The 2008 Season Begins
Monday, October 1, 2007
The Day After
Today marks the start of the 2008 season for general manager Ken Williams and the Chicago White Sox.
With a core roster much in place, Williams and his staff still face key decisions as they fight to get the team back into the postseason in 2008. And there shouldn’t be any question about the team’s offseason direction.
"As long as I’m sitting in this chair," Williams stressed Saturday during a season-ending press conference with the Chicago media at U.S. Cellular Field. "We are going to be aggressive. If we didn’t take chances, we wouldn’t have been in the spot to win 200 games in two years.
“If you thought we enjoyed winning the World Series the first time, think how much we want to win a second.”
Exactly how Williams’ aggressiveness manifests itself may not be clear until spring training opens next February.
"It’s incumbent on me to go into this offseason and rectify some of the problems we’ve had this season," Williams said. "People need to know that when you are aggressive and pursue high-impact, championship-type players, there always is a higher risk that sometimes things blow up."
But with many key players under contract and returning in 2008, Williams emphasized that a major overhaul was unlikely. The answers most likely lie in an off-season mix of trades, free agent signings and personnel evaluation as the baseball department determines which young players have proven they can excel in the major leagues.
"We’re still very much in a championship mode of thinking," Williams said, ticking off the names, Mark Buehrle, A.J. Pierzynski, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome. “These are great players. I still remain confident in that core group, and if we had a bright spot in this season, it was seeing which young players performed at this level. These are pretty good ballplayers we are bringing back to go to battle."
At this point, it’s far too early to tell how this offseason’s moves will unfold. The team’s organization meeting occurs in mid October, MLB’s general manager meetings in early November and the annual winter meetings in early December.
"Typically, this gets us in trouble with the offseason rumor mills,” Williams admitted. “(But) our approach is we listen to anyone and any overture.
"There isn’t a player out there we will not pursue."
One point stressed repeatedly by Williams is the importance patience plays in making decisions on talent evaluation. He pointed to the development of Bobby Jenks, Jose Contreras, Jon Garland, Joe Crede and Javier Vazquez as prime examples. In some cases, it is a matter of believing in young players and allowing them to develop. In others, it is a case of being confident in the ability of your scouts to identify talent and in your coaching staff in helping the player develop. "We go on what we see and what we know from a scouting and development standpoint."
But should fans be concerned if the club opens spring training with a roster very similar to the one that ended 2007?
"We won in 2005 and 2006 with pitching and defense," said Williams. "We believe the offense is going to correct itself naturally. Guys performed under their career averages. I don’t believe that will happen again. If it does, I’ll need medication."
Sox fans know he won’t be alone.
When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, they ranked ninth in the American League and 13th in baseball with 741 runs scored. The team improved to third overall with 868 runs scored in winning 90 games in 2006, before dropping to 28th in baseball and last in the AL in runs scored in 2007.
"Coming out of spring training, we never imagined that offensively we’d rank at or near the bottom with the talent we have,” Williams admitted. “That is perplexing to us.”
Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen are confident in the club’s starting pitching options, particularly with the development of John Danks in 2007, Gavin Floyd late in the year and Jose Contreras’ return to form in the second half.
"We have five big-time starters and our closer is one of the best in the game," Williams said, acknowledging there remains work to be done in the bullpen. "We do have to get (Mike) MacDougal back on track and have a reasonable expectation of what he will provide next year."
The White Sox must make decisions on 2008 options for three players: shortstop Juan Uribe, outfielder Darin Erstad and pitcher Mike Myers. Three other players, Alex Cintron, Scott Podsednik and Joe Crede, are under control for 2008 but are arbitration eligible.
"He’s a top quality shortstop," Williams said of Uribe. "We don’t know what we’re going to do yet, but we’re going to look at getting better at every position."
In trying to summarize the offseason questions facing his club, Williams argued for a return to the attitude and approach that led to 2005’s success.
"We may not need that flashy move," Williams said. "It may be more of finding the right fit. But it may also be a big-name player."
Either way, Williams knows his end goal.
"We need to get our edge back."
Thank you to White Sox fans who supported their team to the tune of 2.68 million in 2007, posting the third-highest attendance mark in franchise history. Fantastic!
In 2005, the Chicago Tribune ran a story before the Division Series began predicting the baseball postseason based on a formula. Surprisingly, forecasts for the White Sox that October were very dire. There was just no way our club could/would win.
I personally had two issues with the concept. First, they never actually showed us the formula … like a + b = c, although I assume it was much, much more sophisticated than that.
And of course, after the fact, the formula proved to be very wrong. (White Sox victory parade = Time for a new formula.)
So my question is, what does that formula forecast for the 2007 playoffs and the chances of the Cubs? Maybe a story will show up in tomorrow morning’s paper?
Truth is, if we have learned anything in 2005-06 it’s that any team still alive can win. The Tigers entered the postseason on a terrible run and still managed to reach the World Series. The Cardinals won 83 games and celebrated as World Champions. Any team still alive can catch fire and win 11 games. And truthfully, if the playoffs were suddenly expanded to 12 or 16 teams, those new additions could win it as well. At this time of year, it seems it is a lot about good pitching, getting every break, a good bullpen, lucky bounces, clutch hitting, feel-good karma and did I mention, a little luck.
Just how often has the team with the best regular-season record also won the World Series like we did in 2005 (and has recent history shown a different trend)? Sounds like a project for the interns …
I sent emails and notes to all of my friends fortunate enough to still be playing this week and reminded them to take the time to enjoy the trip. It is amazing, when your team is playing in the postseason, just how quickly everything zooms past. Then, you take a breath and realize it’s over. Luckily for me, that breath came on a double-decker bus during a downtown parade attended by 2 million Sox fans.
One of my emails went to Larry Shenk, VP of PR for the Phillies and a long-time friend. I’ve admired Larry’s work as a professional and appreciate his view of baseball, the world and life. This is Larry’s last full-time season with the Phillies, so I send extra-special thoughts his way.
Larry authors a blog of his own, so check out his trip through October.
My guess is he mentions No. 33 from time to time.