Major League Baseball is set to reach a labor agreement that could bring very significant changes to the sport. There are larger, long-term elements like the transfer of the Houston Astros to the the American League West, year-round interleague play, and issues with more immediate fallout such as draft bonus capping and free agent compensation re-structuring. The latter of which could directly impact the level of urgency the White Sox feel to trade their crop of players poised to hit free agency after 2012.
But it hasn't been signed yet, so because off-season blog topics don't grow on friggin' trees, and because the owners may yet decide to take Frank McCourt up on that idea to spurn the agreement, raid their franchise's coffers and pool their funds together to build the world's largest--and very first self-sustaining--chocolate lava cake, let's hold off that for now, and delve into roster intrigue for your very own, reigning AL Central 3rd place finishers, the Chicago White Sox.
Kenny Williams was playing coy and funny with reporters at the 2nd day of GM meetings on Tuesday, and generally he's in a more playful mood when he he hasn't just angrily chucked a Faberge egg at his manager's head, and when he isn't too handcuffed by salary commitments to make a fun and jazzy trade.
Williams also took the time to identify the White Sox players with guaranteed roles for 2012, and given the limited number, he has a lot of room to jazzercise.
Firstly, Williams gave credit to Alejandro De Aza for doing absolutely everything one should need to do to earn a starting outfield gig and the leadoff spot for a team that's theoretically cutting salary. The "he's not a prototypical leadoff hitter" cry has now become a standard feature of every beat writer column somehow (We miss you, Brett), but at least the Sox won't be eschewing De Aza's suitable production in pursuit of such a nebulous and mystical concept.
Also committed to were Paul Konerko--someone's gotta hit that one solo HR every game--Alexei Ramirez, and Brent Morel.
Paul Konerko could certainly have some value as a bat-for-hire in an absolute fire sale, but whether he's being retained to maintain some semblance of offensive viability, fan base sanity or just clubhouse stability, it's hard to really fault it.
Ramirez could pull in a ransom from a team that valued his defense, but the whole cornerstone-of-the-team thing and the lack of a even remotely viable replacement is reason enough to keep him.
It's interesting to see Brent Morel included. His cheap cost and defensive value made it a good idea to keep him in the fold, but apparently a gonzo September may have been enough to remove the temptation of any kind of veteran upgrade. Whatever keeps the Sox out of the Aramis Ramirez conversation, can't be a bad thing.
In the name of helping friends, let's add a few for Kenny that he left off his list: Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. It's hard to trade away the anchor of the ship.
We can likely add Chris Sale to the bunch, too. He was just announced as officially being on the move to the rotation, and his youth, cost and upside all represent what the Sox need more of on their roster. Since he hasn't started a game yet in the bigs, it's hard to imagine getting something worth the move if the White Sox believe in him anywhere near how much they portray.
Sergio Santos' intensely team-friendly contract would make his departure unlikely, and Dayan Viciedo is likely not mentioned as a lock only because he played too poorly to end 2011 to be guaranteed a spot, but both of them are player-types (closer, offense-only slugger) that are easily overvalued. You don't chain yourself to your 65 IP-a-year reliever and future DH.
From there on the commitments get shakier.
A.J. Pierzynski is more than likely the Opening Day catcher, but the organization isn't nearly terrified enough of Tyler Flowers for AJ to not be in play, Carlos Quentin just got a clean bill of health for dealin', the bullpen is deep enough for pretty much any individual to be available, and Gordon Beckham...c'mon, who wouldn't be interested in finding a 2nd basemen who hits better than Gordon Beckham??
As J.J points out, Beckham is as likely as anyone to get a chance with a new regime, but there shouldn't be the strict 'non-starter' tag placed on deals for him that there's been in years past.
The versatility suits Williams, who gets punchy enough to accept a world like "rebuilding" when he gets the notion that he can spurn the slow-cooking process for a flash-fry.
This is not to say that sufficient value to avert the franchise's decline will come back for this collection of broken toys. And I certainly wouldn't want to suggest that eschewing every opportunity to replenish a positively moribund farm system, even as they line up to smack you in the face with their obviousness isn't still a dreadful way to go about this. But Kenny Williams working on a tight budget, trying to grapple with a way to re-form his roster by deciding which assets he could live without was the last time he bore a strong resemblance to Successful Kenny Williams.
It won't save 2012 by any means, and it doesn't qualify as an actual direction for the franchise, but it's something to watch for. I'm interested in what Williams can do with a variety of options for trade and removed from a self-imposed mandate to win now at all costs. Interested, without too much temptation to sub in the word "dreading". That's a start.
Tags: a.j, Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, baseball, Brent Morel, Chris Sale, Dayan Viciedo, Gordon Beckham, Jake Peavy, John Danks, Kenny Williams, Mark Buehrle, mlb, Paul Konerko, pierzynski, Tyler Flowers, White Sox