In fact, while Chicago battled daily with Minnesota for postseason advancement during the tense final few weeks of the 2008 regular season, general manager Ken Williams had one eye focused on the next championship campaign.
"I know what I want. I've known what I wanted to do for months," said Williams, after his team was dumped from the playoffs by the Rays last week. "You never know how it's going to play out. I've got ideas; you know I've got ideas.
"You know I've got a plan. We've got to do some things to balance us out a little bit more offensively and defensively."
Williams will go in search of that balance with a defined and solid talent base in place. Through long-term deals made with key veterans during the end of a forgettable 2007 season and during the offseason leading into the exciting 2008 run, the White Sox have 13 players under contract for 2009 at a combined total of $99.125 million.
Mark Buehrle ($14 million), Paul Konerko ($12M), Javier Vazquez ($11.5M), Jermaine Dye ($11.5M) and Jose Contreras ($10M) each will earn at least $10 million in 2009. Jim Thome's $13 million option for 2009 kicked in when he reached 564 plate appearances this season, giving him the required total of 1,100 over the past two.
Although Williams doesn't figure to add as many pieces as the six he did going into 2008, his upcoming payroll probably will go up some but not a great deal from the approximately $114 million that it was when this season began. But the changes Williams has in mind could come at a popular price.
Keeping the roster basically intact means a healthy Carlos Quentin returns to left and a rejuvenated Nick Swisher returns to center -- unless the White Sox can work out a deal with Ken Griffey Jr. The White Sox ultimately will go in search of a third baseman and second baseman to sandwich around Alexei Ramirez's anticipated move to shortstop. Williams spoke with great confidence of the options he has in the system, meaning Chris Getz could move to second and Josh Fields could take over at third -- if Fields' defense meets manager Ozzie Guillen's standards.
But if that scenario plays out, the overall defense really wouldn't be upgraded and the lack of speed and stronger situational hitters wouldn't have been completely addressed -- although both Getz and Fields can run when healthy. To go after more veterans, Williams could be forced to explore trades involving players with significant return value, such as Konerko and/or Dye. Konerko has full no-trade power, while Dye has a full no-trade clause in 2008 and can block trades to six teams in 2009. Remember, the White Sox need the bulk of their power supply that led to a Major League-best 235 home runs in 2008 to survive the summer months at U.S. Cellular Field.
Contreras' recovery from a ruptured left achilles tendon will take him midway into 2009, meaning either Clayton Richard or Lance Broadway will get a shot at the fifth starter slot, or Williams will add a steady veteran. Williams won't simply bring in a more experienced hurler to challenge Richard. That starter would have to fit the general manager's criteria of having some sort of sink or cut to his pitches.
Last year's offseason plan worked to near perfection, although it was eventually undercut by injuries. Williams is prepared to strengthen and reshape the team for 2009. He just hoped for a few more weeks of on-field action before addressing such issues.
"We proved we can win with this bunch, a very resilient group," said White Sox starter John Danks, whose 2008 emergence, along with Gavin Floyd, gives Williams two fewer things to worry about. "I feel real good about coming back with this group and would like our chances."
Free agents: Orlando Cabrera, SS; Juan Uribe, INF; Joe Crede, 3B; Horacio Ramirez, RP.
White Sox committed salary for 2009
|Mark Buehrle||$14 million|
|Jim Thome||$13 million|
|Paul Konerko||$12 million|
|Javier Vazquez||$11.5 million|
|Jermaine Dye||$11.5 million|
|Jose Contreras||$10 million|
|A.J. Pierzynski||$6.25 million|
|Octavio Dotel||$6 million|
|Nick Swisher||$5.3 million|
|Scott Linebrink||$4.5 million|
|Mike MacDougal||$2.65 million|
|Matt Thornton||$1.325 million|
|Alexei Ramirez||$1.1 million|
|13 players||$99.125 million|
Eligible for arbitration: Bobby Jenks, RP; Dewayne Wise, OF; Andrew Sisco, RP.
Player options: None.
Club options: Ken Griffey, Jr., OF, $16 million; Toby Hall, C, $2.25 million.
Non-tender possibilities: None.
A.J. Pierzynski, .281, 13 HRs, 60 RBIs
Cole Armstrong, .261, 8 HRs, 48 RBIs (Triple-A/Double-A)
With an ironman such as Pierzynski behind the plate, the backup catcher on the White Sox doesn't need to do much more than call a good game once a week and occasionally chip in on offense. With the pitchers working well with Hall, who is a respected figure in the clubhouse, he's likely to have his 2009 option picked up. The White Sox like Armstrong's abilities, but he hits left-handed like Pierzynski. They also liked the work veteran Paul Phillips put in from Spring Training moving forward. But this position begins and ends with Pierzynski, who is a leader through his frank words but also through his intense effort.
