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12/22/10 4:32 PM EST

Inbox: What will Sale's role be next season?

White Sox beat reporter Scott Merkin fields fans' questions

CHICAGO -- I spent a great deal of time thinking about what to get for White Sox fans as a present in honor of this cold but festive holiday season.

Thanks to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, general manager Ken Williams and assistant general manager Rick Hahn, there aren't many gifts left on the list to purchase, short of a 2011 World Series title. And unlike the White Sox organization, I'm working on a fixed budget and can't go "all-in" for all the passionate people who follow the team and read the site. Besides, 30,000 sweaters or gift cards to Chili's just doesn't feel right.

So, I've decided to give the White Sox fans the gift of the Inbox. It's a gift I intend to provide on a weekly basis, or as close to weekly as possible, for the entire 2011 season.

My Inbox opening would not be complete without a reference to my beloved Wolverines. For those combination White Sox/Michigan fans out there, enjoy the Gator Bowl and then ring in the new year with a new football coach and the Michigan men's basketball team reaching the NCAA Tournament.

In 2010, Chris Sale's contribution to the White Sox was indisputably huge. I was wondering what capacity you see Sale in for the White Sox in 2011: starter or bullpen? I remember Williams saying that the White Sox were looking for him to join the rotation, but finding solid bullpen help is so difficult.
-- Rich, Chicago

Right now, I would say Sale is the White Sox closer, even if he prepares as a starter during Spring Training.

That guess is not meant as any slight to Matt Thornton, who certainly can handle this job and probably would become one of the American League's elite closers. He has the makeup and, of course, the pure talent.

Thornton ultimately might become a victim of his own All-Star success. The Sox rely on Thornton to shut down hitters in the seventh or the eighth or possibly both innings and might feel more comfortable with the rookie Sale solely working the ninth.

Sale could end up as a starter. But pitching coach Don Cooper has stressed to me during two offseason conversations how he doesn't think it's good for Sale's development to use him as a starter in place of Jake Peavy for four or five weeks and then put him back into the bullpen. Remember, just because Sale closes or relieves this season doesn't mean he can't be a top-flight starter in the future. Check out Texas and its potential plans for Neftali Feliz as an example.

Who do you think gets the ball on Opening Day? Based on what we saw in '09, should it be Edwin Jackson?
-- Chike, Akron, Ohio

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There's no question in my mind that if the rotation stays the same, meaning no trades and Peavy is not quite ready health-wise, then Mark Buehrle extends his franchise-record to nine Opening Day starts. Buehrle might defer to John Danks, who had the better overall numbers in 2010, but Buehrle still is the ace of the staff and as competent as any hurler in the rotation.

This start also could be Buehrle's last Opening Day appearance as part of the White Sox. His four-year, $56-million deal ends after the 2011 campaign.

If A.J. Pierzynski goes, will Tyler Flowers or Josh Phegley be your man?
-- Thomas, Chicago

Ok, this question was submitted before the White Sox swept in at the last minute and kept Pierzynski in Chicago. But let's look at the Flowers/Phegley part of this question.

Flowers came to the White Sox from Atlanta as part of the Javier Vazquez deal with the tag of being Major League-ready in regard to his capabilities with the bat. It was his game-calling and defense behind the plate in need of work.

That defensive improvement has come for Flowers, who has worked hard to become a good target for White Sox pitchers, and those I've talked to have no problem throwing to the young backstop. An inconsistent 2010 season offensively with Triple-A Charlotte, bordering on poor, will keep Flowers in the Minors.

Meanwhile, I've heard nothing but rave reviews about Phegley's development in talking to people within the organization during this offseason. White Sox director of player development Buddy Bell believes Phegley could have helped the club in 2011 if not for a blood disorder known as idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, which is characterized by abnormally low platelet counts, costing Phegley part of his 2010 season. Now, Phegley is healthy and ready to go for '11.

Nobody has given up on Flowers within the system, and he would be the next catcher in line if anything happened to Pierzynski or backup Ramon Castro. But Williams is certainly not one to hold a player hostage, so to speak. If Phegley has in fact jumped Flowers and with Pierzynski in place for two years, Williams would consider moving Flowers in the right deal.

Is there a chance Gordon Beckham gets traded during the offseason?
-- Marla, Park Forest, Ill.

Williams once said he would trade his son, Ken Williams Jr., from the White Sox if it made the team better. So, never say never where Beckham or pretty much anyone on the roster is concerned.

With that disclaimer provided, Beckham is about as close to never as you can get in regard to being part of a White Sox trade. The club still believes Beckham has Michael Young-type of potential, and for Beckham to go anywhere, it would have to be part of a major trade with a huge return.

Beckham did not seem overly upset about his rumored connection to the White Sox bid for Adrian Gonzalez when I talked to him during the Winter Meetings. In fact, Beckham's high level of excitement indicated he was going to have a tough time waiting for the season to start in February.

What's the White Sox greatest need in this offseason?
-- Tom, Schaumburg, Ill.

They still need another pitcher. I hear Williams has looked at fourth or fifth type starters who could fill in for Peavy while he's working his way back from the detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his right posterior shoulder, but then could move into the bullpen when Peavy comes back. Someone like Ian Snell, John Maine or Jeremy Bonderman could be a candidate.

Of course, the team could add another reliever and move Sale into the rotation. Then, they would examine the rotation when Peavy returns and see where Sale belongs. That plan was explained by Williams to MLB.com back in September.

Will this starting rotation look the same on Opening Day or is someone on his way to another team in a trade?
-- Susie, Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Jackson, Danks, Buehrle and Gavin Floyd all figure to be targets of teams in need of a rotation upgrade with first-tier options dwindling through free agency. Don't look for any of them to depart. The White Sox will win or lose through their rotation, and there's no reason for Williams to weaken a strong suit that probably opens the season already one pitcher short.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Being Ozzie Guillen and follow him on twitter at @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.