Springtime Storylines: Are the Chicago White Sox rebuilding or contending?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: Chicago White Sox.

The Big Question: Are the Chicago White Sox rebuilding or contending?

After eight tumultuous but mostly successful seasons as manager Ozzie Guillen left for Miami and general manager Ken Williams shook things up even further by choosing someone with zero managerial experience to replace him in Robin Ventura. And then Williams made several big moves that seemingly put the White Sox squarely in rebuilding mode.

He traded 23-year-old closer Sergio Santos, setup man Jason Frasor, and starting right fielder Carlos Quentin while watching Mark Buehrle leave as a free agent, but Williams stopped just short of a total overhaul. Rumored trade bait like Gavin Floyd, Matt Thornton, and John Danks remain, along with the untradeable contracts of Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, and Adam Dunn, and the team’s best hitter is still 35-year-old Paul Konerko.

Not exactly what full-on rebuilds are made of, and by promoting Chris Sale, Dayan Viciedo, and Addison Reed to bigger roles it’s more like the White Sox are retooling on the fly. Of course, that doesn’t mean they can actually contend in the process. Chicago went 79-83 last season and will need an awful lot of things to go right to climb much further than .500, although the weakness of the division beyond Detroit makes just about any decent team a quasi-contender in the AL Central.

What else is going on?

  • Dunn and Rios were amazingly awful last season, so simply being “really bad” this year would be a massive improvement. And if they each bounce back all the way to their 2010 levels the White Sox’s lineup should top last season’s measly 654 runs with ease. On the other hand, if that doesn’t happen then Konerko is the only real masher in a lineup that could get very ugly if Alejando De Aza fails to provide a spark at the top and Gordon Beckham continues to underwhelm.
  • Santos was dominant more often than not for the White Sox and should be very good as the Blue Jays’ long-term closer, but Chicago has another potentially dominant young right-hander in Addison Reed and along with Thornton and Crain form the makings of a good late-inning trio. That bullpen depth made dealing Santos easier to swallow and allows the White Sox to give formerly excellent setup man Chris Sale an opportunity in the rotation.
  • Sale was a starter in college, but the White Sox shifted him to the bullpen in the minors in an effort to speed up his arrival in the big leagues and it worked so well that they kept him there last season. Sale has a 2.58 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 94 innings as a reliever, so it’s tempting to keep him there, but at age 24 and with two good off-speed pitches to go with a plus fastball it makes sense to see if he can thrive in a 200-inning role before letting him settle into a 65-inning role for good.

How are they gonna do?

It’s hard to imagine the White Sox giving the Tigers serious competition for the division title, but like the other three teams in the AL Central they’re certainly capable of finishing in second place. Las Vegas pegs the over/under for their win total around 76 and after going 79-83 last season that seems about right. Chicago isn’t as bad as the “rebuilding” label might suggest, but it’s still a mediocre team and they figure to be sellers at the trade deadline.

Astros greeted with boos in first spring training game

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The Astros and Nationals share a spring training facility, so it was only natural that they would open Grapefruit League play together. The Astros were the home team. Here’s the lineup they rolled out.

Teams typically include at least a few regulars in their spring training lineups as a courtesy to the fans, who are spending money to see big league players play baseball. This is especially the case for home games. However, the Astros have decided to roll out a lineup with a combined 323 MLB plate appearances.

There might be a reason for that. Houston was lustily booed as they took the field. This was after running a video on the scoreboard celebrating their 2019 AL championship.

That’s all with the team that beat them in the World Series (and is widely regarded as baseball’s current heroes for beating the big bad cheating Astros) in the other dugout, of course. Nationals starter Max Scherzer has not thrown at any Houston player, and the game is now in a rain delay. But it seems like the Astros decided to spare their players from some possible rough treatment, both from fans and opposing pitchers.

The same could not be said for Astros mascot Orbit, who was also booed.

One can quibble with the merits of booing a bunch of players who have barely touched the big leagues because you’re mad at Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, but sports fandom is something of an irrational business. Fans are going to want their pound of flesh, especially when they paid for the right to be in the ballpark and give the Astros a piece of their mind. Some of them even brought props! This is just how it all works, unfortunately. If you’re in an Astros uniform, you’re probably going to get booed.

Welcome to the 2020 season, Astros. It’s probably going to be like this all year.

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