Ozzie Guillen loves to talk more than anyone in baseball. The White Sox manager regales the media in his daily press greetings and several times each season is guaranteed to say something that makes its way into the national headlines.
However, Guillen is not ready to put his mouth where owner Jerry Reinsdorf's money is.
The White Sox payroll is a club-record $127 million this season after Reinsdorf decided against his original plan of retrenching over the winter following a second-place finish in the American League Central. Instead, the Sox owner gave general manager Ken Williams more money in an attempt to end the Twins' two-year hold on the division championship. The White Sox signed designated hitter Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56 million contact, re-signed first baseman Paul Konerko for three years and $37.5 million and re-signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski for two years and $8 million.
Following the spending spree, Reinsdorf made it clear to Guillen and general manager Ken Williams that it was imperative for the White Sox to get off to a good start this season. The White Sox must draw at least 2.5 million fans this season to break even, according to Reinsdorf, and therefore need to generate immediate interest in order to sell tickets, since they remain second fiddle to the Cubs in the Second City.
After the White Sox opened the season by taking two of three games against the Indians in Cleveland, Guillen was asked if he felt any extra pressure for his team to play well in April. His answer was typically self-assured.
"Pressure? Never. Never. Never," Guillen said. "You know what pressured me? My dad. He was broke in Venezuela waiting for me to send the paycheck every 15 days. That's pressure. Me? I'm fine. I love the heat. I'm not hiding from anybody. I like to be in the hot seat. If they don't play good, I should be fired. If they play good, they should keep me. That's the way it is. I don't feel pressure by any circumstances. Never. In my life [maybe] when I was a kid. Now, I'm a grown man, and I know what I can do. I have a lot of confidence in myself and my coaching staff, and that's the reason they spent a lot of money on this ballclub and gave it to me. They have confidence in me."
Guillen also has confidence in his club. He believes it should be the favorite in what figures to be a three-team AL Central race between the White Sox, Twins, and Tigers.
"In my eyes, we are the team to beat," Guillen said. "We are built to be the team to beat. It may sound cocky, but we have a good ballclub. In the meanwhile, Minnesota won last year, so they are the defending Central Division champs. A lot of people are saying, 'They have a hole here, a hole there,' but they will find a way. They always do. Detroit, too. But we are the team to beat."
Those who know Guillen well say a large part of his outspokenness is intended to take pressure off his players, allowing them to concentrate on on-field matters while he engages the media. The method certainly works. The White Sox are very loose at the start of the season, even after an 11-20 showing in the Cactus League tied them with the Astros for the major-league lead for exhibition losses.
"There's no pressure here, just an optimistic feeling," second baseman Gordon Beckham said. "We have every reason in the world to feel good about our team after what Jerry did this winter. He let us bring back two very key veteran players and then added one of the top power hitters in the game in Adam Dunn. You add that to one of the best pitching staffs in the league, and you've got to feel good about this team."
The White Sox believe Dunn is the player who can push them over the top and back to the postseason for the first time since 2008. The behemoth left-handed slugger has hit at least 38 home runs in each of the last seven seasons and should seemingly thrive at U.S. Cellular Field, a ballpark that is friendly to power hitters. PECOTA projects him for 38 home runs and a .301 True Average this season.
"He showed the kind of impact he's going to make on our lineup immediately," Beckham said, referring to Dunn's two-run home run and two-run double on Opening Day. "It's going to be a treat to watch him this season. I'm hoping he drives me in a bunch of times."
Guillen has long been a proponent of "Ozzieball," which includes stealing, bunting, and using the hit-and-run. His affinity for the strategy is understandable, since he hit just 28 home runs in 7,133 lifetime plate appearances during his days as a slick-fielding shortstop.
However, this White Sox team is going to be predicated on power, with Dunn hitting third in the batting order, followed by Konerko, center fielder Alex Rios, right fielder Carlos Quentin, and shortstop Alexei Ramirez in the four through seven spots. Those five combined for 567 strikeouts last season, including 199 by Dunn for the Nationals.
