Posted Online: March 30, 2013, 6:23 pm
White Sox dig in for AL Central chase
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CHICAGO (AP) — Despite all the tremors around the division, the Chicago White Sox stood their ground.
They shuffled their front office, committed to their top two starting pitchers and split with one of their final links to the 2005 championship team. One thing they didn't do was make any splashy acquisitions, and if the perception is that other teams might have caught or passed them, well, so be it.
"Obviously there are teams that look stronger but I think there is a general feeling here like there was last year that it will be OK, that we'll battle through it," Paul Konerko said.
The White Sox spent 117 days in first place last season only to fade down the stretch and finish three games behind Detroit in the AL Central with 85 wins. They dropped 10 of 12 in late September and were left to watch as the Tigers rolled all the way to the World Series.
They were largely spectators, too, as the rest of the division underwent a makeover. And now, they're saying bring it on.
"The focus becomes taking care of us, not looking outside to see what people perceive you as," said manager Robin Ventura, in his second season. "It's how you play together. I don't think anybody would look at the lineups of the teams that won the last four World Series and say, 'Geez, that's an unbelievable All-Star lineup.' Actually it's nice to have a chip on your shoulder going into it that you have something to prove. It makes my job easier to motivate."
The White Sox weren't exactly dormant this offseason. They just didn't dominate the headlines.
They made some noise by promoting Rick Hahn to general manager and bumping Ken Williams to executive vice president. They re-signed Jake Peavy before he hit the free agent market, a quick strike to retain one of their top pitchers. They also locked in All-Star pitcher Chris Sale for the long term this month, but there were no headline-grabbing additions.
There was, however, one key subtraction — A.J. Pierzynski.
The White Sox let the veteran catcher sign with Texas, severing ties with one of the final players left from the title team while leaving themselves short a left-handed hitter.
Meanwhile, other teams in the division loaded up.
Detroit has all its top players back, with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, slugger Prince Fielder and ace Justin Verlander, and a key figure returning to the lineup in Victor Martinez. He missed last season with a knee injury. The Tigers also spent big money to keep Anibal Sanchez in their rotation and added Torii Hunter to play right field.
Kansas City re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, acquired Ervin Santana in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels and landed James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa Bay.
Cleveland got a boost by hiring Terry Francona, who led Boston to two championships, and landing outfielder Nick Swisher in free agency.
"I think it's going to be tough for any one team to run away with it in the Central this year," Hahn said. "I think it's going to be a fun summer."
And the White Sox aren't conceding anything.
With a strong rotation and a deep bullpen, they believe they have the pitching to compete and that their lineup will be good enough.
Peavy is coming off a rebound season in which he put aside all his recent injuries to post a 3.37 ERA in 32 starts. His reward was a contract that pays $14.5 million in each of the next two seasons and includes a $15 million conditional player option for 2015.
Sale, meanwhile, emerged as an All-Star last season and got the nod to start the season opener against Kansas City. He also got long-term security in the form of a five-year, $32.5 million contract after a 17-win season.
There is some concern surrounding John Danks, last year's opening day starter. A shoulder injury limited him to nine starts, and he's expected to open the season on the disabled list after struggling in spring training.
The White Sox are also short on left-handed bats, particularly with Pierzynski gone.
They let him sign with Texas because they wanted to re-sign Peavy and because they believe Tyler Flowers is ready to take over behind the plate. He's shown he can call a game and field the position. But can he hit?
The same question applies to second baseman Gordon Beckham.
And what about Konerko?
At 37 and entering his 15th season with the White Sox, the veteran understands his career is winding down and even acknowledged this could be his final year. He's also coming off a wrist injury that required surgery after the season to remove a bone chip that lodged in his joint.
"We have something collectively that amounts to something that you can't put down on paper," Konerko said. "A lot of that comes from Robin and the staff. The culture has been changed and is changing as we go here, but from where we were a year ago through the season I look for us to keep that ball rolling down the hill."