It’s been an interesting last few days around these sporting parts.  The Bears signed Jared Allen, the Badgers found their way to the Final Four, the Blackhawks season may be over, and the Bulls have done a fantastic job tricking everyone into thinking they are actually going to do something worthwhile this spring.  It’s been a whirlwind.  So before getting carried away with any of that I wanted to knock out the baseball season previews that I’ve been putting off for a good two weeks now.  This year as always we’ll start on the Southside of town because it’s more boring and less important.

These Sox are more well known than many that will take the field at US Cellular this summer

The White Sox are an interesting group, an enigma if you will to the baseball world.  They’re not high rollers in free agency, the don’t regularly make trades that cause the biggest splashes, they don’t have a critically acclaimed farm system and their front office doesn’t have a unique perspective or method that the rest of the industry tries to emulate or the baseball media fawns over.  They just kind of exist in many ways.  I hate to say it Sox fans but they do.  They’re not discussed as perennial contenders and yet their picking third in the draft this summer is their highest draft choice since selecting Harold Baines first overall in 1977.  Aside from winning the World Series that no one watched in 2005, the White Sox have not particularly over achieved nor underachieved during any season of my lifetime.  With the exception of a few memorable Frank Thomas seasons, a Bobby Thigpen saves record, and the fireworks that came with Albert Belle, the Sox just never moved my needle.  Until this year…

I’m not a huge Kenny Williams fan in general but I definitely took his side in the war that waged between he and Ozzie Guillen.  I think his best move however was in stepping aside (by “aside” I mean up the ladder to an assumedly higher tax bracket) and letting Rick Hahn take over the day to day operations as General Manager of the team.  Starting with a deck of league average talent and a completely barren farm system Mr. Hahn is going about an organizational rebuild in a different model but with the same goal as the much more heralded Northsiders.

Without an arsenal of highly thought of prospects, high draft picks, and perhaps the most frugal of owners holding his purse strings, Hahn has begun to turn over the Sox roster with young talent that might actually be fun to watch.

The following unspoken rules have been followed by Richard this off season alone:

Closers Are Like Juicers, Everyone Is Convinced They Need One Buy Few Teams Really Do And Otherwise They Just Take Up Counter Space – The White Sox have been blessed with a string of memorable closers over the years.  From Thigpen to Foulke, Mr. Zero, Jenks, and most recently Addison Reed, it seems like they come out of the woodwork at US Cellular.  While a good closer is an essential piece to a contending team, they bring pretty much negligible value to a team vacillating between 63 and 68 wins.  What do those five wins really mean to you in the grand scheme of things?  Now if it’s the difference between 88 wins and 93 those same five wins decide whether you go to the playoffs and a closers value increases exponentially.   In modern baseball if a bad team can take a promising closer (a la Reed) and flip him to a team that believes they are that one last piece away from contending for a promising every day bat at a premium position (read: Matt Davidson) you do it ten times out of ten.

Cuban Imports Are Under Valued – Cubans are good at baseball.  For whatever reason the Major Leagues are still wrestling with this fact.  Sure when a Cuban defects they get attention and are often signed to a Major League contract but their projection is always clouded based on the lack of knowledge about where their stats really came from and in turn they are generally signed to under market value contracts.  In a world where stars past their prime receive $25+ million per year 10 year contracts (*cough* Pujols *cough* Cabrera *cough*) how else do you explain Yasiel Puig (arguably last year’s NL MVP) signing a 7 year $42M contract, Yoenis Céspedes agreeing to a 4 year $36M deal with the A’s, and soon to be star Jorge Soler signing for 9 years and $30M total with the Cubs?  Those are bargin basement prices for the production these players provide.  So what did Rick Hahn do this off season?  He signed the best Cuban player off them all right as he enters his peak years for a measly $68 million over 6 years.

Blue Collar Fans Like Blue Collar Players – The White Sox faithful are a unique breed.  The pride themselves on being the antitheist to the preppy Northsiders as they embody the working class of our fair city.  There’s a reason having your playing style described as “dirty” or “scrappy” is a medal of honor in White Sox lore.  White Sox fans are going to fall in love with Adam Eaton.

So where does this leave us today?  If I wrote this column six weeks ago I’d have picked the White Sox to be a lurking candidate to be the under the radar team that sneaks up on the league and gets to play October baseball this year.  There’s one every year.  That article would have been written about the always reliable Don Cooper-led pitching holding down the fort and the offense getting just enough of a boost where all those 4-3 losses last year become 6-4 victories and the Sox give the Tigers a real scare for the division title.  That was until the Sox pitching staff got shelled in Arizona these past six weeks.

I know that spring training stats mean very little and the air in Arizona makes it a hitter friendly atmosphere, but every pitching staff faced the same elements and besides an injury riddled Rangers squad no one fared as poorly as the Pale Hose did.

So what if this is the year that the Injury-Waiting-To-Happen Chris Sale actually gets injured?  What if John Danks is the John Danks who performed last year and not the one who signed the most lucrative pitching contract ever handed out by the White Sox in 2011 and then promptly has been hurt ever since?  If that one steadying force of the team were to go away, where does that leave this squad?

At the end of the day I’m going to default to the mystical powers of Don Cooper and assume he can coax another above average season out of this collection of talent and I do believe the bats end up performing as expected.  I think Jose Abreu is your AL Rookie of the Year (at a questionable age of 27) and the White Sox stay competitive throughout but don’t get to go to the big dance.  Call it an entertaining 85-79 record and further proof that the best move the Sox made was letting Rick Hahn steer the ship for the forseeable future.