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Springtime Storylines: Can the White Sox slug their way to the AL Central title?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: Ozzie Guillen and his always entertaining White Sox.

The Big Question: Can the White Sox slug their way to the AL Central title?

For a brief time the White Sox had it in their heads that they should intentionally remove power from the lineup and try to play small ball, thinking that was somehow the key to consistently beating the Twins.

Last season that involved letting Jim Thome walk as a free agent (and sign with the Twins) while replacing him with a revolving door of designated hitters led by Mark Kotsay. Chicago played plenty of small ball, stealing the second-most bases in the league, but the White Sox also hit their fewest homers since 1999 and finished six games behind the Twins, much of which can be attributed to Thome and his 1.039 OPS switching sides while the DHs replacing him ranked 10th in homers and 13th in RBIs.

General manager Kenny Williams learned his lesson, and while re-signing Thome wasn’t an option he did the next-best thing and signed the other king of lefty hitting power and patience, Adam Dunn, to a $56 million deal. Thome spent three-and-a-half seasons in Chicago, hitting .265 with a .391 on-base percentage and .542 slugging percentage while averaging 38 homers and 103 walks per 150 games. During the past four seasons Dunn has hit .257 with a .382 on-base percentage and .533 slugging percentage while averaging 37 homers and 101 walks per 150 games. It’s a year too late, but they essentially have Thome back in the lineup.

Along with adding Dunn’s big bat the White Sox also re-signed Paul Konerko to a $37.5 million deal and avoided the temptation to trade Carlos Quentin, building another lineup capable of bashing opponents into submission with the help of a power-boosting home ballpark. Juan Pierre and Alex Rios will still do plenty of running, but the White Sox once again look capable of topping 200 homers, which they did every season from 2000-2008 except 2007, when they went 72-90.

Obviously it’ll take more than 200 homers to win the division, but the White Sox’s lineup is very dangerous and features a pair of 40-homer threats (Dunn, Konerko), a pair of 30-homer threats (Quentin, Rios), and a pair of 20-homer threats (Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham) in addition to Pierre’s small-balling ways.

So what else is going on?

  • In addition to restocking the lineup with a homers-and-walks monster the White Sox also rebuilt the bullpen after Bobby Jenks and J.J. Putz departed as free agents. Jesse Crain was lured away from the Twins with a $13 million deal and they promoted elite setup man Matt Thornton to the closer role while opting to keep stud rookie Chris Sale in the bullpen. Toss in Sergio Santos’ successful transition from light-hitting shortstop to flame-throwing setup man and it’s a very strong late-inning quartet.
  • Part of the reason for keeping Sale in the bullpen was the hope that Jake Peavy would be healthy enough to begin the season in the rotation, but now that plan is out the window and journeyman Philip Humber is penciled in as the No. 5 starter. Barring pitching coach Don Cooper pulling a miracle Humber and his 5.26 career ERA will struggle, but the front four of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Edwin Jackson can carry the load and Peavy is currently hoping to return in late April.
  • Beckham bouncing back from a disappointing sophomore season is a big key for the White Sox and I like his chances. His star potential was likely overstated following a promising rookie year, but Beckham quietly recovered from an awful start to hit .310 with an .877 OPS after the All-Star break and is a good bet to improve his overall OPS from last season by at least 100 points.
  • Position player depth should be a major strength, as Ramon Castro is among the best backup catchers around, Teahen is a much better fit in a part-time role, Lastings Milledge was a strong low-cost pickup in the outfield, and Omar Vizquel has defied the odds by remaining productive into his 40s. Toss in Dayan Viciedo waiting in the wings at Triple-A as a power-hitting replacement should anything happen to one of the corner bats and Chicago has the depth to withstand some injuries.
  • You should follow Ozzie Guillen on Twitter. Just trust me.

So how are they gonna do?

This is going to sound like a broken record to anyone who also read my season previews of the Twins and Tigers, but the AL Central has three teams that look capable of winning 88-92 games and I fully expect the division race to go down to the wire. I’d peg Chicago as the division’s second-strongest team, but realistically it might as well be a three-way tie for co-favorites.

Yasiel Puig visits the Statue of Liberty, meets a Yasiel Puig fan

Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig reacts in dugout after hitting a RBI sacrifice fly against the San Francisco Giants during fifth inning of a spring baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., Sunday, March 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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Yasiel Puig is in New York to face the Mets this weekend. Yesterday was a day off so he got to explore New York. You can tell he’s not a New Yorker because he actually went to visit the Statue of Liberty.

