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White Sox have pieces to make a run

White Sox have pieces to make a run

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CHICAGO -- In taking a quick look back at the White Sox third-place finish in the American League Central for the 2009 campaign, Ken Williams initially will judge the outcome with great disappointment.

Actually, that disappointment probably will linger until the start of the 2010 season for the team's general manager.

It was a division that for the second consecutive year needed fewer than 90 victories to crown a champion. It was a division that presented numerous opportunities for the White Sox, who weren't quite good enough as a unit to take the Tigers or the Twins down to the wire.

But while the lone goal for Williams is to finish like 2005, as the World Series champions, the '09 effort just might have set the White Sox up to make a strong title run in 2010.

During the just-finished season, Williams added Jake Peavy via a five-player trade with San Diego, giving the White Sox one of the deepest starting rotations in baseball when his pitchers are healthy.

Outfielder Alex Rios also came over through an August waiver claim from Toronto. And while Rios struggled mightily during his six-week stint with the White Sox, he should be more comfortable starting the next season from the get-go with the only team he has suited up for other than the Blue Jays.

Talented young players made significant contributions throughout the White Sox lineup, in what was more of a youth infusion than a youth movement. Rookies such as Chris Getz and Gordon Beckham, as examples, already have their target set on the most important prize next year and help form a young and cost-effective nucleus from which to build.

"I want to get to the playoffs and play in the postseason. That's what I want to do," said Beckham, a prime American League Rookie of the Year candidate from 2009. "The goal next year is not to lose."

This White Sox group certainly is far from perfect and will need more than a little Hot Stove tweaking. Its defense and baserunning must improve, although that change could come from young players simply having one year behind it at the big league level.

Williams also has some interesting decisions to make on the White Sox outfield and how to use the designated-hitter spot. While some money was opened up with the departures of Jim Thome and Jose Contreras in late August trades, and through the potential exit of organization favorite Jermaine Dye, who has a $12 million mutual option for 2010, Williams still has $57 million committed in just Mark Buehrle, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski, Peavy and Rios alone.

During a recent closing talk with the media, Williams didn't sound enthralled with the potential free-agent class at an early glance. That feeling could change as the market sets itself and Williams finds out the budget he has for 2010, but then again, the aggressive GM certainly wouldn't be afraid to go the major trade route in order to add that extra burst of growth to the South Siders' championship pursuit.

Manager Ozzie Guillen, for one, will leave that 2010 decision-making primarily up to Williams.

"Kenny knows what he wants, what we need, what we should do," Guillen said. "We're not having a meeting; I'm not the general manager. Having the kind of year we had, we learned from that. We learned by our mistakes."

Here's a look at the White Sox roster, as the team sets its sights on 2010:

Contract issues
Free agents: Octavio Dotel, RHP; Scott Podsednik, OF; Mark Kotsay, 1B/OF; Ramon Castro, C.
Eligible for arbitration: Bobby Jenks, RHP; D.J. Carrasco, RHP; Carlos Quentin, OF; John Danks, LHP; Dewayne Wise, OF; Tony Pena, RHP.
Player options: None.
Club options: Matt Thornton, LHP, $2.25 million; Freddy Garcia, RHP, $1 million.
Mutual options: Jermaine Dye, OF, $12 million.
Non-tender possibilities: Dewayne Wise, OF.

Catchers
• A.J. Pierzynski, .300 BA, 13 HRs, 49 RBIs
• Tyler Flowers, .297 BA, 15 HRs, 56 RBIs (AA/AAA)

With a healthy Pierzynski in place, the team doesn't really need a truly overwhelming backup. Pierzynski caught 1,000 innings for the eighth consecutive season, hit .300 and continued to show himself as a clubhouse leader. With Pierzynski in the final year of his contract, though, Flowers could get on-the-job training as a backup and see some time at designated hitter.

First base
• Paul Konerko, .277 BA, 28 HRs, 88 RBIs
• Josh Fields, .222 BA, 7 HRs, 30 RBIs

Konerko returns for the fifth and final year of a $60 million deal he agreed to with the White Sox after the 2005 World Series championship. The captain remains productive and an important voice on the team. Guillen would like to have Kotsay back in 2010, as an outfield reserve, backup first baseman and veteran presence, while Fields is more likely to be traded to a team where he has a chance for regular playing time.

