Commentary

Sox baseball: Enter punch line here

Williams might need to make bold move

Originally Published: May 20, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

[+] EnlargeJermaine Dye
AP Photo/Amy SancettaBefore trading Jermaine Dye, Kenny Williams should consider infusing his lineup with youth.

Big leads, small leads; it doesn't matter.

Alexei Ramirez, Josh Fields, Gavin Floyd. They're all the same. Bad, bad and worse.

For the past two weeks, the White Sox couldn't pitch when they were hitting, and they couldn't hit when they were pitching, or they just flat-out stunk at both. If they did things right one day, they'd do four things wrong the next. They found interesting ways to lose and boring ways to lose. They didn't discriminate.

And, yeah, the Sox looked great beating the Minnesota Twins 6-2 on Tuesday night, but that was with Mark Buehrle on the mound and the hitters licking their lips at facing Scott Baker and his career 6.81 ERA against the Sox, which is akin to the Dan Ryan opening up after two hours of gridlock.

This is a Sox team that had lost 12 of 15 in forgettable fashion, weighed down by a slew of underperforming would-be stars with no long-term track record to back up recent success. This isn't a team that has you thinking playoff tickets. More like, "When does Bears training camp start again?"

And if the Sox can't put together a few good weeks, the White Sox, as you know them, could be disassembled by the time they're cleaning up desiccated turkey legs from the Taste of Chicago. "We were this bad last May, too" isn't a good slogan to live by right now, nor is "Wait 'til next year."

In that vein, the marketing department might need a little help selling a team that draws 30,000 when it's doing well. So I figured I'd come up with some new slogans throughout the column in the name of public service, which the Sox now advocate in honor of their First Fan.

White Sox baseball: We pitch or hit. You want both? Go to Club Burn.

The wobbly Sox returned home this week for two very winnable series against the Twins and the Pittsburgh Pirates, after suffering an embarrassing four-game sweep in Toronto in which Chicago lost in every way imaginable. Sox GM Kenny Williams made the trip, and when asked by U.S. customs if he had anything to declare, you half-expected him to say, "This team could give a guy angina."

While Brent Lillibridge started his trip back to the Shire on Tuesday, his potent bat and .191 slugging percentage in tow, the Sox broke a five-game losing streak. The athletic Lillibridge's general incompetence at the plate was too hard to hide with other visible flaws in the lineup.

"When you continue to try and play a big man's game when you're only 5-11, 120 pounds, that's not a game you should be playing," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said, noting that young Frodo has a lot to work on before he reaches Mordor.

Tuesday's Lillibridge-free lineup is still indicative of how patchwork this offense has become, especially with Carlos Quentin nursing a bum heel. The immortal Scott Podsednik hit leadoff, and the amazingly lifelike Ramirez hit ninth. Brian Anderson, once Aaron Rowand's heir as Mr. Scrappy in center, was back from the disabled list and hitting seventh. I like Anderson, but there's a reason that going into Tuesday's game, 511 of his 649 plate appearances have come in the eighth or ninth spots.

Guillen thankfully missed two of the team's four losses in Toronto to attend his oldest son's college graduation. Unfortunately, he couldn't take Floyd with him.

"We already hit the bottom of this thing," Guillen said. "The only thing we got left is to move up and not lose any confidence. We have a lot of games left."

White Sox baseball: We've got a lot of games left!

The Sox come into Wednesday 5½ games behind first-place Detroit in the American League Central, a division that played to form as the home for Midwestern mediocrity (Think Big Ten basketball. Then take it down a notch.). Suddenly those crabby Baseball Prospectus predictions don't seem so ludicrous, do they?

White Sox baseball: More fun than Iowa-Northwestern!

There's no deadline for Williams to start dealing if things keep going south in June, but come July, the white flags could be fluttering. Before Trader Kenny prices Jermaine Dye to sell, he ought to first take a risk of a different kind and bring up some of the organization's young blood to bolster the middle-of-the-order hitters.

