CHICAGO -- The pre-holiday White Sox question on the table today deals with the team's ability to contend in the American League Central for the 2013 season. It was the same question on the table last Friday and will carry through into the new year.
Yes, it's still far too soon to make any concrete predictions. How the teams look before Christmas could be decidedly different by April, let alone June or July.
But the cold offseason facts remain for the White Sox.
Kevin Youkilis is in New York, and A.J. Pierzynski stands one physical away from joining the Rangers. Two impact bats gone to other American League teams, and one extremely popular, hard-nosed player dating back to the 2005 World Series champions moving on via a one-year deal.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have Victor Martinez returning from an injury and Anibal Sanchez inking an extension. Detroit also added right fielder Torii Hunter into the lineup and clubhouse mix. The Royals, who dominated the White Sox to a 12-6 tune in 2012, added a viable No. 1 starter with the addition of James Shields.
It figures to be a matter of battling it out with at least two teams, instead of chasing down just the defending AL champions. Even with a quick glance at improvements within the division, the White Sox stay confident in their abilities.
"There's nothing you can do, but go play," White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said. "Nobody in the world thought we would be relevant at all last year. We led for so long, faltered at the end, and Detroit played well, so tip your hat to them. This year, we need a different ending, at least I sure hope it is."
"Detroit adding those players doesn't change what we are trying to do. We want to do the same as last year, with the exception of the last few weeks," White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said. "We are in the same boat as last offseason, with Detroit making the big move to get Prince [Fielder]. We just need to have the same start as last year and continue throughout the whole season."
After leading the AL Central for 117 days, the White Sox finished a promising '12 season with a dismal 4-11 mark. Their three-game lead on Sept. 18 ended up as a three-game deficit on Oct. 3.
White Sox fans, as a whole, don't view the season as an overall success, not with the September fade fresh in their minds. When Flowers was asked about said finish, he responded with two words: "That stinks."
He quickly moved on to talk about the numerous positives from an 85-win effort that was a surprise to many outside the organization. Veteran players such as Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy and Alex Rios bounced back from rough years, and young talent such as Chris Sale, Addison Reed and Nate Jones, to name a few, gained a valuable year of experience in the middle of a race for the division title.
Moral victories and developing talent are fine, but the White Sox want more.
"I'm not going to say it wasn't a good season," Flowers said. "At the same time, did we give our best effort every day? Yeah. It just wasn't in the cards to make the playoffs. It was in Detroit's cards to make the playoffs and get to the World Series. We did everything in our power to contend. Ultimately, it's all you can do. That's baseball: sometimes you get your butt kicked by the Charlotte Knights and other times, you beat the New York Yankees."
"Everyone was dying to make the playoffs. I know I'm dying to make the playoffs," Beckham said. "Sometimes when you try real hard, the production goes down a little bit because of how much you want it. But we had a lot of great things last year with the young guys, the people who made strides and progress. I hope we can build on that and get right back in it."
In taking White Sox Hot Stove inventory the weekend before Christmas, free agent third baseman Jeff Keppinger was brought into the fold, free agents Dewayne Wise and Peavy were brought back and utility infielder Angel Sanchez was claimed via the Rule 5 Draft. Keppinger doesn't replace the power production of Youkilis and Pierzynski, or balance out a dearth of left-handed hitters, but he is an exceptional contact hitter that gives the already power-laden offense more small-ball balance. He also has the defensive ability to help the team across the infield.
Keeping Peavy, as well as bringing back Gavin Floyd by picking up his $9.5 million option for '13, becomes the most significant offseason White Sox moves. They will only go as far as their pitching allows, and while recognizing it will be somewhat of an uphill battle, they believe it can be accomplished with great fundamental play and the utmost in preparation similar to last year.
"I don't have my chin on my chest thinking we are not going to do well," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. "I think we are going to win until, God forbid, we lose."
"Detroit has gotten better, and I really think Kansas City got relevant with that trade," said Beckham, who mentioned not only the addition of Shields, but Wade Davis in the Tampa Bay trade as important for the Royals. "Maybe now that they technically got relevant, we'll play them a little better. There are some moves that have been made that we have to contend with, but we have Robin [Ventura] as manager and great guys in the clubhouse. So, I wouldn't put anything past us."