Second base
• Chris Getz, .261 BA, 2 HRs, 31 RBIs, 25-for-27 SBs
• Jayson Nix, .224 BA, 12 HRs, 32 RBIs
• Brent Lillibridge, .158 BA, 0 HRs, 3 RBIs

Getz proved himself to be the type of a player winning teams need in the White Sox lineup. He might not capture a batting title or even drive in 50 runs, but he does the little things to help advance a team's cause. Nix will serve as a super-sub around the infield, while Lillibridge has some work to do to prove he belongs.

Shortstop
• Alexei Ramirez, .277 BA, 15 HRs, 68 RBIs, 14 SBs
• Jayson Nix, .224 BA, 12 HRs, 32 RBIs
• Brent Lillibridge, .158 BA, 0 HRs, 3 RBIs

Ramirez started slowly but finished strong, and the White Sox have no intention of moving the athletic shortstop from the middle of the infield to center field or back to second. His defense vastly improved over the season's final two months.

Third base
• Gordon Beckham, .271 BA, 14 HRs, 63 RBIs
• Dayan Viciedo, .280 BA, 12 HRs, 78 RBIs (AA)
• Josh Fields, .222 BA, 7 HRs, 30 RBIs

Beckham came to the White Sox as a natural shortstop, but the team was so impressed by the way he handled third while learning on the big league job that he will stay put and have time to develop at one infield spot. Barring a surprise Hot Stove addition or subtraction, the infield of Beckham, Ramirez, Getz and Konerko should return intact for 2010. Viciedo, meanwhile, might be better suited at first base or as the team's DH.

Outfield
• Carlos Quentin, .236 BA, 21 HRs, 56 RBIs, 13 HPs
• Alex Rios, .244 BA, 17 HRs, 71 RBIs
• Jordan Danks, .266 BA, 9 HRs, 41 RBIs (A/AA)
• Dewayne Wise, .225 BA, 2 HRs, 11 RBIs

Danks easily would be ready to play defensively at the big league level, according to multiple White Sox sources, but he probably won't break camp with the team. Much of the early, unconfirmed White Sox free-agent rumors have centered around Chone Figgins, but Podsednik proved himself to be a strong leadoff candidate throughout 2009 and could remain in the 2010 picture in that same role. A healthy Quentin and a more comfortable Rios, who will add his defensive expertise to center, figure to solidify this threesome.

Designated hitter
• Tyler Flowers, .297 BA, 15 HRs, 56 RBIs (A/AA)
• Dayan Viciedo, .280 BA, 12 HRs, 78 RBIs (AA)

With Thome gone to the Dodgers at the end of August, Williams has talked about using a DH-by-committee approach in 2010. Flowers and Viciedo could figure in the mix, as could Kotsay and Podsednik, assuming they both return. Even Konerko could get a few more days off the field by being moved from first base to this slot occasionally.

Rotation
• Mark Buehrle, 13-10, 3.84 ERA
• Jake Peavy, 3-0, 1.35 ERA (with White Sox)
• John Danks, 13-11, 3.77 ERA, 149 Ks
• Gavin Floyd, 11-11, 4.06 ERA, 163 Ks
• Freddy Garcia, 3-4, 4.34 ERA
• Daniel Hudson, 14-5, 2.32 ERA (A/AA/AAA)
• Carlos Torres, 10-4, 2.39 ERA (AAA)

Assuming everyone comes back healthy, the White Sox arguably have one of the best groups of starters in all of baseball. Chicago holds an affordable option on the veteran Garcia for 2010, but don't discount Hudson, who made a lasting positive impression during one month with the White Sox, after jumping four Minor League levels during the season.

Bullpen
• Bobby Jenks, 3-4, 3.71 ERA, 29 saves
• Matt Thornton, 6-3, 2.74 ERA, 4 saves, 87 Ks
• Scott Linebrink, 3-7, 4.66 ERA, 2 saves
• D.J. Carrasco, 5-1, 3.76 ERA, 93 1/3 innings pitched
• Tony Pena, 1-2, 3.75 ERA (with White Sox)
• Randy Williams, 0-1, 4.58 ERA
• Jhonny Nunez, 5-0, 2.55 ERA (AA/AAA)

This group appeared to be a strong suit when the season began, but it turned out to be more of a trouble spot by the season's end. Jenks remains one of the game's steadier closers, but with his salary expected to jump from $5.6 million in his second year of arbitration and Jenks having a relatively high trade value, the White Sox could move the reliable hurler and switch Thornton into the closer's role. Linebrink needs to bounce back after a forgettable second half, while Carrasco or Pena will be called upon to fill a valuable late-inning role vacated by Dotel's departure. If Thornton becomes a closer, the White Sox will need another left-hander to go with Williams.

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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