really only had two younger players show they could contribute long-term. Pitcher Chris Sale became the staff ace while showing he could handle a starting pitcher’s workload. And center fielder Alejandro De Aza (who isn’t really young at 28 years old) posted very respectable numbers for a leadoff hitter and center fielder.
Which means that this spring, Chicago is likely going to be wrestling with similar questions as there were last spring. Can they trust Rios and Dunn? How will eat Peavy’s innings? Who will play third base? Is Tyler Flowers ready to catch full time? And if things go right, will they still be a good, but not great, team that just misses the playoffs?
Meanwhile, the Twins must decide this offseason just how jealous they are of the Sox success this year – because that might just be within reach. The Twins could grab two or three veteran arms and be a .500 club this summer. With a few breaks (which might include some regression from the Sox) they could challenge for the 2013 AL Central last into September. Like the Sox, it’s hard to imagine them winning 90 games, but meaningful baseball would be a welcome change after two years of futility.
But if they did that, next offseason they would likely be back in a similar position as the Sox. They would be looking at losing Justin Morneau. They would have an aging roster. The departure of Denard Span and Josh Willingham would be a year away. They would have kept their team together and maybe missed the chance to add some pitching or middle infield prospects. They would have had success, shown they could fill some holes, maybe even given minor league talent time to work it’s way up the farm system, but they would still not have a widespread and deep foundation of a great team. They would still be missing that young and cheap core.
Would that be enough?