12/08/10 4:09 PM EST
White Sox turn attention to addressing 'pen
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Best, as in adding all of the necessary pieces to present a championship fit for the White Sox -- at least on paper. That plan started with Omar Vizquel and now has taken in big-ticket free-agent performers such as Adam Dunn, A.J. Pierzynski and team captain Paul Konerko, who returned Wednesday with a three-year, $37.5 million deal.
Need a left-handed slugger in the middle of the order? Check.
Want a right-handed run producer to work with Dunn, not to mention bringing back one of the greatest leaders in team history? Winter Meetings goal accomplished.
Williams filled all the team's voids except for a glaring bullpen deficiency. Yes, Matt Thornton is more than capable of becoming an elite closer, and the hard-throwing left-hander might start the 2011 campaign in that role. Chris Sale and Sergio Santos possess electric stuff, and Tony Pena probably will move into a late-inning slot.
But in a lesson learned from the great 2007 bullpen debacle, the White Sox don't want to leave two or three relief vacancies for young arms. So Williams will target another veteran reliever or two, although that addition won't come through free agency.
With the 2011 payroll at just over $106 million for 15 players -- not to mention the arbitration-eligible players such as Carlos Quentin, John Danks and Pena -- the proverbial well is dry.
"We have to go into a holding pattern right now just for a minute and try to be as creative as possible on the trade front," Williams said. "The free-agent front is a little expensive for us right now in filling those needs, so we have to try another way.
"That's all right. We've done it before."
Free-agent relievers such as Kerry Wood, Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier are off the table for the White Sox. They will have to make a move through a trade, with a few factors first to be decided.
Jake Peavy continues to stay ahead of schedule in his recovery from a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his right posterior shoulder, which prematurely ended his 2010 campaign, according to Williams. But the White Sox will not rush the right-hander's return.
Peavy could be ready in early April or early June. There's no timetable being set by Williams.
"You know what happens when you put timetables on people?" Williams said. "You guys get around the guy and every day it's, 'How are you doing?' Or 'Aren't you coming back on this day or this week?' It puts pressure on the guy and he's not allowed to go out there when he's actually ready.
"He'll be back when he's back. We want the guy we traded for. We will allow him to completely heal and completely be ready to go. Until then, we've got it covered."
Sale would be that White Sox cover. Williams confirmed Wednesday how Sale will prepare himself as a starter going into and during Spring Training, something Williams first told MLB.com in September, but he could move to the bullpen when Peavy returns.
It's a split move White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper recently described as not the optimum situation for the 22-year-old Sale, and in all honesty, the rookie southpaw could emerge as the South Siders' closer. He certainly has the makeup and the stuff to fit the job description.
"You need something to get three outs with, whether it's a great slider, sinker, or a 97- or 98-mph fastball," said Pierzynski, who made a Wednesday appearance at the Winter Meetings. "The special guys are guys with more than one pitch who are able to do it.
"Look at a guy like [Bobby] Jenks, who was good for so long. Chris Sale has that ability. You need one pitch and one thing to go to with the bases loaded and the best hitter in the game up, whoever that is, or when facing the best hitter in the lineup. You can throw that pitch and get guys out."
If Sale stays in the bullpen, the White Sox have two of the best southpaw relievers in the American League. Regardless of Sale's placement, Williams quipped how they might look for a situational left-hander who can "get [Justin] Morneau and [Joe] Mauer out." To be the best, the White Sox still have to beat the best.
Traveling the trade route seems to be the direction for this White Sox bullpen addition. Williams would prefer not to move anyone off the Major League roster, and certainly not one of his starting contributors from a top-notch rotation or right fielder Quentin.
Dayan Viciedo, who is blocked by the signing of Dunn and Konerko and has been surpassed by Brent Morel at third, could be on the block. The same could hold true for versatile utility man Mark Teahen, as Williams tries to put the finishing touches on what he hopes will be a baseball masterpiece.
"There will be clarity soon," Williams said. "The fortunate thing is it's two relief spots, and really we can close with either Sale or Thornton. It's just getting to the closer. We just have to make sure it's the right fit, the right pieces.
"What I'm saying is we have to get creative and take a look at everything. If there's a deal that makes us better for today or at least even for today and allows us payroll flexibility for today and tomorrow and youth as well ... I'm always looking for that."