CHICAGO -- SoxFest '12 looms just one week away, and it should be an interesting get together at the Palmer House Hilton. I'm anxious to see the fans' first-hand reaction to the offseason moves made by general manager Ken Williams and the organization.
I'll be at SoxFest all weekend. So, if you have the chance to say hello and share your White Sox wisdom, don't hesitate to introduce yourself.
Meanwhile, I've returned to the cold from the People's Choice Awards last week in Los Angeles, where I got to experience the red carpet but came away without an honor. It's a different sort of animal than covering sports but entertaining nonetheless.
Now, let's look at the People's Choice for White Sox questions this week.
One of my biggest concerns this year is the White Sox pitching staff losing a 200-plus-inning hurler such as Mark Buehrle via free agency, and weakening our pitching staff.
Are the White Sox planning on going with John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Chris Sale, Jake Peavy and Philip Humber, and if so, who do the White Sox have as a long reliever option or a sixth starter if Peavy goes down again? Have they thought about strengthening the bullpen at all?
-- Moises, Chicago
Losing the reliability, consistency and innings presented by Buehrle stands as one of the bigger White Sox concerns going into this season. The White Sox have the makings of a solid bullpen with Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Will Ohman and if Addison Reed picks up where he left off last year. But there are some question marks in filling out the final two or three relief spots, and a bullpen with question marks becomes even stronger when a starting rotation consistently works deep into games.
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Let's take a look at what the White Sox have in terms of innings potential in that starting rotation without Buehrle. Danks, when healthy and on his game, which I expect him to be both in 2012, is a regular 200-innings contributor. The same goes for Floyd, or at least close to 200. Sale will have his innings watched and limited in his first year as a starter, and Humber comes off a breakout season but only has that season as a past reference point and has never surpassed 170 innings in a season. If completely healthy, Peavy should be a solid six-to-seven-inning hurler.
Young pitchers such as Zach Stewart, Dylan Axelrod and even new acquisitions Nestor Molina, Pedro Hernandez and Simon Castro will be competing for long relief and that de facto sixth- or seventh-starter slot. So, the starting group has the potential to be very good, but there are a number of question marks -- sort of like the White Sox as a team. Very little would be more detrimental to this team than frequent early calls to the bullpen.
What do you think of the rumors surrounding Yoenis Cespedes and the White Sox? If the White Sox were to sign him, how do you think he would fit into their roster?
-- N. Burns, Columbia, S.C.
Cespedes sounds like a strong addition for any team acquiring him, although the one cautionary measure is that he has never consistently faced Major League pitching. By all accounts, though, this young man has the makings of a five-tool talent.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press in the Dominican Republic, Cespedes listed the White Sox as one of the six teams showing the most interest in him. That statement doesn't necessarily translate into one of six finalists. The White Sox would almost certainly make him part of their starting outfield if signed, after Cespedes officially becomes a resident of the Dominican and petitions for free agency status. That "if" could be a big one, though, with numerous teams interested.
Roy Oswalt and Johnny Damon are both looking for one-year deals with a team. Why not take a gamble and sign Oswalt and slide him into the rotation along with Danks, Floyd, Peavy, and Humber, and put Sale back into the bullpen?
Why not sign Damon to a one-year deal and allow Alejandro De Aza one more year to adjust to playing full time? I don't think he's ready for a full-time leadoff spot yet, and I think Damon would be a good fit.
-- Tommy, Chicago
Oswalt has a White Sox connection in that he is good friends with Peavy, but numerous reports have the right-hander looking for a team that can win a championship in 2012. The White Sox don't look like that team at this point. Also give up the idea of Sale back in the bullpen. He's a starter going into this next season.
Damon would be a solid left-handed-hitting fit, and the White Sox had interest in 2010 before Damon signed with Detroit. But Damon has only played 52 games total in the outfield over the last two years, so I don't see the White Sox spending the money on a primary DH when they already have Adam Dunn.
How do you see Tyler Flowers being used next year?
-- Keith, McCook Lake, S.D.
Flowers goes into the season as the backup to A.J. Pierzynski, a valuable White Sox veteran presence both in the clubhouse and behind the plate. Although Pierzynski is one of the most durable catchers in the league, look for Flowers to get a bit more playing time than your regulation second catcher. This year could be Pierzynski's last with the White Sox, and they might want to get another close look at what Flowers has to offer. During his stint with the team last year, Flowers impressed with his game-calling ability and his handling of the staff.
Are the White Sox finished dumping payroll? I'd hate to see them lose another starting pitcher.
-- John, Evansville, Ind.
If the White Sox were strictly dumping payroll, they would probably be trading everyone they could without much of a targeted return. They are definitely reducing payroll, but with the mindset of strengthening their younger base. I guess it's the difference between rebuilding and retooling.
Floyd and Thornton seem to be the biggest targets of continuing trade rumors, but remember, Williams listens to pretty much any offer even without a modified rebuilding program in motion. There aren't many untouchables. Either of these players moving means the rebuild might be a bit more than modified, depending on the players they get back.
What makes the White Sox think Dayan Viciedo can play right field?
-- Joe, Chicago
They worked with him extensively in the Minors on the position change, and they watched him in action last year. Viciedo seems to fit better there than at third, and he's certainly got the arm for right field. I would be more focused on Viciedo's offensive production for an entire season than his defense in right. He'll be fine in the outfield, although probably not a Gold Glove Award winner.
Realistically, how far do you think the White Sox can go (regular and postseason) in 2012?
-- Karl, Sheldon, Iowa
On paper, the White Sox look somewhere around a third-place team going into the 2012 season. Now, many pundits thought the White Sox weren't a playoff team in 2005, and that group turned out to be one of the more dominant squads in recent baseball history. As I've said before, this team contends if the pitching is consistent bordering on excellent and the White Sox get far greater production out of Dunn, Alex Rios, Peavy and Gordon Beckham.
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.