By Mark Gonzales, Tribune reporter
11:51 PM EST, February 26, 2012
Ken Williams has the enviable position of seemingly being the only Chicago executive immune from the pressure to win and perform. In recent years we have seen all the Chicago franchises clean house. The Chairman needs to pocket his loyalty and let Williams go and bring in a new philosophy. I don't mean elevating Rick Hahn, either. There is a reason Hahn is still with the Sox. Frankly, I'm tired of hearing how wonderful is everyone in the Sox's organization. The chamber of commerce pitch delivered by those such as Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone and others is insulting to knowledgeable fans. How many more years do Sox fans have to tolerate more of the same? How many more years does Williams get? -- Mike Major; Granger, Ind.
When do you see the Sox LEGITIMATELY contending -- either for A.L. Central or the playoffs? P.S. When is Kenny gone? -- Phil, Palatine
Why does KW have a job? No, wait, that's not my question. Why is Robin Ventura getting so much noise about no managerial experience when the Sox haven't hired a guy with experience since 1989? -- Brian Hicks, Lemont
I understand the Kenny Williams criticisms. The farm system is wafer thin, Alex Rios, the Santos trade, etc etc etc etc. How is it that Hahn is a potential successor? Isn't he a major part of the dysfunctional front office? Isn't he just as guilty? And isn't Jerry Reinsdorf the real problem? He allows these guys to make bad move after bad move. -- Tim G, Bartlett
Right now the players hold KW's fate. If the team starts off well, and/or some of the new acquisitions blossom, I think he'd be safe.
I think we're starting to see a shift in philosophy by not putting all the eggs in the 2012 basket. It's overdue, but at least they're doing it. And I know the damage is done. The 2012 division title is Detroit's to lose. We'll know more about the Sox's future at the end of 2012 when we see how the likes of Nestor Molina, Simon Castro and Jhan Marinez develop, along with the likes of Jared Mitchell, Trayce Thompson, Jacob Petricka and Andy Wilkins.
As for Robin, Bob Brenly won a World Series in his first year without any managerial experience. Sure, Bob had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, but managing people is an asset bigger than people think. That's what Charlie Spoonhour, the late St. Louis University basketball coach, once told me after a St. Louis Cardinals game over a few beverages.
I think Robin will do well when it comes to managing players. He has a dry sense of humor but will lay down the law in a subtle way. KW hired him with the future in mind as well as the present.
As for Rick Hahn, the contracts of Alex Rios and Jake Peavy were inherited by other clubs. The contracts of Scott Linebrink and Mark Teahen were steep, but they've gotten a lot of mileage out of Matt Thornton. Rick has attracted interest from other clubs regarding GM jobs, so he shouldn't be viewed as a slouch.
Rick is more than just a negotiator. He's been scouting more in the past five years, and he went to Tempe on Friday to watch Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero and pitcher Brady Rodgers, two projected high picks in the June amateur draft.
I'm told the chairman has been surprised by the level of skepticism over the team's fortunes this year, so that tells me he has faith in KW.
Do you have the same belief like I do that the White Sox are a year behind of what the Cubs are doing now? The Sox need to hire a new GM, clearing bad contracts, invest in the farm system, etc. Should the Sox take the same steps as the Cubs front office is doing? -- Cubs Talk
The Sox are in a different landscape than the Cubs, who are virtually guaranteed of 30,000-plus fans on a daily basis. I understand the Cubs' theory of signing as many draft picks as possible last summer, but I thought they overpaid in many cases.
I do think the Sox need to invest more in their farm system, and they are starting to do that with the hiring of Marco Paddy and having Buddy Bell look at some amateur prospects this spring in addition to his current duties. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement that places a ceiling on signing bonuses for amateur talent won't hurt the Sox, but they need to hit on many of their draft picks.
Clearing bad contracts might be the next step if they continue to struggle, but that won't solve the problem.
What do we have to show for Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Hudson, Clayton Richards and Sergio Santos? -- Warren Weaver; Long Beach, Calif.
