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White Sox hope to push right offseason buttons

South Siders head into winter of uncertainty as front office plots course

CHICAGO -- Trying to predict the White Sox outlook for 2014 one day after the 2013 season is in the books stands somewhat akin to trying to guess how a television show will fare throughout a new season simply by reading its initial plot outline.

A great deal can change, including the main cast of characters, and many adjustments figure to be made on that long road to success.

"You don't know what it's going to be," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of the team's future. "We can make all the plans in the world for what you'd like to see or what's going to happen.

"Until it happens, this is what it is right now. So who you have under contract, who you have coming back, as far as younger guys we even have in the Minor Leagues, you don't know exactly how it's going to shake out."

Many questions were brought to the forefront during a forgettable 2013 campaign. Now, there are just as many questions to be answered as general manager Rick Hahn puts his reshaping plan into effect moving forward.

Will the White Sox go after front-line free agents, or will they use the open market to add strong complementary pieces? Is free agency even going to be a major option for Hahn and his staff, or will they try to change the look of this team via trades? Is there a chance the White Sox stay young, with many of their big league-ready prospects getting extended evaluation due to the team being out of contention?

Then there's the future of Paul Konerko, a consummate leader and productive staple of this organization for the past 15 years. Will he return for his 18th season, and if he does, will it be with the White Sox?

These are all calls to be made over the next few months, with one decision impacting the next.

"We've talked over a lot of different scenarios," Hahn said. "Regardless of whether you say, 'I'm targeting player A, B or C in free agency or via trade,' there's no guarantee you are going to get that player.

"You need to come up with a priority list of needs and how you want to address them and various alternatives. Until you get into the offseason and it starts unfolding, you are not going to know for certain which persons of those plans you will be able to execute on. We have fairly specific ideas about what needs to be done and how to go about addressing those needs."

Pitching stands as one area of established White Sox strength, with All-Star and American League Cy Young candidate Chris Sale sitting atop the rotation. That staff also could be used as part of these upcoming moves to bring the White Sox back into contention, not to mention developing a solid base with their higher Draft bonus pool in June and increased international spending in July.

Yes, the White Sox change of fortunes will not be an overnight quick fix.

"You never want to be in this position. It's an extraordinarily disappointing year," Hahn said. "These years are too precious and my time in this chair is going to be too short to ever feel good about a season like this. But there are some benefits to it, in terms of long term planning or long term being able to feed the farm system and build something toward sustaining a long term success.

"Right now it's disappointing, it's frustrating, but next June in the amateur Draft and next July in the international signing period, we are going to reap some benefits from this. There is at least some bit of a silver lining. That being said, I would rather win and have the lowest Draft pool around."

Arbitration eligible: Gordon Beckham, Alejandro De Aza, Brent Morel, Ramon Troncoso, David Purcey, Tyler Flowers and Dayan Viciedo (both Flowers and Viciedo depend on Super 2 cutoff).

Free agents: Konerko, Gavin Floyd.

Team options: Matt Lindstrom ($4 million, $500,000 buyout)

Rotation: Sale proved himself again as one of the best starters in baseball and a true leader of the rotation, while Jose Quintana followed up a solid rookie effort with a sophomore season moving him into the No. 2 or No. 3 slot. John Danks should come back even stronger more than one year removed from arthroscopic shoulder surgery in August 2012, while Hector Santiago gives the White Sox four talented southpaw starters or a possible hybrid bullpen/rotation option. Look for Hahn to use one of these starters as trade bait to help solidify other areas of the club, with Erik Johnson and Andre Rienzo waiting in the rotation wings.

Bullpen: Ventura would like to see closer Addison Reed continue to incorporate a third pitch, in his changeup, to make him an even more dominant relief force. Reed struggled late in the season but still has the perfect finishing demeanor. Nate Jones and Lindstrom provide a solid bridge to Reed, with the team holding a $4 million option on Lindstrom, while 2013 callups such as Jake Petricka, Daniel Webb and Charlie Leesman figure into the '14 mix. Another veteran and another left-hander would help the White Sox relief core, but much like any player on this team not named Sale or Avisail Garcia, a trade is possible involving any of the aforementioned hurlers.

Catcher: After A.J. Pierzynski held this job for eight successful seasons, the catching position stands somewhat in flux. Flowers struggled at the plate, had his season prematurely end due to shoulder surgery and might not be in the mix for '14. Josh Phegley proved he can play at the big league level and appears to be in line for the starting shot, but free agents such as Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia would give Phegley continued time to develop and add left-handed balance to the lineup.

First base/DH: Konerko and Adam Dunn both could be back in their familiar positions, one of the two could return or neither could be there. The last scenario is unlikely, with Dunn under contract for one more season, but it will be an interesting decision for the White Sox captain and the White Sox as a team when Konerko makes his future call. Viciedo also could be moved from left field to a first base/DH combo role with Dunn if Konerko departs.

Second base: Gordon Beckham couldn't have envisioned a season so filled with injuries. But in between his fractured hamate bone, wrist problem and quad strain, Beckham built on a consistent approach at the plate started late last season. He figures to be one of the leaders on this team in '14, especially if Konerko doesn't return. Jeff Keppinger had a rough debut with the White Sox, but with two years left on his three-year, $12 million deal, he will be penciled in all over the infield with his most natural spot looking to be second.

Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez provides value to the White Sox whether with the team or as a trade chip. His defense at this position has been considered with the best in the game, although his error total skyrocketed in a tough year that began with the death of his father-in-law during Spring Training. Ramirez was the team's most consistent hitter in '13 but profiles more as a top or bottom of the order contributor, as opposed to a run producer. Beckham was used sparingly at shortstop and could return to his collegiate position if Ramirez and the two remaining years on his deal were dealt. The White Sox also were very impressed with Marcus Semien, who has the versatility to play all over the infield.

Third base: Assuming Beckham returns at second and Ramirez returns at shortstop, third base could come down to a platoon of Semien and Conor Gillaspie. The White Sox like Gillaspie's offensive approach and the defensive development he has shown, while Semien simply looks as if he belongs in the big leagues. He takes what is given to him at the plate, not trying to do too much, and has good instincts. Keppinger also fits in a reserve role here, as does Leury Garcia, who plays stellar defense across the infield and has speed to burn. His offense will dictate playing time.

Outfield: Getting Garcia in the three-way deal involving Jake Peavy could end up being the most significant move of Hahn's tenure. Garcia does everything well right now and has the potential to do five tools worth of skills great. Viciedo played through an injury-plagued season but flashed the potential of a 25-homer, 90-RBI performer the White Sox know he can be. But it's De Aza who presents the most interesting case.

De Aza hit with great authority all year and has the ability to work the count at the top of the order. But his baserunning was atrocious and his defense wasn't much better. The White Sox might try to move the arbitration eligible talent. Jordan Danks broke out with the bat upon receiving more playing time and is in the mix as a fourth outfielder at the very least. Garcia also can play center, while the White Sox have a number of their top prospects in the outfield. But they are players who won't be ready in '14.

Shin-Soo Choo would be a perfect free agent fit, especially with his consistent ability to get on base. Curtis Granderson is another attractive free agent, a hometown product who could play center field.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.
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