For the first time since 1991, the White Sox enter the season with exactly zero players whose recent performance suggests they’ll hit 30 home runs. Yes, there are guys who could bring the thunder, assuming things like histories of crippling injury, natural decline in output, or horrifying dropoffs in general baseball skill won’t interfere with real life. They are theoretically more well-rounded, built more to play competitive baseball than to win a home run derby.
At the same time, for the first time since I don’t even know when, the White Sox enter the season with a bona fide ace at the top of the rotation—not a guy who can be good, nor a guy who was merely superior to the other arms around him, nor a guy who dominates when he’s on, nor a guy who has one mighty season to his name peppered amongst a lot of nothing and even more of even less, but a guy actually poised to murder the opposition every single time he gets the ball. Even better, the three behind him aren’t just guys coming off of good seasons but actual, legitimate pitchers. Even if Mark Buehrle is in the last throes of his peak, even if Gavin Floyd is a step or two away from consistency, even if John Danks is only 85% of the killing machine we know he can be, this is a rotation to rival even the vaunted Five Horsemen of 2006, a stance which in hindsight seems especially foolish. (“Johnny SoCal and Jose Contreras are gonna to do it again! Javier Vazquez really can pitch when it counts! I’m an idiot!”)
On one hand, these truths are fantastic complements of each other; on the other, larger, more painful hand, the former will at some point render the latter entirely useless. This could be April 28th; this could be sometime in early October. And I think this presents a good way to look at this, the Year of When.
When will Carlos Quentin get hurt?
When will one or all of Bobby Jenks, Paul Konerko, or A.J. Pierzynski leave town?
When will Gordon Beckham hurry up and become the greatest player of all time already?
When will Scott Linebrink rediscover his abilities?
When will Ozzie Guillen either lose or abdicate his position as manager of the White Sox?
Until then, we can look forward to a team that will lead the league in hitting .265 with average power. They will be quite adept at stealing second from slow batteries and you better believe the Andruw Joneses of this roster will be given the green light rounding third more often than not, if only to prove that even if this team isn’t good, it’s still crazy enough to think it is. And, all well-informed pessimism aside, you have to admire a team with the kind of oblivious confidence the Sox have shown since last November, acquiring washed-up All-Stars and broken organizations’ bust prospects as though they, and not the Mariners and Yankees of the world, were the ones who knew which players were good and just how to get them. Even if the White Sox choke, they choked it their way. Mark Teahen and Juan Pierre instead of Chone Figgins. Mark Kotsay instead of Johnny Damon. Jones instead of any player with more going for him these days than being “a low-risk move from a business standpoint.”
They won’t be as bad as the 2009 team (a victory in and of itself) and they might even be able to topple the Joe Nathan-less Twins with a solid 83, maybe 86 wins but when it comes time to prove something, we’re looking at a team built to go home and to get there early. Yes, it’s only March and yes, the botched Johnny Damon negotiations prove there’s money left to add a missing piece should one present itself; Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, whatever. We’ll talk about it when it happens—and when it’s not a move to acquire a 2009 Alex Rios but rather to acquire a 2007-2008 Alex Rios.
The White Sox, heading into the season, are an incomplete team; with a front four like they have, maybe they can get away with it. Maybe you don’t need savage power to compete in the American League. Maybe these guys can give finally life to the hybrid 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers/2003 Florida Marlins Dream Team that lives inside a certain faction of Sox management’s brain. Maybe, just maybe, everything really will be alright. Only time and an alarming number of cruel, cruel 4-3 losses will tell.