For Guillen, DH-by-committee the way to go
Keeping spot open allows more playing time for more bats
CHICAGO -- If Ozzie Guillen based his choice for Chicago's 2010 designated hitter solely on what he felt in his heart, then Jim Thome would be reporting to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., sometime in late February.
Guillen referred to Thome as a special player both on and off the field, and said it has been a "privilege" to manage the potential Hall of Famer. But the bottom line for Guillen -- and, really, everyone in the White Sox organization -- is winning.
In the mind of Chicago's manager, the best chance to become a champion in 2010 stands with filling the DH role by committee.
"Nobody is a bigger fan of Jim than me," said Guillen on Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field before meeting with a group of Spanish-language media at the Jim Beam Club as a lead-in to this weekend's sold-out SoxFest at the Palmer House Hilton. "But [the DH by committee] gives this ballclub an opportunity to give people more at-bats and to be flexible in different ways.
"We are not a home-run team anymore."
This last comment from the entertaining manager certainly was not aimed at demeaning Thome's potential contributions. Simply putting a healthy Thome in uniform projects to somewhere between 25 to 35 home runs and 75 to 90 RBIs, not to mention 100 walks. Factor in Thome having kept himself in phenomenal physical condition and the White Sox missing a big left-handed bat in the middle of the order, and Thome looks like an affordable complement to the attack.
Here's the problem for Guillen, though. He likes the 25-man roster in its current configuration, with the only remaining battles figuring to come down between Jayson Nix and Brent Lillibridge for the final position-player spot and between a plethora of hurlers for the seventh reliever.
Having an open spot at DH means a chance for Andruw Jones, Mark Kotsay and Nix, for example, to stay fresh off the bench and get plenty of at-bats. That unofficial vacancy also allows Guillen to present "days off" to such veterans as Paul Konerko, Juan Pierre and even Carlos Quentin without ever taking them out of the lineup.
Konerko has one of the better grasps of the game of any player in the White Sox organization, understanding the intricacies that add up to a winning team. But when the captain was asked about the DH-by-committee concept, he couldn't provide his usual definitive analysis.
"My answer is I have no idea, because I've never been on a team that did that," Konerko said. "During my first year or two, I DH'd a little with Frank [Thomas] at first base, but since 2000, every year I've been here, we've had a full-time DH other than a week or two here or there when someone had an injury.
"They seem to be confident it's the right thing to do, and Ozzie likes that idea. So we will see how it plays out. For me, I have to wait and see. I've never been part of a team to have a DH-by-committee going on."
Adding Thome almost certainly would mean the White Sox having to go with 11 pitchers on the staff instead of 12, which is not a preference of Guillen. Even with what shapes up to be one of the best rotations in all of baseball, Guillen understands the need for a middle reliever to help reduce Mark Buehrle's workload early in the season and to guard against a starter such as Freddy Garcia working five or six innings.
The White Sox certainly can't break camp with Omar Vizquel standing as the lone utility infielder or pinch-runner, so that roster spot would have to come from the pitching staff. In considering this potential move, Thome's playing time also comes into consideration.
A healthy dose of respect clearly exists for the White Sox toward the prolific slugger. And though winning a World Series stands as Thome's primary goal in the latter stages of his career, Guillen does not seem inclined to add Thome to use him just two or three times per week.
All of this reasoning doesn't mean that Thome falls completely out of play where the White Sox are concerned. During a Thursday appearance on Comcast SportsNet's Chicago Tribune Live talk show, Guillen mentioned that he had just gotten off the phone with Thome and planned to talk to general manager Ken Williams about the possible options for both sides.
As Guillen added, the decision would be much easier to stand by if Thome wasn't such a popular and valuable presence. In this instance, though, Guillen might eventually fall on the side of the team's changed philosophy as opposed to bringing back one of his all-time favorite players.
"We have that big left-handed bat for a couple of years, and I think the ballclub we have in the past is a club that can't create runs," Guillen said. "We still have guys who can hit 30 home runs, but I don't want them to come with the mentality that we need power.
"Sometime we will be down by one run in the ninth inning and wish we had [Frank] Thomas or Thome, but this is a different type of game. We have the ballclub to play baseball, make the catch and make the plays. We change everything around.
"It's not to say we will win. But we are going in the right direction. I think this team is almost set."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.