You left out Chris Young as well.
What's Ventura going to do if Adam Dunn starts off 2012 the way he played last year? How long will he stick with Dunn in the middle of the order if he hits under .200 and strikes out a lot? -- Jim, Denver
I think Robin will be as patient as Ozzie was. But there are more options, such as Kosuke Fukudome, Dayan Viciedo (if he needs a break) or Dan Johnson (if he makes the team).
I live in Michigan about 140 miles from Chicago. I have been a White Sox fan since 1970 and have followed the team since. What has always surprised me is the lack of respect from my point of view for Jerry Reinsdorf. He has brought more championships to your city than any other! Yes, granted six was with the Bulls but at least one World Series that I never thought I would see in my lifetime, let alone all the old time Sox fans in your city. Who the heck thought Dunn would fall on his rear as bad as he did, or Rios and Gordon Beckham have the lack of production that they had? I can remember when the Sox wanted to make Kenny Williams a third basemen! Ugh, not good. -- Dave Pontius; Kalamazoo, Mich.
Funny you mention when you remember KW was used at third base. He told a few reporters last Thursday that I covered him in high school, and I replied that I covered his last high school football game, when he was stopped short of the goal line in a playoff game but that he hit a home run out of a decent-sized park and stood briefly at home plate.
The Detroit community has a very loyal owner in Michael Illitch, who is providing Tigers fans with a pretty good (and well-paid) product, which says a lot about his commitment to the organization and fans.
As for the chairman, he's extremely loyal to his employees -- probably moreso than any owner since the O'Malley family sold the Dodgers.
Can you please find out why the uniform No. 6 has not been issued out to any player for many years. I know that Charley Lau wore that number as a coach. But this number is not retired and no one seems to know why. -- Ed W., Schaumburg
That number is unofficially retired out of respect to Lau, who passed away in 1984.
Every year is the same. The White Sox lack of commitment (or is it inability?) to draft and develop MLB-quality talent for the parent club is killing us. Does Reinsdorf want to win, or just lord over a consistently mediocre MLB franchise? I want an owner who is "in it to win it" and will invest in building and sustaining a winning franchise. Reinsdorf can't keep waving that 2005 flag forever. Williams is the perfect GM for a mediocre franchise, and Dan Evans must be wondering what he has to do to get promoted. I believe that the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime" was written about the Chicago White Sox annual mediocrity..."Same as it ever was!" -- Scott McEwen, Glen Ellyn
Until recently, the Sox were in the bell-bottom, acid-wash jean stage while many teams paid over slot for the right players. That isn't the entire fault of the current scouting director or his predecessor. Sometimes budget need to be more elastic.
The Sox, however, went more than 15 years without drafting in the top 15, so that instant impact player didn't arrive until they had high picks, such as Gordon Beckham and Chris Sale.
If the Sox's fortunes don't turn around, may I suggest the Talking Heads' song "Burning Down the House" or "Take Me to the River."
Please tell me the Sox are going to work on getting a bunt down? We have to be the worst team in baseball for moving the runner up! Bring Nellie Fox back, or at least watch videos of Nellie and Louie! -- John, Antioch
Last year, the inability to lay down a decent bunt cost the White Sox many times. If I were the manager, I would expect EVERY player to be able to bunt when needed. I hope bunting practice is part of spring training for all players. -- Bill Buehring, Naperville
One of the more memorable spring training moments was watching Ozzie Guillen, then in his mid-40s, put on a bunting clinic by displaying impressive bat control. A clip of that would work for me.
The White Sox seem to have a handful of older players who seem to be on the downside of their career while making a ton of money. The general manager has always seemed eager to bring in old players at the expense of developing and keeping younger players -- resulting in an old boring team without much hope for improvement in the near future. Does Kenny Williams have the fortitude, courage and the ability to turn the roster around in the next few years so that the White Sox can be a winning team again sometime in the next four to five years? -- Tom, Western Springs
I think he does. I also think he's not going to give players away, which is why he gave John Danks an extension and elected to hold onto Gavin Floyd for now.
