There's nowhere to go but up for the Chicago White Sox, who are coming off a 99-loss season - the worst in my 20 years of fandom.
2014 will be seen as a year of transition from the old guard to an exciting young team to watch. That transition is best illustrated at first base, where White Sox legend Paul Konerko, the lone remaining player from the 2005 World Series championship team, will be playing in his final season with the club while Jose Abreu, the one-bagger the team just signed from Cuba in the off-season, will make his debut at the position. While the Sox are clearly banking on Abreu being the future of the club's offense by signing him to a record-breaking six-year deal for an international player, he will benefit from having Konerko around. Not only is Paulie a fan favorite, but he has served as the face of the franchise for years, and hopefully he will be involved in some sorts on the south side upon retirement.
Abreu and fellow infield newcomer Matt Davidson will be joined by veteran White sox players Alexei Ramirez, Gordan Beckham and designated hitter Adam Dunn at the heart of the lineup. Having improved offensive numbers from behind the plate is also a must as Tyler Flowers had a sub-.200 batting percentage in his first-year as the starting catcher following the departure of fan-favorite A.J. Pierzynski.
Even though they play in one of the largest cities in Major League Baseball, the White Sox can be considered a "mid-market" team as they wqere ranked 24th in attendance last year and do not have the same ability to attract free agents as their rival Cubs, who somehow have been able to use playing in a 100-year-old decrepit stadium as a lure to acquire fans and players alike.
So for a "mid-market" team, the White Sox are lucky to have ace Chris Sale at the front of their pitching rotation. Sale has been the lone bright spot for the Pale Hose the last couple of years and has the potential to be one of the top pitchers in the game. If more consistency is seen from other starters Jose Quintana, Erik Johnson and the oft-injured John Danks, the Sox could surprise and compete for third in the division.
If strides are not made this year and the team compiles another 90-loss campaign, it could mean the end of the Robin Ventura experiment in Chicago. After surprising many with a winning record in his first year as skipper in 2012, Ventura could have lost his job after last season's disasterous mark.
A large banner overlooking the Dan Ryan Expressway at U.S. Cellular Field still boasts the team as the "2005 World Series Champions," but the makeup of this team is now completely different save for Konerko, and it may be time for the team to embrace what they have now, and what they could build over the next decade.
Scouting the Central
The Detroit Tigers may have lost manager Jim Leyland, but adding Ian Kinsler to a lineup that includes former triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera and a team that went to the American League Championship Series in 2013 will be too much for the other four teams, which clearly have less talent than Detroit. Kansas City has been gradually improving over the last five years, but fans are still waiting for them to turn the corner and compete for their first playoff appearance in 29 years (a professional sports current record for futility). Terry Francona provided some spark for the Cleveland Indians last year, leading them to a wild-card berth, but the lack of a deep rotation may hurt them late in 2014. The White Sox and Twins will likely battle for the four-spot in what is sure to be one of the league's least intriguing races.