A few days ago I posted a poll asking people to predict where the White Sox would finish in the division next year. Personally, I voted that they would finish 2nd, and expected the majority of our readers to vote the same way. I was surprised to see, however, that the most popular option, with 34% of the vote, was third place.
There are a few possibilities. One is that people who were going to vote second decided it would be more fun to vote for my last place option phrased, “Happiness is a lie.” With such a small sample of voters, those 11 comedy votes are a huge portion of the return. Maybe people are just sad that A.J. Pierzynski is gone and they’re voting with their hearts.
Another explanation is that the general public really thinks that the Royals turned themselves into competitors with Shields and Davis, or that the Indians’ additions of Stubbs and Swisher are meaningful (although most voting took place before Swisher signed with Cleveland). These have the allure of being the most recent moves, and I’ve noticed that the sports media tends to act as though any new acquisitions for a team are big upgrades. I am unconvinced that Drew Stubbs can hit, Nick Swisher is a lateral move from Shin-Soo Choo, and the Tribe still doesn’t have a rotation. The Royals added a #2 starter and sacrificed a huge upgrade in right field to do it. Kansas City and Cleveland were really bad last year. Kansas City has some young hitters, who will likely improve, and they could pass the White Sox – but it’s unlikely.
The Indians finished with the second worst run differential in the majors last year at -178, and lost 94 games. They are essentially returning the same team, and the same awful pitching. The Minnesota Twins got a good return for Denard Span, but their rotation is so bad that it is almost comical performance art. So really, if you think the White Sox will finish third you must be Dayton Moore – or believe that the Royals really are ready to take the next step. Hosmer could live up to his potential, but he might not – some prospects don’t work out. Moustakas made real steps forward with the glove last year, but his OBP was still only .296. Lorenzo Cain is probably a 4th outfielder and may never be healthy. Alcides Escobar is a very nice, cheap shortstop, but his value is almost entirely from his price tag, his glove, and the hope that he can slap enough singles to keep his batting average above .280. Jeff Francoeur is an embarrassment. If everything breaks right, sure, this team can pass the White Sox – but I don’t think this offense and defense can overcome the shortcomings of their rotation. Shields-Santana-Guthrie-Davis-Chen is not as good as Peavy-Sale-Danks-Floyd-Quintana unless something goes horribly wrong.
It matters that the Tigers are replacing Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young with Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. It would be really hard for Hunter and Martinez not to improve upon the guys they are replacing. I don’t think they’re unbeatable, and the Tigers have their flaws, but they’re also the favorite for the number one spot in the division. Based on the information we have now, however, the White Sox are the ones on their heels and not Kansas City.