After signing Fukudome to serve as a fourth outfielder, do you think there is any possibility that they may take a look at free agent Aaron Miles? I know there are a few internal candidates for the back-up infield spot, but it doesn't seem that any of them play shortstop or third. -- Matt, Chicago
Brent Morel and Alexei Ramirez are relatively young and should play at least 140 games. Brent Lillibridge has played third in the past, and Ozzie Martinez, a shortstop-second baseman, is eager to play third if asked.
If Beckham continues to struggle through the first two months of the season, can you see Lillibridge getting a shot at second base? -- Patrick, Chicago
Yes, although Brent's all-around defense could hurt him in this case. I think Ozzie Martinez has a shot.
For the first time in probably more than a decade I'm not at all excited about the Sox's upcoming season, nor do I care that spring training is starting up soon. If possible, can you tell me why I shouldn't feel this way? -- Mike Pensinger, Oak Lawn
Barring a couple of hitters having career years and couple more from the pitching staff, the Sox are going to be right around .500 again, at best. They just don't have the talent to compete. On top of that, they really aren't doing much to get better. Alejandro De Aza, Viciedo, Morel, Tyler Flowers, etc., are serviceable, but how do you build a team around them? Beckham has disappointed the last couple of years and Paul Konerko cannot last forever. My question is why in the world would I commit to buying game tickets or season tickets or even care if the Sox win or lose when it looks like the owner and GM are not interested in winning? -- Shawman65; Lafayette, Ind.
I didn't always root for the home team growing up in the Bay Area, but I'd make an effort to see an opposing star if he came to town. That's the best I can tell you if your heart isn't in the Sox this season.
Oh, and if you were a Sox fan in 1972, those uniforms with red pinstripes are worth seeing on Sundays.
Have the White Sox ever had a truly great, five-tool center fielder? We pine for Aaron Rowand, who was pretty good, or, if we're old enough to remember the '59 Sox, wax nostalgic about the fast but weak-hitting Jim Landis. Chet Lemon was okay. Ken Berry was good defensively but couldn't hit. Good teams are built up the middle, right? We've had our share of great -- or at least near-great -- shortstops (e.g., Luis Aparicio, Guillen) but why not center fielders? Isn't this as good a place to begin rebuilding as any? -- Steve Goldberg, Oak Park
One of the biggest misses was believing (including yours truly) that Brian Anderson was going to be a dependable five-tool player. The Sox had a solid five-tool center field prospect. He was Chris Young, who was dealt to Arizona as part of the Javier Vazquez deal.
Trayce Thompson might have a chance to be that kind of player as a left-handed hitter. I look forward to watching him in spring training, although he's a few years away.
I am probably the biggest Sox fan in Pennsylvania, and when they went to the World Series for the reasonable price of $1,000 to sit in the last row, I saw Game 1 of the World Series. I always said if they made it, I would go. My question is with a new manager, who seems that the players will respond to, do you think Beckham, Rios, Peavy, and Dunn can have bounce back seasons? Will a new voice, Ventura, make a difference with these players? -- Paul Greenberg; Jenkintown, Pa.
I think all of the players you mentioned are capable of bouncing back, but I don't think all of them will. It's just asking too much to believe that.
I'm not sure how much of a difference Robin will make with those guys, with the possible exception of Beckham. I'm more curious to see how new hitting coach Jeff Manto does with Rios and Dunn.