I likewise assume that Puig made it to where the boat leaves for Liberty Island with plenty of time to spare, because God knows he’s had a week in which him hustling to make it just in time wasn’t gonna happen.

In other news, Puig made a friend on the boat:

Wade Boggs did not wear his Yankees ring to his number retiring ceremony last night

BOSTON, MA - MAY 26:  Wade Boggs acknowledges the crowd during the retirement of his jersey #26 prior to the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park on May 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The other day we had the non-controversy of Wade Boggs wearing his 1996 World Series ring, which he won with the Yankees, to a ceremony honoring the 1986 Red Sox. Last night, however, Boggs was feted as an individual, with his number 26 being retired at Fenway Park.

It was an emotional night for him. He was visibly choked up and said all sorts of things which clearly showed how much more, at heart, he is a Boston Red Sox legend than he is a legend of either of the other teams for which he played. And he made a comment about the Yankees ring thing too:

He wore his Hall of Fame ring on Thursday.

“I’m proud of it,” Boggs said of the ’96 Yankees’ ring. “But I didn’t feel like it was appropriate today being that it’s my day, it’s my number and everything like that. So I left it off.”

The dude hit .328 for his career and had 3,010 hits despite not even playing a full season until he was 25. He could wear a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring out there and no one would have the right to say boo to him.

Must-Click Link: Big Brother is Watching Ballplayers

Big Brother
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Over at Vice Rian Watt has a great story about how technology is changing baseball. No, it’s not about sabermetrics or statistical analysis. At least not as you all know and understand those things. It’s about how the players themselves are now becoming the data. About how wearables — little devices which monitor everything about an athlete’s behavior — and analysis of that behavior is changing clubs’ understanding of what makes baseball players excel.

Which is fine if you approach it solely from a technological standpoint and do that usual “gee, what a world we live in” stuff that such articles typically inspire. Watt, however, talks about the larger implications of turning players into data: the blurring of their professional and personal lives:

Welcome to the next frontier in baseball’s analytic revolution. Many of this revolution’s tenets will be familiar to anyone who works for a living—the ever-growing digitization and quantification of things never-before measured and tracked, for instance, or the ever-expanding workplace, the blurring distinction between the professional and the personal, and the cult of self-improvement for self-improvement’s sake. These broader trends are colliding with baseball tradition on backfields and in training facilities around the major leagues, and those collisions have raised questions about privacy, security, and what employees owe their employers.

Players already accept drug testing and rules about personal behavior. But can a club, armed with knowledge about how it affects a player’s performance, make rules about how he sleeps? What kind of shoes he wears off the field? Everything he eats?

I’m the last person to fall for slippery slope fallacies. In most instances there are lines that can be drawn when it comes to regulating the behavior of others and making new rules. But in order to draw those lines you have to ask questions about what is and what is not acceptable. You also have to acknowledge that it’s really easy for technology to get ahead of our ability to comprehend its ethical implications.

Vin Scully recites the “People will come” speech from “Field of Dreams”

James
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You all probably know my thing about “Field of Dreams.” Specifically, that I hate it. Maybe my least favorite baseball movie ever. And I have sat through “The Slugger’s Wife” at least twice. That’s really saying something. At some point I’ll watch it again and liveblog the experience to explain my position on this — I know all of you think I’m nuts for not liking it — but just accept that I don’t like it for now, OK?

But just because a movie stinks doesn’t mean every aspect of it is bad. I loved Burt Lancaster in everything he did and he did an excellent job in “Field of Dreams.” Same with James Earl Jones for the most part. I thought he did a great job playing a character which, at times, didn’t have as much to work with as he could’ve had. No, there are good elements of “Field of Dreams.” If there weren’t — if it were just a total turkey — it wouldn’t inspire the feelings I have about it. If it were an unmitigated disaster, I’d occasionally re-watch it on a so-bad-it’s-good theory.

The “People will come” speech is good. Not necessarily for its content — there’s some hokeyness to it — but because James Earl Jones does a great job delivering it. He could read the dang phone book and make it compelling

Yesterday Major League Baseball launched a partnership thingie with the Field of Dreams site in Iowa. Part of that effort involved having Vin Scully recite the “People will come” speech over some baseball footage. Watch and listen:

Personally, I’d prefer Vin to tell some kooky story about an opposing player actually being a part time flautist or what have you. He’s had many monumental moments, but Scully is Scully for the way he makes the workaday and the mundane sound poetic, not because he takes the already poetic and elevates it further.

Still, this is good. Even to a hater like me. And I’m sure a lot of you will love it.