CHICAGO -- Survey the members of the 2012 White Sox roster, and to a man, they will talk about the special season just completed.
That's absolutely no slight meant to the past managerial regime, because after all, nothing is more special in baseball than making the playoffs or ending an 88-year World Series championship drought as was done by the White Sox in 2005. But this current squad, the first led by manager Robin Ventura, came together almost immediately from the start of Spring Training and forged an even tighter bond through the trials and tribulations of the 162-game schedule.
With Wednesday's victory over the Indians, this particular campaign has come to an end. The White Sox remained in contention down to the final week, so they didn't have a great deal of time to think about what lies ahead in 2013 and beyond. If they had any say in the contractual matters, next year's roster will look remarkably similar to the one that held first place in the American League Central for 117 days this year.
"I would love to see all these faces in Arizona next year as I walk in, but knowing how it is, that might not be," said White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale, who became one of the team's true success stories with his AL Cy Young Award-caliber performance. "We gave it a heck of a run this year, and if we could stay together next year, it would be probably just as special."
"Just to have a chance to be in the position we were in, when nobody gave us any sort of shot, it was fun," said White Sox closer Addison Reed, who set a franchise rookie record with 29 saves. "This is nothing more than to build off of for next year."
Sale and Reed, both of whom are 23, stand as two of the main building blocks for the White Sox foundation to be strengthened by Rick Hahn and Ken Williams. Neither individual has confirmed nor denied Hahn's impending move to general manager and Williams' potential move to president of the club, but they already have a 12-year working relationship in place, so the transition should be smooth.
Figuring out whether to bring back A.J. Pierzynski, Jake Peavy, Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers and/or Gavin Floyd certainly will serve as a tougher process to work through. Front office dialogue is still to come to start formulating these calls, but the chance exists that a number of these key veteran contributors will be playing elsewhere in 2013. So a crew infused with talented young players like the 2012 group featuring 10 rookie pitches will be charged with forging a new identity and taking the team at least one stop further than this year.
"It felt like it was a special team all year as far as going past the regular season. It didn't feel like it was going to end the way it ended," said White Sox captain Paul Konerko, who will be a part of the 2013 squad in the final stage of a three-year extension. "So, that's kind of surprising, but that also just kind of lets you know that making the playoffs and going to the postseason is a special thing.
"If we get back in the same spot next year, that will remind us that you have to go the whole way. It's like leading after eight innings. It's great, but you have to play nine. That's how I look at it.
"They trusted a lot of young guys in the organization this year, and a lot of those guys came through and did well. A lot of people are hesitant on the outside or in general because we haven't done that too much over the last number of years here, to sit there and say, 'Let's let this guy go play. This guy got hurt. Let's throw him in there.' And guys kept doing well, so I think there's no fear of doing that again or doing it more. Those are questions for people upstairs, I guess."
Catcher: Pierzynski has become a staple of the organization during his eight years behind the plate, but that run might have come to an end with the 2012 season. With Pierzynski becoming a free agent, the White Sox could give the starting nod to 2012 backup Tyler Flowers despite Pierzynski coming off career highs in homers and RBIs and handling a pitching staff employing 10 rookies at one point. The White Sox are deep in catching talent within their system, but might look for a veteran to play behind Flowers, who has great raw power and can handle a pitching staff, if they choose to let the popular Pierzynski go.
First base: Konerko, the White Sox captain, featured a .399 batting average as of May 27. He still finished with another productive season at age 36 despite a nagging left thumb injury, which was surgically repaired the Thursday after the season, and dealing with the after-effects of a concussion. Adam Dunn, who had a major comeback with the bat via his 41 homers and 96 RBIs, played 51 games at first base and should see continued time there next year.
Second base: Gordon Beckham has established himself as one of the best defensive second baseman in baseball, let alone in the American League. His average didn't end up where he wanted, but his power numbers and run production increased. The White Sox are thin in the middle-infield area throughout their system, but have a belief that Beckham's offense still has a chance to catch or at least come close to his stellar defense.
Shortstop: The statistics wouldn't exactly support the theory, but Alexei Ramirez called the 2012 campaign the worst of his five years in the Majors. He was primarily talking about his offense, where he felt just a bit off all season. Ramirez is under contract through 2015, and has promised to work even harder in the offseason to get ready for '13.
Third base: A strong September in 2011 and great defense at third put Brent Morel as the incumbent at this position heading into the 2012 campaign. Persistent back problems produced ineffectiveness, and without a September callup, Morel might be off the White Sox radar unless he proves to be healthy in Spring Training. Youkilis delivered big hits after being acquired from the Red Sox via trade, and while Chicago is unlikely to pick up his $13 million option, the club still could pursue him via a multi-year deal. The White Sox like his presence in the lineup and the clubhouse. Rising star Carlos Sanchez, who can play all over the infield, is unlikely to be big league ready at the start of 2013.
Outfield: With Alex Rios, Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza all under team control, the starting outfield figures to return intact. Rios joined Dunn and Peavy as prime candidates for AL Comeback Player of the Year, setting career highs in average, homers and RBIs. But with prospects such as Courtney Hawkins, Trayce Thompson, Keenyn Walker and Jared Mitchell moving quickly through the system, the White Sox remain deep at this spot and could look to move a veteran to strengthen their core.
Starting pitchers: Are four left-handed starting pitchers a possibility for 2012? In listening to pitching coach Don Cooper and Williams, it could happen. Sale returns at the top of the White Sox rotation, one year wiser and one year more durable after throwing 192 innings. The White Sox hope to have a healthy Spring Training return for John Danks, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on Aug. 6, while rookies Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago also will receive strong consideration. The biggest decision to be made centers on Peavy, who has a $22 million option that will be declined. He would like to come back and the White Sox value his leadership among the young staff. The team also has a $9.5 million option to decide upon with Floyd.
Relievers: Reed and Nate Jones pitched more like established veterans most of the year than rookies, and they figure to anchor the back end of the bullpen along with Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain. Donnie Veal and Brian Omogrosso put themselves into play with solid late-season work, while Santiago will be part of the bullpen if he's not a starter. Myers' $10 million option for 2013 did not vest, but the White Sox could view him more as a starter if they try to bring him back.