Much has been written and said about the White Sox minor league system being bereft of talent. Obviously, the strategy over the past number of years has been to trade prospects for major league veterans in an effort to 'win now.' This past off-season, however, the opposite was true. They hired a new Latin American scouting director, but are the Sox serious about using their minor league system to produce talent for the big league club, or should we expect that the Sox will continue to use minor league players as currency for major league veterans? Does Rick Hahn view the purpose of the minor league system the same way Kenny Williams does? What are the Sox doing to improve their minor league system from a structural, cultural, talent evaluation and development standpoint? And, how long will it be before the minor league system can be in a position to consistently produce major league players? -- Dishonest Abe, Bourbonnais
I answered some of this earlier. When you aim for division titles every year, you're going to pay the price sooner or later if you keep dealing prospects without a deep reservoir of minor league talent. This happened to San Francisco during the latter stages of the Barry Bonds era, and they eventually made a commitment to their farm system and won a World Series three years after Bonds retired.
Do you think that Kenny will clean house and trade any moveable veterans by the July trade deadline? -- John Kennedy; Fairfield, Iowa
Absolutely. But keep in mind that some players, such as Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski, Dunn, Jake Peavy and Danks have full trade veto rights for 2012, and Rios has a limited no-trade clause.
What can the Sox do about their low rated farm system? Also, why can't the Sox pull off and trade rather than lose free agents and get nothing in return. -- Frank Johnson; Whitefish Bay, Wisc.
The Sox don't care for those rankings, and certainly they've been able to make trades because other teams have been interested in their younger players. They just need to have more successful drafts like the 2008 class and strike gold with an impact player.
The Sox did try to trade Carlos Quentin before the trade deadline, but at least two teams were leery of his health.
Did not Mark Buehrle sign for about the same money that the Sox had been paying him and did the Sox really have an opportunity to keep him? -- John Hollingsworth; Sioux Falls,S.D.
Buehrle got a $2 million raise over his previous contract, and I don't believe the Sox were interested in giving $58 million over four years to a 32-year-old pitcher, no matter how successful and healthy he was.
I'm not sure I understand the level of pessimism that surrounds the Sox going into 2012. Although 2011 was a big disappointment, there seems to still be plenty to be excited about going forward: emerging young players (Chris Sale, Viciedo, Addison Reed, etc.) veterans capable of nice bounce-back seasons (Dunn, Beckham, Rios, etc.), less drama in the dugout. It seems during the last 10 years when expectations have been the lowest (2005, 2008), the team has had its best seasons. Isn't there some room for optimism? -- Robert, Madison, Wisc.
Given what has been said about the White Sox; past, present, and future, shouldn't they just disband the team? -- Joe Dorchack, Bolingbrook
Yes, there is some room for optimism, but a lot has to happen.
During the 2004 winter meetings, a high level talent evaluator told me KW was doing the right thing in shifting the Sox's emphasis from slugging to more pitching, speed and better defense.
There's no guarantee Detroit will win, but I think the Tigers' pitching and offense is too deep.
We keep hearing how the Sox must have bounce back years from Dunn, Rios, Beckham,and Peavy. What if they don't come back? Is there a contingency plan for second base and DH? -- Nicholas Goetz; Lockport
Robin has stressed competition throughout the roster, so they should hope Lillibridge or Martinez is ready if Beckham struggles, and that Fukudome or Dan Johnson can contribute as a DH if Dunn starts off miserably again.
While most "experts" are picking the Sox to be one of the lower rung teams this year, the level of talent (sans last year's stats) seems to be much higher. Am I being too much of a homey to think that we will be still playing meaningful games in September? -- Bill Schreiber, Roseville
The schedule makers didn't do the Sox any favors by scheduling six of their first nine games against defending AL champion Texas and runner-up Detroit. They also will play at World Series champion St. Louis and against NL runner-up Milwaukee in interleague play.
I wouldn't call you a homer as much as saying you might be a tad optimistic. But stranger things have happened.
Do you think the Sox have a better shot this year because they have more players who have something to prove? Also do you think what's required is a total rebuild? A slow start this year and that's likely to happen at 35th & Shields, eh? -- Paul Nelson; Seattle, Wash.
I think too much has to happen. Specifically, the rotation must make up for the loss of Buehrle's innings, and Dunn, Rios and Beckham (or at least two of the three) must rebound, as well as Viciedo picking up the power that Quentin once provided.
