Postseason baseball holds an exciting centerstage position for at least another few weeks. But it's never too early to start focusing on White Sox Hot Stove thoughts, plans and potential maneuvers.
So, we proudly bring you the return of the White Sox Mailbag, which as some of you probably know, has followed in the footsteps of certain hip Hollywood celebrities and changed its name to the White Sox Inbox. The premise hasn't changed, though: send in your questions to email@example.com and I'll try to answer as many as possible per week.
Let's get things going with this first batch of inquiries, with no mention of the rejuvenated University of Michigan football program to open. I can hear the collective sigh in the distance.
Are you convinced Alexei Ramirez stays at shortstop for the White Sox in 2010 or could the team move him?
-- Lauren, Chicago
Ramirez not only stands out as a talented player up the middle, but also becomes a most affordable performer when factoring in the $1.1 million owed to him in each of the next two years. The 28-year-old struggled mightily once again in April, batting just .214, but his average didn't dip below .281 in any of the remaining six months.
There have been suggestions that Ramirez could move to center, with Gordon Beckham switching to shortstop, primarily because of Ramirez's great athleticism. But I see Ramirez staying put, and the same goes for the entire infield from third to first. Look for Ramirez to have another consistent year in the .280, 20 home runs, 70 RBIs range, and if his past six months defensively mean anything, he has found a rhythm in the field.
Does GM Kenny Williams improve this team through trades or free agency?
-- Lisa, Galesburg, Ill.
My answer would be both, although I don't expect Williams to bring in any high-priced free agents -- even if he moves a significant salary. Look for Williams to reinforce the bullpen and add one more bat to the middle of the lineup, along with figuring out the team's leadoff situation. And remember, Williams is not one to shy away from being creative in acquiring a roster-changing force via trade, as the Jake Peavy deal proved.
Have a question about the White Sox?
E-mail your query to MLB.com White Sox beat reporter Scott Merkin for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Bobby Jenks has been an outstanding closer for the White Sox, but does the team appreciate him? Is he going to stay with the White Sox?
-- Sarah, Plainfield, Ill.
There's no doubt the team appreciates Jenks, and the White Sox have every reason to appreciate the burly right-hander. He has been one of the steadier closers in the game since taking over the role full-time in 2006, after serving as the rookie closer during the latter stages of the 2005 World Series effort.
Jenks and the White Sox seem to have a mild disagreement with his conditioning, as he expressed to me during a conversation last weekend. One thing about Jenks is that he's not afraid to speak his mind, and he is the first one to hold himself accountable during the rough stretches. All the White Sox want from Jenks is to come into Spring Training in the same shape he exited this past season.
Trade rumors have surrounded Jenks, in part, because he's eligible for arbitration in 2010 and figured to get a bump up from his current $5.6 million salary. The White Sox also have Matt Thornton as a closer in waiting. But as Thornton pointed out, 2007 proved how important a strong bullpen is to Chicago's success, and that strength needs to go from top to bottom. If the White Sox decide to move Jenks, and with Octavio Dotel gone to free agency, they need to find another quality veteran arm to fill the void.
For Williams to move Jenks, it's going to take a strong-to-overwhelming package in return.
Pick your standout moment in relation to the team from the 2009 season?
-- Daniel, Chicago
Missing Mark Buehrle's first career home run in Milwaukee was one of my major disappointments, as by Buehrle's own admission, he's not going to make anyone forget about Ichiro Suzuki or Jim Thome with his left-handed swing. Nothing surprises me about Buehrle's accomplishments, at this point.
Beckham coming up and proving to be even better than advertised becomes the top situation to take out of past season for me. Not only will Beckham hit for power and average, while adeptly handling a position he never really played before until 2009, but Beckham simply looks as if he belongs in the Majors.
A star was born for the White Sox, although I would guess Beckham is going to come up a little short in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting. Look for Detroit's Rick Porcello to get the nod, pitching well for a contender, with Beckham finishing a deserving second. I'm not influencing the votes, by the way, as the ballots have long been received.
Why is Greg Walker returning as hitting coach? Shouldn't the team move on after more struggles with the bat?
-- Tom, Palos Hills, Ill.
Repeat after me: Walker certainly is not solely to blame for the team's inconsistent offense. He works extremely hard, along with assistant hitting coach Mike Gellinger, and provides the White Sox batters with plenty of information to attack opposing hurlers.
Hitting coach is one of those positions where you don't get enough credit if the offense goes well, unless you are a rare breed such as Rudy Jaramillo, but become an easy scapegoat if the team struggles. I realize there are numbers that can be presented against Walker, but watching him work, watching the players respond to him and watching manager Ozzie Guillen present his full backing is enough for me to put trust in him.
Will Dayan Viciedo be in the mix for a starting job in 2010?
-- Mary, Long Grove, Ill.
A few scouts I talked to recently said Viciedo could benefit from another year in the Minors. But I believe Viciedo will get a serious look at in Spring Training, as a possible designated hitter candidate, after getting a first look during the current Arizona Fall League. He primarily played third last year for Double-A Birmingham, so the White Sox need to find him a true position with Beckham set at the hot corner.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.