I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Pitcher Nestor Molina better be good — the White Sox dealt Sergio Santos — a 28-year-old reliever coming off a major-league season where he averaged a strikeout-and-a-half an inning with a .596 OPS — straight up to get him. Fortunately for White Sox fans, Molina sure looks good: in his first year of starting in 2011, Molina’s strikeout rate rose and his strikeout/walk ratio improved markedly. Molina fanned 148 and walked 16 in just 130 innings, capped by a 33/2 ratio in Class AA. Like Santos, Molina got a late start in his pitching career because he couldn’t hit minor-league pitching — just .223 in two seasons as a third baseman-outfielder. Like Santos, he found it easier to throw good pitches than hit them. Molina is still only 23 and a native of Venezuela; the White Sox have had pretty good karma with Venezuelans over the years.
What is this man doing here? There was a point where there wasn’t much more separation — given the disparity in talent — than a few letters and a lot of pedigree between the careers of Delwyn Young and Delmon Young: neither hit much, neither walked much, one threw his bat at an umpire (if it had been Dewlyn, he would have been more likely to miss). Then Delmon hit 21 homers in 2010 — that’s four more than Delwyn has hit in his career — and eight more in 40 games after the Tigers traded for him in 2011. Delwyn spent 2011 in AAA in Lehigh Valley, where he hit a less-than-robust .244. Both Youngs still walk too little and strike out too much, but one should be doing it in the major leagues, and it’s not the one in camp with the White Sox.
What he said: White Sox manager Robin Ventura on Adam Dunn, who hit .159 in 2011: “When he’s looking good at the plate and swinging it all right, he’s going to walk a lot because people don’t want to come to the strike zone. Even though he’s walking, I like what I’m seeing.” What he meant: “It’s like T-ball. Anything that’s not a strikeout is a good at-bat for Dunn.”
Outlook: White Sox GM Kenny Williams reportedly offered to resign during the offseason and owner Jerry Reinsdorf rejected it. Perhaps it’s time to rethink. Or not.
Williams has been the GM for 11 seasons now, and constructed the team that won the team’s first World Series in 88 years in 2005. It’s hard to tell whether it’s because of Williams, or because Williams is the Joe Hardy of GMs.
And it’s getting harder. Williams’ moves have been erratic over the last few years, acquiring win-now veterans Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn and Alexis Rios one moment, trading veterans Carlos Quentin, Javier Vazquez and Sergio Santos for prospects the next. And you thought the White Sox were unpredictable because of ex-manager Ozzie Guillen.
The White Sox arrive at 2012 with a roster surprisingly deep in young talent: Chris Sale, 22, was dominant as a reliever but will start in 2012; Addison Reed, 23, might be the closer aftre fanning 111 in 78.1 minor-league innings last year; Dayan Vicideo, 23 on Saturday, hit 20 homers, batted .296 and improved his discipline at AAA last year; pitcher Simon Castro, 23, came for Quentin and looked better before his 5.63 ERA in 2011; Jhan Marinez, 23, the compensation for Guillen, is wild (so was Ozzie), but fanned 74 in 58 AA innings; and Nestor Molina, 23, had better than nine strikeouts for every walk last year, and there aren’t many pitchers who won’t succeed doing that.
Give Williams credit for amassing all that pitcher-heavy talent, despite the occasional mixed signals. But it’s three veteran hitters who will most likely determine the White Sox’s fortunes in 2012: Gordon Beckham, Adam Dunn and Alexis Rios.
Beckham’s ills are the most curious. After hitting .270 with 14 homers as a 22-year-old, he’s regressed, dropping 40 points of average over the last two years and losing control of the strike zone. After walking 41 times and fanning 65 as a rookie, he’s walked 72 times and fanned 203 times since. Beckham is a former No. 1 draft pick, but hasn’t played like it the last two years.
There’s not much to be done for Dunn or Rios but send a prayer in the direction of Buck Weaver. The White Sox are paying them nearly a combined $25 million in 2012; for that they hit more like Ken Berry. Dunn is 32 and Rios 31, but they didn’t just slump last year, they did so at a pace so accelerated it seemed they couldn’t have aged faster if they were Fausto Carmona. Or Roberto Hernandez.
Williams’ son Kyle is the 49ers’ kick returner whose tough night vaulted the Giants into the Super Bowl. Williams noted how the 49ers had supported his son and rallied around him. If Dunn and Rios hit in 2012 as they did in 2011, the elder Williams is unlikely to get similar support.
Team song: Hall and Oates: (S)he(‘s) gone