White Sox hope to rise from ashes in '08

White Sox hope to rise from ashes

CHICAGO -- Given the chance to heap some form of thinly-veiled, added criticism upon Ken Williams before the end of 2007, designated hitter Jim Thome instead chose to view their aggressive general manager's Hot Stove work with optimism toward the new year ahead.

"Going into this year's offseason, we knew he was going to try and do some things to help us out and he's done that," said Thome of Williams' work. "As far as the moves ahead, I'm a little out of the loop on that.

"I don't know the direction we'll go, but I'm sure he's out there working hard and trying to get us better," Thome added.

Thome was not the only one who found himself out of the loop in regard to Williams' first transaction of 2008. The White Sox general manager added Nick Swisher, the 27-year-old, power-hitting outfielder, through a trade with Oakland, sending top prospects Gio Gonzalez, Fautino De Los Santos and Ryan Sweeney to the A's. Swisher also presents a hitter with great on-base potential and the ability to work pitchers deep into the count.

In reality, Williams had envisioned the start of 2008 bringing about just a few well-placed tweaks in order to address some depth questions within the organization. But a not-so-funny thing happened during the last six weeks of 2007.

The White Sox came up short in their much-ballyhooed pursuit of free agent outfielders Torii Hunter and Kosuke Fukudome, did not have the package of young talent desired by Florida to exchange for Miguel Cabrera and could not agree upon the contractual years for favorite son Aaron Rowand. This quartet of missed moves left Williams and the White Sox as the temporary object of some fans' scorn, but also left Williams with more work to do in his revamping of this current roster.

Despite the above list of big-ticket players who have decided to go elsewhere, their absence really just left Williams with one spot to fill in the outfield. As Williams has previously pointed out, that perceived vacancy didn't leave the White Sox in dire straits, with young talent such as fleet-footed Jerry Owens or a re-focused and defensively gifted Brian Anderson still available to fill the center field slot.

"Jerry Owens played one heck of a center field and created that Scott Podsednik sparkplug type at the top," said Williams of Owens, who hit .340 during September of last season and finished with the highest stolen base total among all rookies in the Major Leagues at 32.

"When I got recalled again in early July, I went up with a different attitude," Owens added. "I was thankful for that second chance to prove I could contribute, but in that second time, I just trusted my ability, played as hard as I could and let things happen."

As the lineup currently stands, either Owens or Orlando Cabrera, the team's new addition at shortstop, would hit at the top of the order. The White Sox envisioned Cabrera as the perfect second hitter and are looking for a little better on-base potential than Owens' .324 on-base percentage in 2007, but the Swisher addition gives the team more room to adjust within the lineup.

Williams also has to make some sort of decision regarding the third-base situation, possessing two highly-qualified candidates in Joe Crede and Josh Fields, set for only one position. This move might not come until Spring Training, when Crede has a chance to show he has fully recovered from in-season back surgery.

Coming off of last year's disappointing 72-90 finish, the White Sox are counting on their productive veterans returning to their normal level of play. They also are counting on young hurlers such as Gavin Floyd and John Danks smoothly picking up the slack left by Jon Garland's move to Anaheim in exchange for Cabrera.

A vast jump in production will be needed from the South Siders. While the White Sox have greatly improved with the addition of Swisher, Cabrera and right-handed setup man Scott Linebrink, Cleveland remains just as strong atop the American League Central and Detroit turned itself into a veritable baseball power with the offseason additions of Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Edgar Renteria.

"It's just one more guy we're going to have to get out during the season," said White Sox closer Bobby Jenks of Miguel Cabrera. "The division was tough enough for us last season. Then, throwing that into the fire, they've got the momentum on their side. We've got to go out there and fight for what's ours."

"We're in a division where, obviously, Detroit got a lot better, and Cleveland, as well," Thome added. "The key for us is to know in Spring Training we have to be serious from Day 1. We have to come ready, we have to be focused and we have to understand that we're in a division where we can't have a whole lot of lapses during the year. Hopefully, we can do some things here and better our club."

 Season in Preview
A lot can change by Opening Day, but as 2007 becomes 2008, this is who is projected to take the field for the White Sox:
  SSOrlando Cabrera
  CFNick Swisher
  DHJim Thome
  1BPaul Konerko
  RFJermaine Dye
  CA.J. Pierzynski
  3BJosh Fields
  LFCarlos Quentin
  2BDanny Richar
  SPMark Buehrle
  SPJavier Vazquez
  SPJose Contreras
  SPJohn Danks
  SPGavin Floyd
  CLBobby Jenks
Schedules: Spring | Regular season
Tickets: Regular season
More previews:

Bettering the club remains Williams' ongoing task. He's not worried as much about the public criticism thrown in his direction at the end of 2007, as he is concerned about putting the right clubhouse fit together to avoid last year's season-long struggles.

"He's going to get praise or a beat-down no matter what moves happen. It's like that every year," said Jenks of Williams. "He's made some good moves. He's got some good players over here.

"What we saw last year wasn't what we've seen from this team in the past. I've only been here since '05, but I followed the team and know there's been some winning tradition in this organization. What happened last year was a wakeup call. Let's get back to business, let's get back to small ball, the starters going seven or eight innings and getting the ball to [Mike] MacDougal, [Matt] Thornton and, now, Linebrink."

Grading on a curve: Williams did everything possible to sign Hunter, who honestly opted for more money per season, but also wanted to play in Anaheim, for a better team in a weaker division. Hunter's choice threw the White Sox offseason plan out of whack, causing Williams to pay a steep price of young talent in exchange for Swisher. The addition of Swisher, Orlando Cabrera and Linebrink were significant moves, and outfielder Carlos Quentin could be a true sleeper if healthy. Give Williams an 8 or 9 for aggressiveness and a 7 for actual results.

Arrivals: OF Swisher (trade with A's), SS Orlando Cabrera (trade with Angels), OF Quentin (trade with Diamondbacks), RHP Linebrink (free agent signing).

Departures: RHP Garland, OF Darin Erstad, OF Podsednik, LHP Mike Myers, IF Alex Cintron, OF Luis Terrero, RHP Ryan Bukvich, LHP Heath Phillips, IF Andy Gonzalez, OF Sweeney, LHP Gonzalez, RHP De Los Santos.

The Road Ahead: Williams already has pulled the trigger on a major move in January, but don't rule out some sort of prominent transaction still to come as late as Spring Training. Along with addressing Major League needs for 2008, Williams also wants to increase depth at certain positions within the organization to help set up the team for future seasons.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.