12/30/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
White Sox see future develop in unlucky '13
Ballclub begins transition to youthful core during disappointing season
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- There was no sugarcoating the White Sox 2013 season.
The club focused on contending in the American League Central, after sitting atop the division for 117 days in '12, thinking a team was in place to take that next postseason step.
Instead, the White Sox produced a season-long performance that left them just one loss short of 100. Anything and everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Robin Ventura's team.
Fortunes became so downtrodden for the White Sox that they actually finished 2-17 in head-to-head matchups with the Indians, including 14 straight losses to end the season.
"Yeah, they are better than us this year," said Ventura of the Indians, who claimed the AL's top Wild Card, after the final loss at Progressive Field. "They had our number. They just outplayed us."
That same analysis could apply to quite a few teams who played the White Sox in '13. But behind every dark cloud, there is some sort of silver lining.
For the White Sox, those rays of sunshine came from Chris Sale continuing his growth into one of Major League Baseball's top starting pitchers. It came in the form of Jose Quintana asserting himself as a No. 2 or No. 3 man as part of the rotation, and it came in the form of Alexei Ramirez's career-high 30 stolen bases.
It came in the form of reliever Jesse Crain's streak of 29 straight scoreless appearances, 29 straight scoreless innings and 31 games without allowing an earned run. Of course, by the end of August, Crain, Matt Thornton, Jake Peavy and Alex Rios all had been traded.
The depth and early appearance of the White Sox struggles allowed general manager Rick Hahn to begin the reshaping process in-season. His goal was to make sure there was no repeat performance, making it one of the prime memories from a season to forget.
5. In defense of the White Sox, there was none
So many things went wrong for the White Sox in 2013 that it's impossible to pin their shortcomings on one area.
There were injuries to integral players such as Gordon Beckham, Peavy, Crain, Gavin Floyd and Paul Konerko. The offense stood as the only American League unit to score fewer than 600 runs, and finished last in OPS+ and second-to-last in on-base percentage and OPS. But there might have been no greater defining area for the team's 99 losses than its .980 fielding percentage and 121 errors, which placed the White Sox second from the bottom in both categories.
An especially surprising factor in this demise is that basically the same group returned from 2012, when the White Sox defense was as good as any in baseball, with an upgrade added at third base. An unfortunately representative moment came on June 25 at home, when the White Sox ended up with a 5-4, walk-off victory over the Mets. But that walk-off was necessary when David Wright scored the game-tying run in the ninth as Daniel Murphy's routine infield popup dropped near the pitcher's mound as a hard-charging Beckham tripped and bumped into Conor Gillaspie. And Beckham was one of the team's most consistent defensive forces.
4. Dealing an ace from the top of the deck
Any doubts concerning Sale repeating his stellar starting effort from '12 and proving himself as one of the game's top starters were answered on Opening Day and then in many of his 29 starts to follow. The southpaw struck out seven over 7 2/3 scoreless innings in that first career opener, which finished in a 1-0 victory over the Royals. He topped that performance by taking a perfect game into the seventh on May 12 against the Angels before Mike Trout spoiled it with a single to center.
Sale settled for a one-hitter on that particular night as part of his 28 straight scoreless innings. The 24-year-old southpaw finished just 11-14, but records can be deceiving for a pitcher with a 3.07 ERA, 226 strikeouts over 214 1/3 innings and a 1.07 WHIP. He limited opposing hitters to a .230 average, with left-handers finishing at 20-for-148 with three extra-base hits. This effort solidified Sale's second straight All-Star appearance, and the five-year, $32.5 million contract extension agreed upon during Spring Training solidified Sale at the top of the White Sox rotation.
3. Steverson takes over the offense
The 2013 offense was almost as confounding as the 2013 defense or poor baserunning for that matter.
Hitting coach Jeff Manto pushed his group to the AL's fourth-highest runs scored total in '12, only to watch the White Sox slip from 748 to 598 in '13. They also dropped from 211 homers to just 148 in '13. These offensive shortcomings contributed to Manto being removed from his job at the end of the campaign and replaced in October by Todd Steverson.
Steverson coached the past 10 years in the Oakland organization, and his candidacy came up as the White Sox researched certain organizations where they admired their approach to hitting as well as their continuity of instruction from the Minors to the Majors. His philosophy of "selective aggressiveness" will be employed to help improve underachieving players such as Dayan Viciedo and Tyler Flowers, to name a few, not to mention being used for important newcomers such as Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson and Avisail Garcia.
2. Retooling? Reshaping? Just don't call it a rebuild
As mentioned above, the '13 debacle allowed Hahn and his staff to begin the reshaping process on the weekend before the All-Star break, when Thornton was traded to Boston. Through those ensuing trades of Peavy, Crain and Rios, Hahn provided payroll flexibility for future moves while also adding what some believe as the most crucial new part moving forward in right fielder Garcia.
That reshaping or retooling didn't end when the '13 campaign came to a close. The White Sox and Abreu, the coveted Cuban free agent, agreed on a six-year, $68 million deal, and the White Sox picked up a leadoff man and center fielder in Eaton by sending Hector Santiago to the Angels and Minor League outfielder Brandon Jacobs to the D-backs as part of a three-team deal during the Winter Meetings.
Hahn's work still wasn't finished. He expressed continued interest in D-backs third-base prospect Matt Davidson to Arizona general manager Kevin Towers after their Dec. 10 news conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and that short conversation eventually sent closer Addison Reed to Arizona for Davidson. "The Kids Can Play" has already been used by the White Sox as a marketing campaign, but "strengthening the core" might be the new mantra as Hahn has stayed true to his plan since he first brought it up about five months ago.
1. Captain, my captain. Konerko returns
Would he stay or would he go?
That question followed Konerko, arguably the face of the franchise for the past decade, throughout the season. Konerko didn't speak much on the decision during the campaign and basically said he needed a month away to truly process what he wanted to do. On Dec. 4, Konerko and the White Sox agreed on a $2.5 million deal with $1 million deferred to bring the first baseman/designated hitter back for his 16th and what appears to be his final season on the South Side.
Konerko will play a part-time role on the field, splitting at-bats with Adam Dunn and giving Abreu days off when needed. He will be playing a full-time role as a clubhouse leader, a route the veteran has followed pretty much since joining the team.