"We're going to be a strikeout-heavy team," Guillen said. "We're going to have to be patient in the other spots of the order. We've got good speed, not just stealing bases, but going first to third. We'll find a way to work around the strikeouts."
If the White Sox can do that, then they feel they can get off to the hot start Reinsdorf desires. That would be a big change from last year, when they started 24-33 and were 9 1/2 games out first place by June 5. That was followed by a 25-5 run that vaulted them into first place at the All-Star break. However, the White Sox yielded the top spot for good on August 12, as they stumbled to a 24-24 mark in their last 48 games.
"It's nice to get off to a good start, but it won't be the end of the world if we don't," said White Sox reliever Matt Thornton, who takes over as the closer after Bobby Jenks was not tendered a contract last winter. "It's about being consistent all season. Look at the Yankees over the years. They win a series here, win a series there, lose a series, then come back and win the next series. At the end of the year, they've put themselves in position to get to the World Series. That's what we'd like to do this season, and I feel we have the talent to do it."
Rumors and rumblings: Mets officials are extremely pleased with how third baseman David Wright has accepted new manager Terry Collins' challenge of taking over as the team leader. … The Nationals plan to leave their spring training facility in Viera after their lease runs out in 2013 and have their eye on getting a new complex built elsewhere in Florida, either in the Orlando area or on the Gulf Coast. … Sean Rodriguez will see the bulk of the playing time at third base for the Rays with Evan Longoria (strained oblique) on the disabled list, while Felipe Lopez will also get some starts at the hot corner. … The Rays are expected to begin talks with left-hander David Price on a long-term contract that would likely buy out all of his arbitration seasons. … Orioles reliever Alfredo Simon, jailed for two months after the shooting death of his cousin on New Year's Eve in the Dominican Republic, is out on bail and has reported to extended spring training but likely will not be ready to join the major league club until at least mid-May. … Either Matt Palmer or Trevor Bell is expected to start the Angels' home opener on Friday now that Joel Pineiro (shoulder) has had a setback in his rehab. … The Cardinals plan to go with a platoon of righty Jon Jay and lefty Allen Craig in left field while Matt Holliday recovers from his appendectomy. … The Nationals plan to have Wilson Ramos and Ivan Rodriguez split time behind the plate in the early part of the season, with Ramos eventually taking over the starting job as the season goes on. … Marlins third base prospect Matt Dominguez's difficult season continues, as he suffered a broken wrist last week in a minor league exhibition game just a few days after an awful spring ended his bid to make the major league club. … Mariners closer David Aardsma (hip) is making such good progress in his rehab that he could return by the beginning of May. … The reason the Blue Jays did not exercise second baseman Aaron Hill's 2014 club option by Opening Day, as his contract mandated, and have yet to decide on the 2012 and 2013 club options is because they want to see how performs this season following a disappointing 2011 and a spring training marred by a calf injury.
Indians right-hander Fausto Carmona: "You don't want to get alarmed by one start, but he was as bad as I've ever seen him on Opening Day [giving up 10 runs and 11 hits in three innings to the White Sox]. He had absolutely no command of his sinker, and he got pounded. It was literally like he was throwing batting practice, fastballs with no juice right down the middle of the plate."
Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp: "He's done a 180-degree turn from last season. He's running the bases hard, taking better routes in the outfield, and not giving away at-bats. Everyone knows the sky's the limit for this guy. It's all a matter of him committing to being a great player, and he seems like he's committed now."
Rangers outfielder David Murphy: "It's too bad he's the odd man out because of the Rangers' irrational decision to play Julio Borbon in center fielder. Murphy is twice the player that Borbon is. I know they want to keep Josh Hamilton in left field, but if they want to put their best lineup on the field then they're going to have to put Hamilton back in center and play Murphy in left."
Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki: "Sometimes it's easy to take him for granted, but he's still an amazing athlete. He gets down the line so fast and he puts so much pressure on the defense every time he puts the ball in play. You can put him down right now for 200 hits again this season."
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker: "I really had reservations about the guy two years ago when he was in Triple-A. He swung at everything then. He's still not what you would call a patient hitter, but he is willing to work counts now and wait for better pitches to hit. He's got a much better approach at the plate."