- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Like a lot of athletes these days, Mark Teahen has a Twitter account.
But unlike most of them, Teahen's account (Twitter.com/ESPY_Teahen) is written from the perspective of his dog, Espy. He's pretty committed to it, though the posts sometimes lapse back into Teahen's voice.
"She doesn't type that well with no thumbs," Teahen said. "So I have to help her out."
But the Chicago White Sox don't need him to write 140-character bursts (even if they're funny). They need him to play 140-plus games at third base, which has been the Black Hole of Bridgeport since Joe Crede's back quit on him a few years ago.
In that regard, Teahen, not exactly a household name, might be the most important addition to a team that has added former All-Stars and/or World Series veterans Juan Pierre, J.J. Putz, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel in the offseason.
"I think we really struggled at third base the last couple years, really bad," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said Friday at SoxFest. "I think Teahen is going to do a better job."
Although the Sox expect left-handed Teahen to drive the ball the other way, and knock in runs in the bottom third of the order, the real reason they brought him in was to stabilize an unreliable infield, which started two rookies and one skittish second-year player, along with polished Paul Konerko at first.
The Sox have one of the best starting staffs in baseball, and a bullpen that should be improved from last year, but without a defense they can rely on, it's like putting doughnut tires on a Maserati.
Josh Fields was a perfectly nice guy, but he couldn't stop a bowling ball with a snow shovel. Gordon Beckham is a future superstar, but he was baptized by two-hoppers, with about a week's worth of training to play third in the majors. It's about time the team brought in a real third baseman again.
"It helps," pitcher John Danks said. "[Mark] Buehrle and I especially get a lot of balls hit to third base and the left side of the infield. Not to take anything away from Gordon, he did a great job over there, but it was a new position for him. To have a guy with more experience, I think it helps."
The White Sox's .981 fielding percentage was tied for worst in the American League, with, gulp, Kansas City. The Royals were the only team to have more errors than the Sox (116-113).
"Last year, we made too many errors," Guillen said. "I think our pitching staff got tired because they have to get an extra out, an extra inning."
But Teahen is no sure thing, either, which makes this move an interesting one to follow as spring turns to summer.
Teahen, who came up in 2005, has a career fielding percentage of .952 at third base and made 11 errors in 107 games (99 starts) at third last year. He had an ultimate zone rating of minus-6.9, according to FanGraphs. UZR calculates the number of runs above or below average a fielder is in range runs and error runs combined. He was an OK fielder on a bad team.
And although statistically Beckham, a talented novice at third, had a comparable year, committing 14 errors with a minus-2.0 UZR, most baseball people (at least in the Sox organization) would rather have Teahen's experience at the hot corner.
In Teahen's defense (no pun intended), he hadn't played third regularly since 2006, when he committed 14 errors with a 0.4 UZR. He started 2009 at second base, but wound up playing more in right field and at first base.
"It's home to me," Teahen said of third. "The last couple years in Kansas City, I've been asked to bounce around and move around. Last year, I ended up playing third base for the first time in a couple years. It's where I'm most comfortable. I think I've got some range and a good arm."
Beckham will move to second, where the Sox have slotted him from the beginning, where he's expected to form a solid double-play combination with Alexei Ramirez, who had an erratic season, as well. The two met up in Miami for "Camp Cora" infield practice with Joey Cora. Guillen told the Cuban shortstop that he needs to be the leader of the infield, even with obvious language barriers.
"The key to an experienced infield, like we have now, is communication," Ramirez said through a translator. "Basically it's knowing where to go and where to be at certain times."
Teahen, a 28-year-old southeast California native, is hoping he has found a new home at third and in Chicago. He and his girlfriend are looking for a swank downtown apartment for them and their two dogs, Espy and Ribi. He's trying to rent his Kansas City condo to Chris Getz, who was traded to the Royals along with Fields. (Scott Podsednik and Brian Anderson signed there, as well, reversing the recent trend.)
Teahen started tweeting immediately from SoxFest, noting the team's 3-D video to kick off the convention rivaled "Avatar." He is understandably excited to get the season started.
"The atmosphere is different here," Teahen said. "I know the Royals are trying to change the approach and culture there, but it's nice to come to events like this, where people are talking about the World Series, while in Kansas City, it was talking about trying to compete."
Some players don't mesh with the White Sox Way, which includes A.J. Pierzynski's unique personality, and very regular, very loud, very profane rants from Guillen.
But Teahen, who hosted a weekly radio show in Kansas City and had regular comedy bits on the scoreboard at Kauffman Stadium, should have no problem fitting in with one of the looser clubhouses in baseball.
His conversations with Guillen in five years with the Royals mostly have been limited to bench jockeying, and he was cool with that.
"He's just yelled at me from the other side of the diamond," Teahen said. "Whether it was me bunting when he thought we had too big of a lead or when they thought I was peeking from time to time. It was cool. They'd yell at me, and I'd give it back. But they must respect me enough to get me over here."
White Sox general manager Kenny Williams has had a Royals fetish in recent years, trying to find diamonds in the rough in failed relievers Andy Sisco and Mike MacDougal. Was everyone over there trying to impress Williams and earn a pardon from Kansas City?
"We did joke about the Siscos and MacDougals," Teahen said. "But hopefully I fare better than those guys [and] find my niche."
For his sake, and for that of the White Sox, who are playing for another shot at the brass ring, here's hoping he finds that niche. Because this isn't Kansas City. The games count after April, and if Teahen can't hold down third, no one is going to care what his dog has to say on Twitter.
Mark Teahen is looking forward to filling the White Sox's void at third base.