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Mailbag: What's up with the bullpen?

Mailbag: Examining the White Sox bullpen

Here are just a few of the things I learned over the weekend while attending my fifth edition of SoxFest.

1. White Sox fans appear to be a bit angrier via e-mail than in person. Even manager Ozzie Guillen was surprised at the lack of verbal volleys tossed in his direction or in the direction of general manager Ken Williams. A good friend of mine, who is an ardent White Sox fan, explained that the fans who were really upset with the team's current state didn't bother to spend money on the team over the weekend, but I disagree with her.

I saw a feisty group in attendance at SoxFest four years ago. Maybe the White Sox fans actually believe Williams has done a good job putting this group in position to contend in 2008.

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2. Jerry Owens earned the respect of White Sox faithful during the second half of his rookie season. I didn't take an official count, but more questions about the fleet-footed leadoff man came about during the three Town Hall Meetings than any other topic. And the questions were all in support of Owens.

3. Aaron Rowand might be in San Francisco, but he certainly is never to be forgotten in Chicago. The only terse exchanges in the Town Hall Meetings centered on the White Sox not offering Rowand a fifth year.

4. Miller's Pub is still open. The famous Chicago restaurant, in existence since 1935, continues going strong -- as I found out by stopping by on Friday and Saturday nights.

More to come later. For now, let's move on to this week's mailbag questions.

By adding Octavio Dotel, what will happen with Mike MacDougal? He kind of seems to be the one bullpen guy that nobody's talking about, and it seems like he's the odd man out.
-- Steve, Maple Park, Ill.

Williams talked plenty about MacDougal during SoxFest and has done the same throughout the offseason. The White Sox remain confident in MacDougal's ability -- even after last year's dismal season, in which the right-hander had a 6.80 ERA and allowed 83 baserunners over 42 1/3 innings. This confidence appears to extend from Williams to pitching coach Don Cooper to a number of players who told me this weekend that MacDougal would bounce back.

Although I continue to hear about MacDougal having some of the nastiest stuff in the league, at some point it also has to translate to results on the field. MacDougal will have his chance as probably the sixth of a seven-man bullpen, but by adding Dotel and Scott Linebrink, Williams now allows MacDougal to fight his way back in game situations with far less pressure than last year's late-inning work.

With the signing of Alexei Ramirez made official, coupled with the facts that Orlando Cabrera has not signed an extension and the White Sox don't like to negotiate midseason, what are the odds Cabrera makes it through the entire '08 season with our White Sox? Could he be traded at the deadline for prospects?
-- Jake, Naperville, Ill

Ramirez's favorite position is said to be shortstop -- according to comments from Guillen -- and he could be a great alternative for the three years following the 2008 season, if Cabrera elects not to sign a contract extension and test the free-agent market. But Williams did not envision Cabrera as a one-year rental and he still has every intention of opening contract talks with the Gold Glove Award winner during Spring Training.

If those contract talks don't progress to a deal and the White Sox somehow find themselves in the same position as last year at 2008's non-waiver trade deadline, I could see Cabrera being of great interest to any contender.

From the tone set at SoxFest, though, Williams really believes this team will be in it for the season's duration. Remember, also, that if Cabrera plays out the season and doesn't re-sign, the White Sox are entitled to two Draft picks in 2009 because Cabrera is a Type A free agent. Strangely enough, Jon Garland was a Type B free agent.

Why do you think the the White Sox didn't try signing Luis Vizcaino instead of Dotel? I know that Dotel probably throws harder, however he is also more injury-prone and costly. Vizcaino didn't pitch great in 2005, but he was a reliable long reliever that ended up signing for less than Dotel.
-- Simon, Schaumburg, Ill.

Vizcaino was an overlooked piece of the bullpen in '05, and his long-relief capabilities were greatly missed in '06. Dotel stands out to me as the better option of the two, with much more dynamic stuff then the steady Vizcaino.

In this day and age of bullpen specialization, saves aren't only recorded by the closer. Well, actually, yes, they are only officially recorded by the pitcher who finishes the game, but as the White Sox can attest from last year's bullpen debacle, saving the game in the seventh and eighth can be just as important as the ninth. Too many one or two-run contests turned into seven or eight-run games for the White Sox because of poor bridge work to Bobby Jenks.

Dotel not only can handle the seventh and eighth with Linebrink, but is an accomplished closer who can spell Jenks for a game or two if the workload dictates. Of course, Jenks told me in November how he's still primed for two-inning saves, so there might not be a workload too big for him.

Signing Dotel seems to me as a minor example of Williams' high-ceiling, risk-taking philosophy to build a winner. Vizcaino, as an example, would have been a safe signing, but Dotel, if he remains as healthy as the White Sox believe, produces a much higher-end reward.

Have a question about the White Sox?
Scott MerkinE-mail your query to MLB.com White Sox beat reporter Scott Merkin for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
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Question:

Where is Brian Anderson, and what's happening with his career? Is he still on the White Sox?
-- Kim, Oak Forest, Ill.

Yes, Anderson is still on the White Sox and his name was actually brought up during Friday's opening night Town Hall Meeting. Anderson remains a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, but in talking with him early last week, he seems to be approaching Spring Training with the best attitude and greatest focus of his career.

Ultimately, I believe Anderson will be traded, and I heard three teams from the National League have some interest in the talented defensive player. Barring something stunning taking place in Spring Training, Anderson's best chance to succeed is via a change of scenery, and I still believe he will succeed at the Major League level.

I recall reading that the White Sox have a 16-year-old shortstop prospect somewhere down on the farm. If this is true, I was wondering if you could give an update on him and information on when we may be seeing him play shortstop at Comiskey Park (that's right).
-- Ryan, Grayslake, Ill.

Juan Silverio is the player in question, signed out of the Dominican Republic. I talked to Minor League director Alan Regier about Silverio, who took part in instructional league play, and the White Sox have no intention of rushing his progress. So, Silverio probably will start in the Dominican Summer League -- but from the sound of the buzz around this prospect, he could be in the Majors before he's old enough to legally drink.

The season hasn't started yet, and every sports writer or "expert" has the White Sox in fourth or last place this upcoming season. Are the guys fired up and motivated to make them eat crow? They are competitive athletes, right? Where's the passion and the fire?
-- Will, Chicago

Will, the passion and fire certainly is there among the White Sox players, but it's not necessarily driven by our predictions in the media (I see the White Sox as an 84-to-87-win team right now, for what it's worth). These are proud athletes playing for a proud organization, and to a man, they will talk about the embarrassment caused by last year's 72-90 season. So, there just might be an extra collective chip among the returning players, looking to completely change fortunes in 2008.

I don't see any of the guys set in the bullpen -- Jenks, Dotel, Linebrink, Matt Thornton and likely MacDougal -- as long relievers, and only one is a lefty. Don't the White Sox need to add another lefty and an innings-eater for the blown starts? Since Boone Logan isn't really that, do you expect seven in the bullpen?
-- Kurt, Marion, Iowa

There will be seven relievers in the bullpen, and it looks as if Nick Masset, Ehren Wasserman, Adam Russell and possibly Andrew Sisco and Charlie Haeger will compete for that last spot -- Logan is a veritable lock. If Guillen opts to go with Wasserman as No. 7, after his strong 2007 debut, don't be surprised if Thornton eventually does work in long relief. Remember, Thornton has past experience as a starter.

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

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