It's easy enough for writers and broadcasters to bemoan the team's old, slow power hitters, but these guys are pulling their weight, and hitting it, too.

Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Dye all have driven in more than 20 runs, with the expected power. They might run as slowly as a press-box elevator, but they still pack more punch than a $26 meatball sandwich.

(Jim's also a gem of a guy, more American than an extra-value meal. When asked if the warm weather could help the team's hitters, he noted, "Warm weather is always nice.")

Still, the big bats are going to slump again, and someone has to pick up the slack. Ramirez and Quentin provided a jolt last season, and looked to be the building blocks for the post-World Series era. But Ramirez is trying to climb out of another poor start while still auditioning for the Bolshoi Theatre one unnecessary pirouette at a time, and Quentin unsuccessfully is trying to rehab his old injury-prone image.

White Sox baseball: Quentin's available to pinch-hit!

Of the new blood on the roster, no one seems capable of matching Ramirez's or Quentin's dramatic output in 2008, and that's why Williams might have to call up some of his young talent from the minors.

At his best, Chris Getz is an archetypal "gritty role player." Fields has 43 strikeouts and 28 hits, with only two home runs. The versatile Jayson Nix, normally Getz's backup at second, has filled in at third base, shortstop, left and right, despite having little to no experience.

White Sox baseball: Come for Jayson Nix, stay for Jimmy Gobble!

So maybe it's time to restock the roster with some youth. This isn't a panic move, it's a smart, bold decision. (Unless it doesn't work out. Then I'll backtrack and call it a panic move.) The Sox have legit talent in their farm system, so we're told.

Southern heartthrob Gordon Beckham gave the beat writers something to ask about for a month during their spring malaise, and this Brandon Allen guy is putting up some solid power numbers. Cuban free-agent pickup Dayan Viciedo could be one of those guys who gets locked in under the lights after a so-so stint in the minors.

Williams doesn't want to rush good prospects (Allen's blocked by Konerko and Thome anyway), and Guillen doesn't want a youth movement, but this is a team in need of a spark. My advice? Bring up Beckham, let him start at third or second, and mix it up with Getz, Nix and/or Fields until two guys step up and take some spots. If they have to get rid Wilson Betemit to make room, so be it.

White Sox baseball: Come see Wilson Betemit before he's gone. He's like a less fatty Juan Uribe.

While Gobble fulfills Williams' lasting commitment to employing washed-up Royals, the bullpen hasn't been the concern. Of course, by the time the relievers get in, the game's often out of hand anyway, so that's tough to gauge.

As usual, Buehrle has been the rock of the rotation as young (John Danks and Floyd), old (Jose Contreras) and round (Bartolo Colon) have forced Guillen to stock up on his Grecian Formula and rely on Clayton Richard to give the Sox a chance to win. And you know what they say: Never trust a man with two first names. That means you too, Gavin.

Floyd's new four-year, $15.5 million deal isn't looking like a bargain right now, with that sparkling 7.70 ERA. His performance this season, after winning 17 games last year, could best be described as "MacDougalish." Along with Ramirez, Quentin and Danks, the Sox put a lot of stock in Floyd's 2008 performance being a step toward stardom, and they're paying for that optimism now.

Floyd-for-Freddy Garcia was looking like one of Williams' all-time steals, but the overthinking righty might be best suited for a stint as the long man in the bullpen to get his head right. Contreras, currently lighting up the likes of Will Rhymes and Don Kelly while trying to find his forkball in Triple-A, could make a triumphant return in the next week.

"When he comes up, we're going to wear a Triple-A uniform," Guillen joked. "It might help him."

If any of the six possible starters can't cut it, call up left-handed phenom Aaron Poreda, if he can utilize a workable off-speed pitch to complement his fastball. Otherwise, look to the bargain bin and pull out a Paul Byrd or even a Pedro Martinez. Something's got to happen.

As Guillen and all of his players noted, there are plenty of games left. There's no reason to hit the panic button yet.

Ask me again in another month.

White Sox baseball: It's not over until early July, at least!

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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