Inbox: Who will help Sox and can they contend?
Beat reporter Scott Merkin fields questions from Chicago fans
CHICAGO -- The Feb. 23 report date for White Sox pitchers and catchers has allowed me to take care of things I should have taken care of months ago in the offseason: a trip to the dentist, a trip to the eye doctor and getting my tax information in order.
Maybe I'll even take in a Bulls game before departing for Arizona. But the focus soon will be strictly baseball-- unless I have a cavity. Those White Sox fans I interacted with at SoxFest and as one of the numerous award winners at the Pitch & Hit Club banquet on Jan. 29 in Lombard, Ill., seemed cautiously optimistic. Let's see if the people asking this week's questions feel the same.
How does the Victor Martinez injury and the Prince Fielder signing affect the White Sox and the rest of the American League Central?
-- Laura, Chicago
It's somewhat of a wash for the Tigers, who enter the 2012 season as the prohibitive division favorite. Martinez stood out as a huge contributor on that highly successful 2011 Tigers squad, and not just for his strong offensive production. He was a plus in terms of his clubhouse presence and leadership, from what I've been told.
Adding Fielder, one of the game's most prolific sluggers and another character guy, should do nothing but increase the Tigers' overall presence as an American League power. And yes, I know all about Detroit's 2008 struggles when adding Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, and yes, I know about the White Sox going all-in last year and finishing all-out at 79-83. If I'm the White Sox, though, I don't even worry about the Tigers unless you are playing them head-to-head.
Have a question about the White Sox?
E-mail your query to MLB.com White Sox beat reporter Scott Merkin for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Any team that wins this division is probably going to need to be in the 90-victory range. This White Sox team doesn't exactly look like 90 wins on paper, so they need to focus on getting their house in order before they worry about chasing down favorites.
Hello Scott. Which players do you think will start the 2012 season on the bench? I know Brent Lillibridge and Tyler Flowers will be two keys.
-- Tony, Downers Grove, Ill.
Figure 23 spots are set with nine position players, 12 pitchers and Lillibridge and Flowers. Although Lillibridge will see some infield time, I'm guessing spot No. 24 goes to either Ozzie Martinez or Eduardo Escobar as the utility infielder. That math leaves one spot.
This final roster opening could end up as a fifth outfielder, which would be good news for someone like Jordan Danks, who is the organization's best defensive outfielder and adds speed. But that last position player probably will be a hybrid, someone like newly signed Dan Johnson, who has nine career games at third base and four in the outfield, or even Jim Gallagher, who can play the outfield as well as first base.
Don't look for general manager Ken Williams to add any bigger names for the bench before Spring Training.
Could Dayan Viciedo see any playing time at first base this year on Paul Konerko's off-days? I think he would be a good candidate to fill the first-base spot after PK's run is over.
-- Eric, Decatur, Ill.
Viciedo becomes one of the options to give Konerko a rare break or shift Konerko to designated hitter for a game or two, but the White Sox are set on making Viciedo their right fielder. Don't expect Viciedo to slide out of that position too often, unless he gets a start at DH.
Look for Adam Dunn to serve as a backup at first, and Johnson or Gallagher would capably fill that reserve role if they make the team from a non-roster invite.
With so many ifs in the picture this year, I agree that the White Sox are a third- or fourth-place team in 2012. Would A.J. Pierzynski accept a trade to the Marlins around midseason for another playoff run with Ozzie Guillen and Mark Buehrle?
-- Bob, Chandler, Ariz.
Pierzynski told me during the offseason that the 2012 season definitely will not be his last in the Majors, and that he would love to finish his career with the White Sox. I'm not sure if the Sox, at least at this point, have plans for Pierzynski past 2012, when his two-year deal ends.
As we've talked about before in the Inbox, Pierzynski has earned the no-trade veto power and won't just wave it for any deal. He wants to win, though, and if the White Sox fall out of contention early, I could see Pierzynski consenting to a deal that would be a good fit personally and for his family.
I remember asking Buehrle last Spring Training about his no-trade clause. He gave me a great answer, talking about how much the White Sox had done for him and his family, and he would help the team if the situation called for it or worked. He also spoke of not wanting to think about no-trade clauses before what looked like a promising season even began. That theory works the same for Pierzynski and Konerko, for that matter.
Are you bothered that we are counting on the rebound season of three players (one-third of the lineup)? The real concern for me is Gordon Beckham. We aren't counting on a rebound, but a career year. He has had one good half-season, and the rest were very average or poor. Plus we have no one to replace Beckham. Third place for this team might be a dream.
-- Brian, Kansas
I'm not sure that Beckham needs to hit .300 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs, which would constitute a career year, for his 2012 season to be a success. If he continues to play great defense and gets the average into his .270 range from 2009, with increased extra-base and run-producing production, then he will have hit his goals. But you are right, Brian, in that there is nobody behind Beckham, unless Lillibridge moves back into the infield.
Dunn and Alex Rios will have strong comeback 2012 seasons. You can mark it down right now; I have good feelings about both of their upcoming results.
Besides the names we have already heard, who do you think could make their debut for the White Sox this season?
-- Ryan, Elmhurst, Ill.
It sounds as if the White Sox would be surprised if Nestor Molina does not make his Major League debut this season. I've also heard good things about Simon Castro, who pitching coach Don Cooper joked about being 7-feet tall at SoxFest. Jacob Petricka needs Minor League innings, but ultimately, he will end up as a reliever and could end up in Chicago's bullpen later in the season.
Tyler Saladino quickly is rising through the system, but doesn't sound as if he's targeted for a 2012 arrival. My pick for a breakout Minor League year is Jared Mitchell, who sounds ready to go almost two years removed from that ankle injury.
Are you a Hall of Fame voter? Do you think Frank Thomas makes it in on the first ballot or at all?
-- Nick, Park Ridge, Ill.
Since I'm not a member of the BBWAA, I do not have a Hall of Fame vote. But the Big Hurt is a lock to get in the Hall of Fame, and I'm guessing it will be a first-ballot election. He did it the right way and was as dominant as any player in baseball for almost a decade, barring a couple of injury-shortened seasons.
I love following Guillen on Twitter the past couple of years. Does Robin Ventura have a Twitter account, and will he talk about White Sox goings on?
-- Rick, Schaumburg, Ill.
Guillen remains infinitely entertaining on Twitter, but remember he never talked about the ins and outs of the White Sox with his account. Ventura does not have a Twitter account and has no plans to start one.