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White Sox camp report: Renewed 'pen money well spent


PHOENIX -- It's like a hidden expense item down there on the far side of the roster. The White Sox are big, bold and pricey. Adam Dunn's lefty bat should play large in U.S. Cellular Field -- at least, Chicago hopes, as colossal as his four-year, $56 million deal.

And here's the other deal with the White Sox: Their projected club-record $125 million payroll goes far deeper than Dunn. The biggest shocker of the winter to manager Ozzie Guillen came shortly after Dunn signed, when owner Jerry Reinsdorf approved the re-signing of veterans Paul Konerko (three years, $37.5 million) and A.J. Pierzynski (two years, $8 million).

Chicago White Sox
Scott Miller What I like and dislike about the White Sox so far this spring. Read >>
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"Because as soon as they sign Adam Dunn, I go 'Well, we have a first baseman, I don't know that we're going to sign P.K. back,'" Guillen says.

All that's the shiny exterior.

The "hidden expense" item?

Go look inside Chicago's beefed up bullpen, where the Sox added free agents Jesse Crain (from AL Central rival Minnesota) and lefty specialist Will Ohman (who pitched in Baltimore and Florida last year).

Together with returning relievers Matt Thornton and Chris Sale -- both lefties -- and hard-throwing Sergio Santos, well, now you're talking about something that could catapult the Sox to their greatest heights since 2005.

While Guillen will enjoy watching Dunn's moon shots disappear from sight on the South Side of Chicago, there's no hesitation when he assesses the most improved aspect of this team from 2010.

"The bullpen," he says. "When you're a manager, you want the best bullpen you can have. Crain, Sale, Ohman ... having those three guys in bullpen, I think, is a plus. That's what I'm most excited about."

The luxury of employing three lefties (Sale, Ohman and Thornton) in the late innings in a division in which Minnesota's Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and Cleveland's Shin-Soo Choo lurk is no small thing.

And Crain. ...

"We look at that as a double-whammy," Konerko says. "We added a quality reliever, and we took him away from a team we're competing with."

Konerko pauses.

"Minnesota will find somebody [to replace Crain]," he says. "They always do."

Fantasy Writer

Breakout ... Edwin Jackson: Didn't Jackson break out two years ago for the Tigers? No, the real breakout didn't come until the White Sox acquired him at the deadline last year and turned pitching guru Don Cooper loose on him. Cooper immediately identified Jackson was collapsing his delivery, causing his stuff to flatten and his walk and hit rates to rise. With a slight adjustment, Jackson instantly became a different pitcher, striking out more than a batter per inning and cutting his walk rate in half. Last year's numbers make him a No. 4 starting pitcher in Fantasy, but he could perform like a No. 2.

Bust ... Alexei Ramirez: Ramirez, for some reason, has Fantasy owners convinced he's on the verge of revolutionizing a historically weak position. At age 29, he's more or less a finished product, and he has yet to produce an .800 OPS or a .340 on-base percentage. And for all the talk of his power-speed combination, he hasn't come close to a 20-20 season, only once reaching 20 in either category over three seasons. He's more of a 15-15 threat, which is still uncommon for a shortstop but, given his lack of plate discipline, doesn't put him as far ahead of Alex Gonzalez and Ian Desmond as you might think.

Sleeper ... Chris Sale: Sale is kind of this year's version of Neftali Feliz. You don't know whether he's a starter or a reliever, but he's worth drafting on talent alone. And chances are he'll contribute in Fantasy either way. Shoot, he did last year. The White Sox thought enough of his talent to promote him only two months after drafting him, and he responded with a 1.93 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings, all while serving as a part-time closer. Maybe you can't get too specific with your plans for Sale, but something good is coming. And good is all you're looking for in the late rounds.

-- Scott White
White Sox outlook | Depth Chart | 2011 Draft Prep

Point is, though, the White Sox found several somebodies during a very strong winter.

And they look to be as deep and as well-balanced as they've been in years.

"You can say that," Pierzynski says. "But in '06, I thought, we had our best team from top to bottom coming off of our World Series win. We added Javier Vazquez and Jim Thome. You looked at us on paper and said, 'No way they won't win again.'"

Yet for a World Series encore, they won nine fewer games in '06 than they did in '05 and fell from first to third in the AL Central.

As they line up now, though, the depth and balance is very impressive -- especially from the sixth inning on with hard-throwers from both sides.

"Their bullpen brings velocity," one AL scout says. "When you're going to face them, you'd better crank up the pitching machine to 97 or 98 m.p.h. They're going to be good."

"Teams don't win with bad bullpens," Pierzynski says. "Every team that's won in the last 20 years has had a good pen. And not just a closer and eighth-inning guy, but usually a sixth- and seventh-inning guy, too. They're versatile, can get right-handers and left-handers out.

"You have to have guys with strikeout stuff, too, and we have guys who can do that."

Publicly, Guillen remains undecided between Thornton and Sale as his closer, the job Bobby Jenks held in Chicago for so long. Look for him to start with Thornton, who went 5-4 with a 2.67 ERA in 61 appearances as a set-up man last year.

That's the way the Sox should go, given Thornton's experience. But even the fact that they're considering Sale clues you in to the lightning in his arm.

One year ago, Sale, who turns 22 on March 30, was pitching for Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla. The Sox picked him 13th overall in the June draft and, by early August, he was pitching out of the Chicago bullpen.

That's not the best story regarding Sale, though. This is: Guillen happened to be home and watching the draft live last June when he saw about a five-second clip of Sale after the Sox picked him. The skipper immediately told general manager Kenny Williams, "This guy is better than anybody I've got in my bullpen right now, other than Thornton."

"He actually told me that story when we were in Tucson the other day," says Sale, who is in his first spring training. "It was awesome to hear. It goes back to building confidence.

"Hey, if they believe in me this much, I should believe in myself."

There's a lot to believe in with these White Sox.

And it starts with owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who opened his wallet over the winter.

"I don't know if it's the most balanced or the best team we've had," Guillen quips. "It's the most expensive one."


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