"This one, you have to remember this because that's one of my longest summers I ever spent. Well, now I've learned how to lose. Hopefully from now on, everything moves on and gets better in years."
As is the case throughout the parity-driven world known as Major League Baseball, Guillen understands his team can go from worst to first in the matter of one season. That turnaround begins with the offseason changes made by general manager Ken Williams, not to mention the important pieces kept in place, ultimately deciding how long this slide lasts for the White Sox.
72-90, fourth in AL Central.
Defining moment: In the final inning on the final Sunday that the White Sox spent in Arizona for Spring Training, Toby Hall dove to his right for a ground ball hit toward first base and separated his shoulder in the process of making the spectacular play. The free agent catcher only was scheduled to play a reserve role behind A.J. Pierzynski, but it was an omen of bad things.
For a more concrete example, how about Cleveland's 12-5 shellacking in the season opener or Boston's four-game sweep at U.S. Cellular Field in late August by a combined 46-7 margin? Too many bad memories, too little time.
What went right: Aside from Mark Buehrle's no-hitter on April 18, Jim Thome's 500th home run coming in walk-off style on Sept. 16 and Bobby Jenks' record-tying 41 straight batters retired, very little. Fans continued to support the White Sox by turning out en masse to the tune of 2.7 million in attendance, giving the organization an extra financial push for the 2008 revamping process. Buehrle bounced back to produce his usual steady numbers after the second-half falloff in 2006, Javier Vazquez backed up his own spring words in that the 14-game-winner has the stuff to be a staff ace, and Jenks established himself as one of the game's elite closers.
2007 White Sox statistical leaders
|Average: Jim Thome, 275
||Wins: Javier Vazquez, 15
|Doubles: Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, 34
||Losses: Jose Contreras, 17
|Triples: Scott Podsednik, 4
||ERA (starter): Mark Buehrle, 3.63
|Home runs: Thome, 35
||ERA (reliever, min. 10 appearances): Ehren Wassermann, 2.74
|Runs: Thome, 79
||Saves: Bobby Jenks, 40
|RBIs: Thome, 96
|Stolen bases: Jerry Owens, 32
What went wrong: The bullpen became a four-letter word. The power-arm plan quickly and completely disintegrated, with Andrew Sisco, David Aardsma, Nick Masset and their 97-mph fastballs all being sent down to the Minors from the original six who broke camp. Injuries also played a huge role in the overall team downfall, with key contributors such as Joe Crede and Pablo Ozuna basically lost in May for the season.
Biggest surprise: Josh Fields came to the big leagues with the hype of a first-round Draft pick and labeled as a can't-miss prospect, and Fields didn't miss. Actually, he did miss a little too often for Guillen's liking at the plate with his inflated strikeout total, but Fields also led all American League rookies in home runs and proved to be a viable offensive force over just four months. Right-hander Ehren Wasserman joined the White Sox through an open tryout following the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, but in the present, the submarine-style hurler emerged as the most consistent White Sox reliever not named Jenks.
FORECAST FOR 2008
It's a true work in progress, with three or four major decisions all intertwined. Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye, who comprise the team's potent middle, all figure to return, but the team has to make decisions on shortstop Juan Uribe ($5.5 million option) and outfielder Darin Erstad ($3.5 million option). Crede appears on schedule to come back healthy and ready for Spring Training after back surgery, but then what becomes of Fields and fleet-footed center fielder Jerry Owens -- especially if the White Sox pursue a front-end free agent in center field such as Torii Hunter or Aaron Rowand?
Rotation: Bringing back the starting five from this steady rotation certainly would do nothing but help the White Sox cause. Buehrle, Vazquez and Jon Garland all made at least 30 starts and pitched at least 200 innings, while Jose Contreras won four straight decisions down the stretch. Rookie John Danks provided a more-than-admirable anchor at the fifth starter's spot, but he is no lock for the same role in 2008. Gavin Floyd and Minor League standouts such as Gio Gonzalez and right-hander Jack Egbert could challenge for a rotation slot, which could have another opening if Garland or Contreras are moved as part of the offseason overhaul.
Bullpen: Aside from Jenks, no firm answers exist for this crew so crucial to success. Matt Thornton remains under contract through 2009, and the White Sox like the left-hander's upside, meaning he will remain in the team's picture. The White Sox also talk about the great stuff possessed by righty Mike MacDougal, but he needs to start producing on the field to have any sort of future role -- even with two guaranteed years left on his deal. Both Boone Logan and Wasserman are young arms who impressed late, but Williams certainly will be looking to upgrade through slightly more proven commodities.
Biggest need: In 2005, the White Sox won a World Series title with great pitching from start to finish and the ability to manufacture just enough runs to survive. With that title in mind moving forward, the South Siders need to drastically improve their bullpen and add more speed to the lineup. Regarding position specifics, the free-swinging, power-packed days of shortstop Uribe might be replaced by a better contact, higher on-base possibility.
Prospect to watch: Top youngsters such as Fields, Owens, Danks and second baseman Danny Richar all saw significant playing time in 2007 because of the plethora of injuries. All four should be back in some form or another next year. But keep an eye on Gonzalez, the hard-throwing left-hander, whose 185 strikeouts topped teammate Egbert's total of 165 for the Southern League lead this past season.