CHICAGO -- After spending three days in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl last week, I can make the following assurances.
-- Everyone should visit New Orleans at least once or twice in their life. It's a phenomenal city, maybe the best in the country in terms of food and drink.
-- Three days in New Orleans is probably one day too many on a given trip.
-- And regardless of the outcome of the BCS Title game Monday night, Michigan stands as the uncrowned champs.
OK, I'm right on at least two of these three.
With SoxFest and Spring Training fast approaching, let's move on to this week's questions after issuing hearty congratulations to U of M's own Barry Larkin for his Hall of Fame selection.
I was a big Alex Rios fan when he was with Toronto and always wanted him to roam center field in Chicago, but I'm a bit disappointed in my countryman in his inability to play the way he is capable of playing. Do you think or know about any other ballclubs looking at him for a possible trade if we trade him with cash?
-- Manny, Chicago
Don't give up on Rios quite yet. White Sox fans seem to forget that he was nine home runs short of becoming the first single-season 30-30 player for the franchise during the 2010 season. He just had an off year in 2011, but I'm about as certain in a Rios 2012 comeback as any of the players who struggled last year.
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If Rios does get off to a slow start, let's say through April or even a week into May, I don't think the White Sox will hesitate to go in a different direction.
How do you think the White Sox will address the fact that their farm system is among the worst, if not the worst, in baseball?
-- Dean, Libertyville, Ill.
They have started making strides in that area through recent trades, adding pitchers such as Nestor Molina, Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez. The organization seemed to be short on Major League-ready pitchers and infield prospects, bordering on completely absent of, although they do have some outfielders in the mix such as Trayce Thompson, Keenyn Walker and possibly even Jared Mitchell, who has an important year ahead of him.
As I wrote in a story last week, I just don't think judging a Minor League system is the end-all and be-all of an organization. General manager Ken Williams has used top prospects to add to his Major League team, and while he has lost out where the Nick Swisher/Gio Gonzalez deal was concerned, there are plenty of plus examples, such as acquiring John Danks in the Brandon McCarthy deal or Chris Carter for Carlos Quentin or even a break-even deal such as Chris Young for Javier Vazquez.
It's a benefit to have good young talent flowing through the system -- a team avoids getting stuck in the middle or has more weapons to make impact deals. But the White Sox have young players contributing in Gordon Beckham, Chris Sale, Addison Reed and Brent Morel, so it's not like their system is empty.
Why shouldn't Brent Lillibridge be an everyday player? He could be rotated on a daily basis from one infield or outfield position to another.
-- Nathan, Chicago
Lillibridge certainly has moved into a far better position going into the 2012 season than what he was entering 2011. In fact, it wasn't really known until the end of the last Spring Training whether Lillibridge would break camp with the team.
The starting outfield looks to be Alejandro De Aza, Rios and Dayan Viciedo, but I certainly could see Lillibridge getting plenty of time in the leadoff spot and in the outfield against left-handed starters, if not moving toward a set platoon. Remember also, Lillibridge told MLB.com late last season that he wants to play more infield in 2012, so this desire only makes Lillibridge more valuable.
Do you have any idea whether or not the White Sox/Robin Ventura will consider De Aza for center field in order to move Rios over to a corner spot? It's my opinion that such an arrangement would strengthen the team overall. What is your opinion on this?
-- Russell, Chicago
That call will be up to Ventura, but I could definitely see De Aza opening the season in center and Rios moving to left. It would strengthen the outfield, especially with a relative unknown in Viciedo in right.
Usually this time of year is when I am optimistically looking forward to Spring Training. This year I am anything but optimistic. Do you think the White Sox could lose 100 games this year? If so, do you think the Cubs might lose 101?
-- Fred, Palatine, Ill.
I will guarantee on Jan. 9 that the White Sox will not lose 100 games in 2012. I don't think the Cubs will lose 100 either, but the Cubs really don't matter to the White Sox playoff chances aside from the six games they play head-to-head. Worry more about the Tigers, Indians, Royals and Twins.
Are the White Sox a playoff team? Well, as of now, they don't look better on paper than the Tigers or the Yankees or Red Sox or Blue Jays or Angels or Rangers. Then again, the White Sox seem to perform at their best when nobody gives them a chance. Again, it starts with comebacks from Rios, Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy and Beckham, and then is followed up by solid pitching.
Do you think the White Sox would be willing to spend a little money on a closer like Francisco Cordero? The lineup is still solid and if guys play up to their ability, a closer is about all they would need.
-- Dave, Arlington Heights, Ill.
I've received email suggestions for both Cordero and Ryan Madson, but the White Sox seem set on the combination of Addison Reed, Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain, barring a last-minute change. They would seem more likely to go after a player such as Yoenis Cespedes as opposed to a veteran closer.
Do you see at any point this season, if the White Sox are out of the race, they possibly trade the likes of Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and/or Thornton (if not already traded) to contenders, even if it means getting less in return in terms of prospects back?
-- Jason, Naperville, Ill.
Trades of Konerko and/or Pierzynski, in particular, would have to be something that is good for the team but also good for the individual players. They have earned their no-trade veto power, and there would be limited situations, both in potential destination and White Sox team status, where I could see them being moved.
I really thought that Lastings Milledge would have an impact this year. His stats last year in Triple-A were pretty good, especially with the Rios situation. Now he's in Japan!
-- George, Crystal Lake, Ill.
Milledge had a good Spring Training but made some fundamental mistakes in the field that pretty much pushed his return to Triple-A Charlotte. Simply put, he wasn't in the White Sox future plans.
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.