Tough year ushers in big changes for White Sox
Ozzie, Buehrle depart for Miami, as Ventura takes reins
CHICAGO -- By agreeing to terms with free agents such as designated hitter Adam Dunn and right-handed reliever Jesse Crain, not to mention bringing back Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski, the White Sox went all-in chasing a World Series title for the 2011 season.
Approximately one year later, the team looked to be on the verge of going all-out -- but really and truly finds itself in a state of offseason limbo.
That switch in status from all-in to all-out over the last 365 days seems almost too easy of a shot coming off the team's 79-83 debacle -- and the White Sox current retooling or modified rebuilding process isn't exactly a complete turnaround in outlook from this past season. Yet, there have been quite a few changes on the South Side of Chicago.
Ozzie Guillen's eight-year run as the White Sox manager came to an end in late September, two games before the season's close, with Guillen moving on to take over the Miami Marlins. That departure also signaled the conclusion of a tempestuous two years involving the friendship between Guillen and general manager Ken Williams slowly dissolving.
Robin Ventura became the 39th manager in franchise history, bringing his low-key demeanor and astute baseball mind to his first professional coaching job of any kind. Meanwhile, Konerko reached 30 homers and 100 RBIs in the same season for the fifth time in his career, not mention picking up his 2,000th career hit on Aug. 23. Pierzynski recorded his 10th straight season with at least 1,000 innings caught.
Mark Buehrle, the White Sox model of consist excellence for over a decade, won in double digits, pitched at least 200 innings and made at least 30 starts for his 11th straight season. Then, Buehrle signed a four-year, $58 million deal with the Marlins in December.
Here's a look at the Top Five moments changing the franchise over the past year, ultimately changing the White Sox outlook for the next campaign.
5. Buehrle takes his talents to South Beach
Not just a staple on the field but also as a clubhouse leader, the easygoing Buehrle entered free agency for the first time in his storied career. The veteran southpaw joked at the end of the 2011 season about not being sure of other teams having interest in him. He also told MLB.com that a change to the National League appealed to him, after 12 years in the American League Central and an Interleague career high in victories.
Somewhere around 14 teams expressed interest in the 32-year-old -- with the Nationals, Marlins and Rangers his most serious pursuers. The White Sox never made an official offer to Buehrle, but gave Jeff Berry, his representative, the parameters under which they were operating. When Buehrle's camp came back one last time to the White Sox with their offers in hand, all they could do was wish him good luck.
His presence was extremely valuable with regard to everything from helping younger players to his charity work done with wife, Jamie, to even regularly catching the ceremonial first pitches. Buehrle's consistency on the mound leaves a huge void in the rotation.
4. Are they rebuilding or are they retooling?
Williams used the "R" word for the first time in his 12 years at the helm while sitting with Chicago media during the recently completed Winter Meetings at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. But the only trade to date made by the White Sox GM was shipping closer Sergio Santos to Toronto for Minor League starter Nestor Molina.
Santos was under affordable team control for potentially the next six years, after agreeing to an offseason multi-year deal. The White Sox still felt strongly about rookie Addison Reed eventually being able to fill Santos' closer role, and felt even stronger about getting younger with a Major League-ready talent such as Molina.
So, are the White Sox rebuilding or retooling? The five-year, $65 million deal agreed upon with new staff ace John Danks, which has yet to be officially announced, would suggest a move closer to going back all-in than even retooling. But that question will be more clearly answered by the Major League locale of Carlos Quentin, Gavin Floyd and Matt Thornton when Spring Training starts in late February, not to mention if the team pursues Cuban center fielder Yoenis Cespedes.
3. Dunn's forgettable debut
Actually, the first game for Dunn in a White Sox uniform featured a home run, double and four RBIs during a 15-10 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field. The DH's fortunes fell quickly and precipitously after that opener.
An emergency appendectomy slowed Dunn in the season's first week, but he never came close to finding his swing the rest of the year. Dunn hit a meager .159, with just 11 homers, 42 RBIs, 36 runs scored, a .292 on-base percentage and a .277 slugging percentage.
Offensive struggles from Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham, and Jake Peavy's ongoing injury recovery, contributed to the White Sox shortcomings. But Dunn's four-year, $56 million deal was at the heart of the $127 million franchise-record, all-in campaign. The team desperately needs the accomplished slugger to bounce back in 2012.
2. Two years of turbulence clears
An offseason dinner involving Williams and Guillen -- and the White Sox picking up Guillen's 2012 option at SoxFest 2011, before the '11 season began -- seemed to smooth over any residual hard feelings from the year before. But this on-field working relationship since 2004 closed out when the White Sox agreed to Guillen's request to let him out of his contract to pursue other opportunities.
It took Guillen about 24 hours to finalize his new deal with the Marlins, after the White Sox declined to talk about a contract extension with the manager who spearheaded their 2005 World Series title run. As for that brief era of good feeling between Williams and Guillen, another slow start didn't help the cause. A dispute over whether Minor League sensation Dayan Viciedo, who was Williams' choice, or leadoff man Juan Pierre should be playing every day in the outfield in early June seemed to re-start tensions. Basically, both sides needed a change at this point. Hitting coach Greg Walker moved on to the Braves in the same capacity, while bench coach Joey Cora joined Guillen in Miami.
1. Ventura returns to White Sox as manager
Names such as Sandy Alomar Jr., Davey Martinez, Terry Francona, Tony La Russa and even Ryne Sandberg were thrown around as possible Guillen replacements. Then, on Oct. 6, Ventura was named skipper and given a three-year deal.
To say the move was a surprise would be a bit of an understatement. Ventura, a good friend of Guillen and an organization favorite who worked under director of player development Buddy Bell for part of 2011, hadn't expressed much desire at becoming a full-time coach over the past three or four years -- but wasn't really asked about managing. Joining Ventura on his first staff are third-base coach Joe McEwing, hitting coach Jeff Manto and bench coach Mark Parent.