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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.

Aroldis Chapman will rejoin the Yankees on Monday

New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman goes into his windup against the Toronto Blue Jays during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
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Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman was suspended 30 games by Major League Baseball under its domestic violence policy for an offseason incident in which he allegedly pushed and choked his girlfriend, then discharged a firearm at least eight times in his garage. Monday marks game number 30, and Chapman is set to rejoin the club then, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports. Manager Joe Girardi plans to insert Chapman directly into the closer’s role if a save situation arises against the Royals on Monday.

Chapman will make two appearances in the Gulf Coast League this week to continue warming up. He had been throwing in extended spring training games at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa.

The Yankees acquired Chapman from the Reds at the end of December, sending Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, and Tony Renda to Cincinnati in return. While the back end of the bullpen hasn’t been an issue for the Yankees, seemingly everything else has for the 8-15, last place club.

Hunter Harvey to undergo sports hernia surgery

Baltimore Orioles pitchers Chris Tillman, left, and Harvey Hunter (62) watch Brian Matusz throw a bullpen session during a spring training baseball workout in Sarasota, Fla., Monday, Feb. 23, 2015.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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Orioles pitching prospect Hunter Harvey will undergo sports hernia surgery this week, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports. He’ll be out of action for the next four to six weeks as a result.

Harvey suffered a groin strain during a minor league spring training game last month and reaggravated it during an extended spring training game last Thursday. A specialist found a tear which requires surgery to mend.

The 21-year-old Harvey remains the prospect in the Orioles’ minor league system (according to MLB Pipeline) despite not having advanced past the Single-A level. He last pitched in a regular season game on July 25, 2014. The right-hander has suffered a litany of injuries in the time since, including an elbow issue and a fractured leg.

The Potomac Nationals will play a triple-header on Wednesday

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On Monday, the Potomac Nationals were slated to play the Lynchburg Hillcats in a match-up of two Single-A teams. The game, however, was suspended in the fifth inning. The goal was to play a double-header on Tuesday — a nine-inning game followed by a seven-inning game.

Tuesday’s double-header, however, was postponed due to wet grounds. So the Nationals and Hillcats will play a triple-header on Wednesday starting at 3:00 PM EDT. The suspended game will be resumed in the fifth inning and then the two sides will play two seven-inning games, per the Potomac Nationals.

That, well, is something. Minor leaguers don’t get paid enough to play 19 innings (at least) in one day.

Brian Cashman on Yankees’ slow start: “Some leashes might be shorter than others.”

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman watches live batting practice during a spring training baseball workout Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
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Yankees GM Brian Cashman isn’t exactly thrilled with the way his team has played over the first 23 games. The Yankees were swept by the division rival Red Sox over the weekend, running their losing streak to five games and sending their record down to 8-15, good for last place in the AL East.

As David Waldstein reports for the New York Times, Cashman says he may be forced to make some changes soon. “There’s only so long you can allow it to go on before tinkering. But it just needs to stop,” Cashman said.

Cashman continued:

“I’ve done this job a long time and I put this roster together,” Cashman said. “I feel it’s significantly better than it has performed, and when it doesn’t perform up to expectations over the course of time, I have a history of making changes. I would rather not go that route, but when you are forced to do so, you are forced to do so.”

Who have been the biggest contributors to the Yankees’ demise?

Cashman said, “Some leashes might be shorter than others.”

Headley likely has the shortest leash. Utilityman Ronald Torreyes has hit well, boasting an .875 in a limited sample of 24 plate appearances, but he could cut into Headley’s playing time at third base if Headley can’t figure things out. Outfield prospect Aaron Judge could get called up. Outfielder Aaron Hicks, who has taken only 28 PA thus far, could also be in line for more playing time.