CHICAGO -- Anyone who doesn't know the White Sox high level of excitement in regard to adding shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the 2008 starting lineup hasn't paid much attention to the team's myriad of positive comments during the offseason.
The White Sox also hold Danny Richar in high esteem, with the 24-year-old ready for his first full year at the Major League level.
But while Cabrera has his middle infield position locked down for the upcoming campaign, the same certainty cannot be extended to Richar at second base.
"It's an open competition," said White Sox general manager Ken Williams of the battle for second base. "In being consistent with what we are trying to do, we are looking for a player who helps give [manager] Ozzie [Guillen] the best chance to get off to a good start. The player who fits in best wins the job."
Entering Spring Training, 2007, the White Sox featured Juan Uribe at shortstop and Tadahito Iguchi at second base. Uribe has the potential to carry a team with his powerful bat and slick but unorthodox defense, but also has proven to be wildly erratic and prone to extended slumps. Iguchi served as a solid contributor but was traded on July 27 to make room for Richar in the lineup.
Aside from this small group, the 2007 middle infield options were few and far between. That depth has improved on the South Side for 2008.
Cabrera's arrival moves Uribe into a utility role. It's the same sort of job projected for Uribe when he arrived from Colorado in 2004 and hit close to .400 during the first month of the season, earning the starting nod at second. Cuban exile Alexei Ramirez also counts second base as one of the numerous positions he can handle adeptly.
Although Williams could not go into any detail concerning Ramirez, who has yet to officially join the organization, Williams expects Ramirez in Tucson, Ariz., for the start of Spring Training.
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"We certainly have more depth, where we can absorb an injury to a much greater degree than last year," said Williams, whose team used an overmatched Andy Gonzalez and a banged-up Alex Cintron on the infield for much of the second half of last season.
This open competition shouldn't indicate a level of White Sox distrust in Richar. Much to the contrary, the White Sox liked what they witnessed from the fleet-footed second baseman in just 56 games and 187 at-bats.
Richar hit .230 with six home runs and 15 RBIs over the season's final two months, fanning 33 times and drawing 16 walks, but committing just three errors in the field. Richar employs a wide-open stance with little stride, which was tweaked by hitting coach Greg Walker during the finish of 2007.
"I'm using my back leg a little more," said Richar late last season, of his adjustments at the plate. "I know I can hit better than what I did. I also know hitting is something you work at every day."
Raw results were not the only barometer used by Williams and Guillen to judge the efforts from Richar, who was acquired from Arizona in exchange for Minor League outfielder Aaron Cunningham on June 16, 2007.
"Like I said about Richar, he's not hitting .350, but he gives a good effort whenever he comes to the plate," said Guillen. "It's what you want from the guys."
"Danny Richar impressed us," Williams added. "He hit the ball hard, and that doesn't really reflect in anything but in my mind, Ozzie's mind and Walk's mind. Many people only have to go with the pure numbers, but it's different for those of us who are there and see him every day."
Adding Cabrera, 33, clearly will help the White Sox in the field and in terms of balancing their power-packed lineup. Cabrera captured his second Rawlings Gold Glove Award last year with the Angels, while also surpassing .300 for the first time in his career (.301), driving in 86 and scoring 101 runs.
In his 12th big league season, Cabrera's game seems to be getting steadier and stronger.
"If you talk about numbers, every year I keep getting better and better in my perspective," said Cabrera, during a November conference call to announce his move to the White Sox in exchange for starter Jon Garland. "Age is not an issue.
"Alex Rodriguez is 32 and nobody is concerned about his age. He just got a 10-year deal. I mean, he's Alex Rodriguez, but I'm comfortable with the way I work my body and my attitude and my mind. ... This is just a start for me. If I'm healthy, I know I can put up good numbers and help this team win games."
Signing Cabrera to a multiyear extension remains part of the White Sox plans, although Ramirez easily could move to shortstop for the 2009 season and beyond. But Williams maintains a primary focus on nothing more than winning during the current season, with Cabrera's addition increasing that possibility.
Individuals from Williams to Guillen to even Cabrera believe Richar also can make an immediate difference. With playoff contention in mind, though, Williams has avoided the Richar coronation and provided an open competition at second.
"There are other options," Williams said. "Whoever it is better bring it and bring it every day during camp. Anybody with a glove and a bat is in the mix."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less