Ventura to get better feel at Winter Meetings

Ventura to get better feel at Winter Meetings

CHICAGO -- The transition of Robin Ventura, private citizen, to Robin Ventura, 39th White Sox manager, has gone relatively smoothly.

Ventura already met with the media a couple of times, assembled his full coaching staff and went through brief but productive organizational meetings in Arizona. He currently is putting together the first Spring Training under his watch.

As for talking to White Sox players and assessing the overall talent of his inaugural team, Ventura sits in a bit of a holding pattern. That particular hold figures to break next week beginning Monday at the annual Winter Meetings, which will run from Dec. 5-8 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.

There's no question the White Sox will be trimming payroll from their franchise-record $127 million for the underachieving 2011 squad. The only answer to be provided is whether general manager Ken Williams will be taking on a modified rebuild or simply retooling around a predominantly veteran roster.

"I don't think he knows," said Ventura of Williams' ultimate plan during a recent phone interview. "There are parts that are in there that, if he makes a move, obviously we are going younger.

"In talking to him, I like our players. We have good players, with some of them having off years. But again, the way baseball is, there's a business side to it, too. I understand.

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"We are not even going through lineups and things like that. As far as talking to Kenny, he has stuff going on through the Winter Meetings. We'll talk at the Winter Meetings and see how it shakes out and go from there."

When White Sox player personnel talk comes up during this present offseason, Mark Buehrle is the first name mentioned. Actually, the free agent seems to be the first and last name mentioned, which is a rightful concern attached to a durable and consistent leader who would be almost impossible to replace. But Buehrle's return or departure ultimately won't influence the direction taken by Williams and the White Sox.

Various reports have 14 teams interested in Buehrle, who has a stretch of 11 straight seasons with at least 200 innings pitched, 30 starts and double-digit victories. Jeff Berry, Buehrle's long-time representative, only will say interest has been "very strong" without going into specifics. If the offers coming in fall in the four-year range for Buehrle, who expressed an interest in moving to the National League to MLB.com back in late September, then the White Sox just might be out of the picture.

Having quality starting pitchers in place such as John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, Philip Humber and Chris Sale, who is moving from the bullpen, doesn't make Buehrle expendable, but it certainly gives the White Sox needed depth for a contender. But here's where that uncertainty falls into place for the White Sox mode of operation in Dallas.

Danks is in his last year of arbitration before free agency. If the White Sox don't believe they can sign him to a long-term deal, then the talented 26-year-old southpaw could be moved. Floyd, 28, has one year left at $7 million and a $9.5 million option for 2013, so he also becomes an affordable option for a team seeking high-level rotation support.

Williams certainly isn't laying out these players on card tables outside his suite at the Anatole and hanging up a garage sale sign, but the White Sox want to see the value of these players on the open market. They are looking for young, Major League-ready talent in return, or younger in the case of Danks and Floyd. Outfielder Carlos Quentin, in his last year of arbitration eligibility, also could be on the trading block, as well as hard-throwing left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and even veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

Of course, Pierzynski has full no-trade veto power as a player with at least 10 years of experience and at least five years with the same team. So any move involving the catcher with 10 straight years of at least 1,000 innings caught would have to be the absolute right fit for Pierzynski and his family.

These Winter Meetings usually are when Williams looks to make an impact move for his playoff-contending team or kick the tires on a big-name free agent, if the White Sox hadn't already acquired someone in either of those categories. To date, the White Sox significant October and November moves were signing free-agent southpaws Donnie Veal and Jose Quintana and offering salary arbitration to Buehrle.

Ultimately, the best move to boost the White Sox 2012 cause is bounce-back years from proven veterans such as Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Peavy. At this point, Ventura isn't sure if he'll have a younger team to put around them or much of the same group.

"We not only take a three-year look at our situation, as far as talent evaluation, but we also do it from an economic standpoint, from a fiscal standpoint and from a timing standpoint," Williams said. "That means if you get yourself into a fiscal situation that is beyond your means, and at the same time your young talent is maturing and coming together, that's not going to do you any good.

"So we have tried to time things to where if we've lost an impact player, we are able to bring up another one in that player's place and continue to grow at the same time. That's what we are trying to become."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.