Paul Konerko, .240, 22 HRs, 62 RBIs
The White Sox captain had a season significantly marred by injuries for the first time during his All-Star decade in Chicago. Konerko struggled out of the gate offensively, but rallied to hit .270 with 13 home runs in the second half. If the White Sox explored a trade involving Konerko, a deal that really would have to knock them over and be approved by Konerko, then Swisher could move back to his best position defensively. Otherwise, count on continued steady production and leadership from Konerko.
Chris Getz, .302, 11 HRs, 52 RBIs, .366 OBP (Triple-A)
Once thought to have a ceiling as a utility player, Getz's stock skyrocketed this season to the point where he seriously could become the team's starting second baseman and No. 2 hitter. Getz does a great job of handling the bat and reminds some of Minnesota's Nick Punto in his hard-nosed style of play. He probably would have been on the playoff roster if not for a broken left wrist that ended his season in early September. Williams will look to fill some spots from within, and this could be one of them.
Alexei Ramirez, .290, 21 HRs, 77 RBIs, .475 SP
Cabrera is all but gone to free agency, so Ramirez figures to move over from second base, barring a surprise addition. From the second week of May to the end of the 2008 season, Ramirez was one of the best players in the American League -- no discussion necessary. He only figures to get better as he learns more about the league and grows accustomed to the frigid conditions at the season's start that hampered him so much in 2008.
Josh Fields, .156, 0 HRs, 2 RBIs, 17 Ks
In the minds of some within the organization, Fields took a step back in 2008 after his breakout effort in place of an injured Crede during the last two-thirds of 2007. Fields was deemed to be less sharp defensively, although he was bothered by a right knee problem that was surgically repaired last week. The White Sox could opt to bring back Uribe for one year at third, although Fields would seem to need to play somewhere in the Majors in 2009 after spending parts of three seasons at Triple-A Charlotte and coming up with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs for the White Sox in 2007.
Carlos Quentin, .288, 36 HRs, 100 RBIs, .394 OBP
Jermaine Dye, .292, 34 HRs, 96 RBIs, 41 2Bs
Nick Swisher, .219, .332 OBP, 24 HRs, 69 RBIs
Brian Anderson, .232, 8 HRs, 26 RBIs, .436 SLG
Dewayne Wise, .248, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs, 9 SBs
Jerry Owens, .276, 1 HR, 21 RBIs, 30 SBs (Triple-A)
Jason Bourgeois, .286, 9 HRs, 48 RBIs, 30 SBs (Triple-A)
Quentin made great progress during September in rehabbing the fractured bone in his right wrist, but it will be interesting to see how his power numbers respond after the injury. Dye or Swisher could be used as trade bait, although Dye is one of the more underrated producers in the AL and Swisher is under team control at a reasonable salary of $31.3 million over possibly four more years. Brian Anderson did an outstanding job as a spot starter and defensive replacement, but he's looking for a starting opportunity in 2009, while a healthy and speedy Jerry Owens could put himself back in play for on-field time.
Jim Thome, .245, 34 HRs, 90 RBIs, .503 SLG
Thome might not be the offensive force he was five or six years ago, but he's still good for 30 home runs, 90 RBIs and 100 walks -- statistics that would help any winning team.
Mark Buehrle, 15-12, 3.79 ERA, 140 K's
Gavin Floyd, 17-8, 3.84 ERA, 145 K's
John Danks, 12-9, 3.32 ERA, 159 K's
Javier Vazquez, 12-16, 4.67 ERA, 200 K's
Jose Contreras, 7-6, 4.54 ERA
Clayton Richard, 2-5, 6.04 ERA
Lance Broadway, 11-7, 4.66 ERA (Triple-A)
The two biggest questions will be who will be the fifth starter, with Richard holding the edge, and how will Vazquez respond to a disastrous final four starts in 2008? Vazquez can block potential deals to the nine teams in the National League West and AL West, but he probably won't be going anywhere regardless. Contreras could end up as a nice boost to the White Sox bullpen after the All-Star break.
Bobby Jenks, 3-1, 2.63 ERA, 30 SVs
Matt Thornton, 5-3, 2.67 ERA, 77 K
Scott Linebrink, 2-2, 3.69 ERA
Octavio Dotel, 4-4, 3.76 ERA, 92 K's
D.J. Carrasco, 1-0, 3.96 ERA
Boone Logan, 2-3, 5.95 ERA
Adam Russell, 4-0, 5.19 ERA
Ehren Wassermann, 1-2, 7.78 ERA
Mike MacDougal, 0-0, 2.12 ERA
This group was as solid as any in baseball until Jenks went down for a month and Linebrink was out for two months, throwing off the alignment. Look for Russell to get a full big league season to contribute, while Logan and MacDougal basically are out of the picture. Jenks should get a significant bump from his $550,000 salary in 2008 through arbitration.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.