I honestly could see a rebound in 2013, but that's based more on the ascent of Ramirez, Viciedo and Danks as marquee players.
If either Rios or Dunn start the season hot, are they movable? -- Ray Mark, Westmont
Yes, but Dunn has full no-trade rights and Rios has limited no-trade rights.
The radio and TV guys should ask-on air-for interesting questions from viewers ... on the game, the Sox' history, strategies, suggestions, etc. Listeners would learn a lot. It would spice up the broadcasts. -- Steve Thulander; Fairfield, Iowa
I'm all for spicing up the broadcasts! You know it will be a long season if Ed Farmer starts discussing Notre Dame's quarterback situation in June.
Although we lost some strength in our rotation with Buehrle and Sergio Santos gone, I believe we still have a strong rotation with Sale taking the mound. I'm also predicting Peavy will bounce back like an ace along with Dunn and Rios. But my concern is Beckham. I don't like his swagger to his swings. It seems like he just swings for Holy Marys! Can his swing be corrected? Also, why did the Sox trade a young powerful slugger like Quentin? And to end up with Fukudome? Where's the logic in this? -- Dan Moreno, Garfield Ridge
Gordon needs to show better plate discipline. Quentin was one year away from free agency, had plenty of nagging injuries and Viciedo is ready. The Sox aren't expecting Fukudome to play every day, but he's an intriguing option.
Can you tell me where Jeff Cox has landed? What a great character and representative of baseball -- I will miss him on the Southside. -- Mike Rogan; Ashland, Ore.
I'll miss his dissertations on base running in spring training and some of his theories on sending runners and testing the arms of outfielders.
One of the reasons I wrote a story on Cox becoming fully vested in Major League Baseball's pension plan was because of the possibility he and others could be out of work some day. MLB has one of the best pension plans in the country if you're fully vested, and I know a few coaches around baseball who are grateful for that, and some former managers/coaches/players who are bummed that they have to share that with their ex-spouses.
Cox was in line for a minor league job with the Los Angeles Angels, but that apparently fell through.
Rumors have it that the Sox are in the running for Jorge Soler, the Cuban outfielder. A lot has been written about Yoenis Cespedes, who we missed out on. Can you tell us a little about what skills make him worth pursuing? Can you compare his skills to someone already in the "bigs"? If we win out, does he have any chance of playing this year? -- Peter; Dallas
From what I've been told by a scouting director who has seen Soler play, he is about two years away from reaching the majors, but the comparisons to Mike Stanton are accurate.
Although it's awhile away, who should the Sox seek to accomplish in the upcoming draft? I think David Dahl looks pretty good at No. 13. -- Joshua S., Chicago
I like the scouting report on Dahl and the comparison to Colby Rasmus. The offseason trades replenished pitching in the farm system. Two players that intrigue me and might be available are Max Fried, a left-hander from Harvard-Westlake High School in Southern California who signed a letter of intent to UCLA and Stanford third baseman Stephen Piscotty.
But evaluations are fluid.
Do you think it would help if Dunn were to play in the field rather than simply be a DH? Perhaps it would allow him to get into the rhythm of the game and help his mindset. I don't know where he could play, but that's not my question. That seems to be the only difference between his time in the NL and now. I think he sits on the bench and lets negative thoughts into his head. -- Mark, Libertyville
The idea of playing Dunn more in the field was raised by a veteran National League scout who believe Dunn would get back to a routine that he was more familiar with in the NL. He thought it would work, especially since Konerko is getting older and could use more of a break as a DH.
I have been an unflappable White Sox fan all my life, but I have never been as upset as I have with Dunn situation. Has any player ever admitted that and done the right thing, like RETIRE on his own? This would save lots of money, allow the Sox to reload, and Dunn would still leave baseball wealthy and with his head up. -- Fred Goldman; Birmingham, Ala.
Adam has plenty to prove, so he's not going to walk away soon.
Gil Meche retired with about $12 million left on his contract with Kansas City a few years back.
