Mark Gonzales' White Sox mailbag
What is it about baseball that requires/supports such a large minor-league system, compared to the NFL or NBA? Is baseball really that much more difficult to master that it takes years in the minors to improve enough to advance the major-league level? I frankly find that hard to believe. Or do the economics just "work" well enough to allow such a large system, that they do it as a luxury and another industry unto itself? John, Columbus, Ohio

Tommy Lasorda always asked if a doctor operated on 10 patients, and only three survived, would that doctor be considered a success? Then he would ask if a batter collected three hits in 10 at-bats, would he be considered a success?

The point he was trying to make was that hitting a baseball is the toughest thing to do, and therefore (in his opinion) baseball was the toughest sport. Therefore you see players needing to hone their skills in the minors.

I'm not an NBA scout, but I wish more student-athletes would stay in school longer to polish their basketball skills as well as maximize a free education. Ditto with football, although more student-athletes are redshirted and deem themselves ready after two or three years of playing. I understand a lucrative signing bonus can give their families some instant security, but sometimes players find themselves out of work within a few years after they sign.

You do see more baseball players spending less time in the minors. I'm not trying to downplay the travel of the other sports, but there is a big test of maturity when it comes to baseball players being away from home for the first time, traveling by bus in the minors and preparing to play every day.

You wrote, "I can't see Jackson being moved to closer. He's got too many good pitches to be used as a closer, and he and Danks are the two most durable pitchers in the rotation right now." I have to disagree. They're not more durable than Mark Buehrle. Maybe you can tell me has Buehrle ever going on the DL let alone missing a start? Tad Verdun, Chicago

I'm sure you point to his impressive run of 200-plus innings and 30+plus starts for 10 consecutive seasons. Those are the longest active streaks in the majors (no thanks to Joe West).

But I point to now. Buehrle finally embarked on a shoulder strengthening program a few years ago on the suggestion of pitching coach Don Cooper because of tough second halves. It helped to some extent last year, although he was 1-4 with a 5.58 ERA in his final eight starts in 2010.

During the first five weeks of the 2008 season, Buehrle had seven, six and five days of rest before three starts in an effort to ensure his health. That extra rest hasn't been afforded to Danks and Jackson.

Obviously, Danks and Jackson are much younger. Danks threw more innings than Buehrle last season, and Jackson threw 209 innings with two teams. Jackson also threw a 149-pitch no-hitter last season that I still shake my head for several reasons. I consider this a passing of the torch, although I expect Buehrle to start opening day at Cleveland on April 1 because he's deserves that honor.

I wouldn't be surprised if Jackson, not Floyd, was the No. 2 starter, followed by Danks.

While I think signing Dunn was a mistake. He's here, so where do think that leaves Viciedo? Two years In the minors trying to learn to catch the ball, or will the Sox make the mistake of trading him? I didn't know the Sox hadn't signed Freddy Garcia, Can you explain why? He was as good as anybody last year. Warren Weaver, Long Beach, Calif.

Competition for an outfield spot will be intriguing with the likes of Viciedo, Alejandro DeAza, Lastings Milledge and Brent Lillibridge. The Sox are in a win-now mode, but they don't want to stunt Viciedo's development. I still think he'll play a role on the major league roster at some point. Young power is hard to find.

I don't blame Freddy for signing with the Yankees. Once Peavy returns, the rotation will be set, and Freddy isn't a long reliever.

I'm sure you spoke to Mark Buehrle during SoxFest. Is he still inclined towards retirement after this season? He might not be an ace any longer, but he's still a serviceable workhorse. Your guess on the odds of his playing more ball on the South Side after 2011? Might he transition to a closer like Smoltz did? It could work fine if most of his first innings have been scoreless ones. I'd like to see him stay with his attitude and work ethic.Michael, South Florida

I was somewhat surprised to hear Mark keep the door open toward returning. The end of the 2011 season is a long way away, and the shoulder strengthening program seemed to invigorate him.

But it's a long season, he's logged a lot of innings and he values his family life very highly. I can't see him shifting to a closer role, but there are many variables involving the state of the Sox's rotation in 2012.

Welcome to 2011, here we go: I can't see the Sox going the whole season with Thornton, Santos, Crain, and Ohman sharing the closer role. I predict they'll move someone for a "real" closer. If Viciedo can handle the outfield, are we looking at Quentin being moved at some point? (If you're reading this Kenny, please keep Sale as a starter!) Cliff Jordan, Chicago

I'd like to see Carlos stay healthy enough to get 500 at-bats and see where his numbers are at the end of the season. There might be a temptation to move a player to acquire a closer or address a glaring weakness.