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C A.J. Pierzynski: Imagine Jose Canseco moseying into a major league clubhouse wielding explosive vials of SARS and anthrax, and you get some idea of Pierzynski’s popularity. No matter, he’s one of the better (and healthier) all-around catchers in the game. He’s also a handy guy for a manager to keep fresh because he’s always been anemic against lefties (career .622 OPS vs. left, .812 vs. right). With Ben Davis around, Pierzynski should get his beauty sleep, which bodes well. But look out for that sucker punch.
1B Paul Konerko: Konerko bounced back to play 155 games and set several career highs on the way. He was fully healthy, so this pallid shade of yellow can best be explained by changes to the baseline for his age and position.
2B Tadahito Iguchi (unknown): Not enough information available. On average, he’s missed 10 games per year over the past four seasons.
SS Juan Uribe
3B Joe Crede
LF Scott Podsednik: His reputation as a scrapper isn’t baseless; he conjures visions of Chris Snelling or Darin Erstad with his outfield recklessness. But with 154 games played in each of his first two big league seasons, the swagger hasn’t hindered him yet. Changing positions and ballparks adds a little risk as well, especially with the initial adjustment to foul territory and new dimensions. At least he won’t have to deal with Miller Park’s utter lack of foul ground.
CF Aaron Rowand: Finally feeling strong and fully recovered from his scary dirt bike accident in November 2002, Rowand stayed healthy and busted out last year. Still, he’s got a slight history of nagging tweaks and twinges, including a left quadriceps problem this spring and a bruised shoulder from a dispute with the outfield wall. Because of his minor health concerns, the White Sox think it’s best to move Podsednik to left instead of Rowand.
RF Jermaine Dye: One of the most injury-riddled players in the game, his career has taken drastic turns since breaking his leg. For three years prior to the injury, Dye averaged a 7.2 WARP3; in the three years since he’s averaged 2.2 WARP3. When the leg, hamstring, knee, and ankle injuries subsided last year, the bug moved upward, affecting his shoulder, wrist, elbow, and thumb. Miraculously, he never went on the DL. He’s certain to battle something, and he’s running out of new body parts to injure. Dye took up yoga this winter to improve flexibility and there have been no bad reports so far, so maybe there’s hope. But probably not.
DH Frank Thomas: Thomas’ work at rehabbing his ankle from off-season surgery is counteracted by a low pain tolerance, but mid-May looks most likely barring additional setbacks. He was on crutches for seven months, and somehow still had lost 15 pounds upon his arrival to camp. He’ll DH exclusively to protect the foot. When healthy, he’s still a dangerous hitter.
UT Willie Harris: Harris’ biggest impact on the White Sox last year may have been colliding with Magglio Ordonez in May. It’s easy to forget that Harris felt some ankle pangs of his own in the following weeks, cutting into his steals for a while. He’s fine now.
SP Mark Buehrle: Few people realize that he’s worked more innings the last four years than any pitcher in baseball, but he’s efficient, thus keeping him relatively low in the Pitcher Abuse Points standings. Some pitchers can simply carry a bigger burden; after rebounding nicely in 2004 under an even heavier workload, it might be time to put that label on Buehrle. Reports continue to be positive on his freaky-quick recovery from a fractured foot. But while he may indeed start Opening Day, it’s definitely not a smart risk to push the rehab along so fast.
SP Freddy Garcia: Last year’s THR said that Garcia needed to increase his pitch efficiency, and he did to some degree, trimming down a pitch per inning. That improvement resulted in arguably his best season to date. A forearm strain down the stretch almost shut him down, but he returned and was effective.
SP Jose Contreras: Looking at Contreras’ statistics and results, one would think he would have had injuries in there. It’s not injuries, it’s inconsistency. His awkward mechanics, especially his inability to control his front shoulder through the delivery, madden pitching coaches and open him up to frequent drubbings. We don’t know how he’d react under a full workload.
SP Orlando Hernandez: El Duque’s torn rotator cuff sidelined him for all of 2003, and rehab setbacks knocked out the first half of 2004. He coasted for a while after returning, but the shoulder became tired down the stretch. The stop-and-go nature of his year-to-year workloads is dangerous, but reflective of his injury history. Though he’s 35 (wink), he’s still posting good numbers when healthy. But don’t expect Contreras and El Duque to “make each other better” by infusing salsa music and cigars to the clubhouse, no matter the media spin.
SP Jon Garland
CL Shingo Takatsu: “Mr. Zero” not only has a cool nickname–something sadly lacking in baseball today–he also has a cool delivery. The sidearm motion was quirky enough to keep people guessing; it’s the filthy change-up that scares hitters more effectively than Audition, another Japanese import.
The biggest threat facing the White Sox may be their manager. Ozzie Guillen has become the spokesman for TWiQ in recent months, but his insistence that starting pitchers must be tough and throw copious pitches is still foreboding. Cited in a TWIQ last April:
If you’re going to have success in this game, you better go up to the hundreds… [Nolan] Ryan, [Roger] Clemens, [Greg] Maddux, [Tom] Glavine, [Curt] Schilling, all those guys have success in this game, and go 115, 120 pitches.
Guillen does have two genuine horses in Buehrle and Garcia. In the same interview, he said he’d watch Garcia’s workload and posed 240 innings as a reachable goal. But what is he expecting from Contreras, El Duque, and Garland? Last year Garland threw 217 innings, and the Esteban Loaiza-Contreras tandem was pinched for 215. Scott Schoeneweis was the quiet victim last summer, requiring elbow surgery after 112 horrid innings in the rotation. After Buehrle, Garcia, Garland and Loaiza, the Sox trotted out nine different starting pitchers who all ballooned their ERAs above five. Perhaps things would have worked out better had they stuck with that four-man rotation they tinkered with in May.
Behind the starting five, there are some strong contingency options. The bullpen was decent last year, and the additions of Luis Vizcaino and Dustin Hermanson should help solidify their relief corps. Brandon McCarthy has dazzled every man, woman, and child in Tucson. With El Duque around, McCarthy should get a fair shot even if Buehrle starts on April 4. Guillen doesn’t need to put extra pressure on his starting pitchers because of this depth, but he probably isn’t getting the message.
With the additions of Dye and Hernandez and the ongoing treatment for the Big Hurt, Herm Schneider and his medical staff have their work cut out for them. But overall, the core of this team is healthy and ready to roll. They’ll need that edge to have any chance at surmounting the Twins and the rest of the AL Central.
Dave Haller is an intern and research assistant for Baseball Prospectus. You can e-mail Dave by clicking here.