Is Tyler Flowers a top-flight major league catcher? I know we have been told to be patient, but Pierzynski can't go on forever. -- Keek; Tucson, Ariz.
It's another test for Flowers and the Sox's staff to see if he can make enough improvement to handle the full-time duties in the future. This year will be interesting because Tyler won't be playing every day for the first time in a while.
What are your thoughts on the state of the White Sox farm system? Is it in as bad of shape as I've read about? Do you have any update on how Jared Mitchell looks and whether or not we can expect a sampling of him later this year (if and when the wheels come off) or starting in 2013? -- Mark Ott, New Lenox
I look at it somewhat differently because many of their top players were dealt in trades. I don't have a problem with the Sox moving Sale to the rotation, mostly because they don't have anyone better than Zach Stewart or Dylan Axelrod who could challenge Sale. They've added more infielders but need more power-hitting prospects.
Of this year's newly acquired prospects, which have the best chance to help the Sox this season? -- Wayne; Huntsville, Ala.
I would say Jhan Marinez and Simon Castro have a chance to help the bullpen.
If Sale shows limitations in starting role in spring training, how fast will the Sox switch him back to the bullpen? -- D. Loucks; El Paso, Tex.
I don't think he'll be rushed back to the bullpen quickly, primarily because they view him now as only a fifth starter while he builds up arm strength.
It seems the last four or five spring trainings under Ozzie Guillen the Sox finished with one of the worse records, and subsequently started slow out of the gate once the regular season started. I realize spring training is what it is, but there seems to be some correlation with their poor spring training records and their slow starts when the whistle blows. Therefore, maybe they need to start taking spring training a little more serious! Also, I heard that they are planning on keeping Rios in center. If they must play him, I think they'd be better off with him in left. -- Dan K., Chicago Ridge
I expect Rios to play more in left field, with De Aza starting in center because he's currently a better defensive outfielder than Rios.
Why were the Sox able to sign Danks for pretty much the same deal Buehrle got with Miami? Would have more sense to keep Buehrle and ship Danks elsewhere. -- L. Jones, Chicago
The Sox weren't going to give a five-year, $65 million contract or a four-year, $58 million deal to a 32-year-old left-hander, no matter how successful or healthy he was.
Many of the moves that Williams has made can be understood, either in terms of finances, getting rid of under-performing players, or hopes for the incoming players, and also rarely to get rid of a player who doesn't fit in/has angered the hieracrhy (i.e. Jon Raunch). The move for which I still haven't heard a good explanation was trading Santos to the Blue Jays. Do you have any info on the mindset of Kenny on that one? I'm really looking for insight into Kenny's mind on this trade. -- Ron Reichman
Dr. Reichman, I hope you heal quickly from surgery and are able to get back on the links soon.
Santos was a terrific person and did whatever was asked of him. His parents raised him well, and he will be missed by his teammates.
Nestor Molina is highly valued, and the Sox love his upside, especially since he hasn't pitched that long since moving from third base. Sergio didn't have the greatest second half, so I'm curious to see how he performs in a highly competitive AL East.
What are the chances/odds of Scott Olsen making the team out of spring training? -- Jason Ellis, Zion
Olsen isn't in major league camp, and he'll have to show he's healthy before he's seriously considered for a major league job.
Tell me why the White Sox would even be considering Thornton as closer. He lacks an out-pitch and relies too heavily on the fastball. He's great for his seventh and eighth inning roles but his stuff does not intimidate you. I'd much rather leave the role to Reed. It's worked for guys like Bobby Jenks and Santos in past years. He has the closer pedigree and closed out high profile games in college for Stephen Strasburg. -- Vince; Atlanta, Ga.
Matt has more experience than any of the other candidates. But I'm in agreement with you that Reed should be given a chance. I'm of the belief that many times it's better to keep relievers in the roles they're most successful at. They did this with Linebrink, and we saw him struggle during the brief time he attempted to take over for Jenks in 2008.
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