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Inbox: Is now the time to deal valuable Rios?

Beat reporter Scott Merkin answers questions from White Sox fans
CHICAGO -- Michigan basketball is undefeated through 10 games and ranked third in the country.

It's 50 degrees in December, and pitchers and catchers report for the White Sox exactly two months from today. What more could you ask for at this most wonderful time of the year?

How about a few White Sox questions, as we peruse the Inbox.

Will the White Sox trade Alex Rios, considering they will probably not make the playoffs and Rios' value is at an all-time high?
-- Karl, Sheldon, Ill.

If in early December you already know the White Sox are out of playoff contention, Karl, maybe you can also give me the final outcome on Michigan's Outback Bowl game with South Carolina. That certainly would alleviate New Year's stress in my life.

As for the White Sox, they will be in contention for the American League Central if no other reason than their deep rotation and talented pitching staff overall. General manager Rick Hahn still has plenty of offseason to work on adding that left-handed bat, as well as a veteran reliever, but even as is, this team should be competitive.

I'm in agreement with you on Rios' value, and short of Chris Sale and Jake Peavy -- who can't be traded during this current offseason -- there's probably not an untouchable on the roster. But Rios is a huge part of the middle of the order, so he wouldn't be even thought of in a trade unless the return was major.

What do you project the 2013 White Sox rotation to be like? Who do you think will be the ace of the staff? We have three likely candidates in Peavy, Sale and John Danks.
-- Tony, Downers Grove, Ill.

I'd put Peavy down as the ace for his overall talent and valuable leadership combination. But Sale, with a full season behind him as a starter, has the greatest potential to be a dominant No. 1. Gavin Floyd and Danks are next in the rotation, followed by Jose Quintana, at this point.

Hector Santiago is right behind Quintana and presently looks as if he'll start the season in the bullpen. I did an informal Twitter survey Monday of fans' choice for fifth starter, and it was pretty well split between those two. Apparently, confidence has not been completely restored after Quintana's 6.75 ERA in September.

Is there any chance Michael Bourn will play for the White Sox? Bourn can fill the leadoff spot and he provides the left-handed bat that the White Sox need.
-- Jon, Toronto

The White Sox definitely are looking for a left-handed-hitting impact bat. But I've not heard Bourn's name in the conversation to date and don't expect that will change.

With the additional revenue from increased season-ticket holdovers and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf stating that payroll could increase or stay around $109 million, do you see the team bringing back A.J. Pierzynski to help Tyler Flowers with the transition to full-time work behind the plate?
-- Tim, Romeoville, Ill.

When Pierzynski walked in the ninth inning of an 11-0 victory over the Indians on Oct. 1, I really looked at that as his last official plate appearance for the White Sox. It's not that the White Sox don't value all he brings to the team or haven't valued his contributions: the organization doesn't have a 2005 World Series title without Pierzynski.

It's more about what Flowers said to me earlier this offseason, where the team seems ready to find out if he could handle the job on an everyday basis.

Pierzynski helped Flowers with that transition to full-time play last season, and the veteran is certainly not at the point where he's looking for platoon work. While Pierzynski is a known commodity as a winner, hard-nosed competitor and a talented left-handed hitter, it's patently impossible to fully judge Flowers until he gets regular at-bats.

I'm a little surprised there has been no talk about adding a veteran backstop if Pierzynski departs, but the team trusts Hector Gimenez.

With Danks hopefully coming back healthy and Santiago looking like a possible starter with unlimited potential, am I right to feel that the White Sox may have the best all-around pitching staff in the AL?
-- Sol, New York

It's a little early to start ranking staffs, as Hot Stove moves are still being made. But as I mentioned above, the White Sox once again will go as far as their pitching takes them, and even without another veteran reliever, I like the look of this staff from top to bottom.

One fact that can't be overlooked is the maturing process for young hurlers such as Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Santiago and even Sale. Being through last year's tight division race -- and even the struggles down the stretch -- will make this group stronger, more knowledgeable and better prepared in 2013.

Do you think signing third baseman Jeff Keppinger to a three-year contract is a good acquisition for next season?
-- Marty, Chicago

The third year in the deal was one of the influential factors in getting Keppinger, and the veteran stands as the kind of player winning teams need. In a homer-based lineup, Keppinger is the exceptional contact hitter who can balance that power and make the White Sox a more productive offensive attack overall.

Currently he's viewed as the starting third baseman, but as Hahn has mentioned, the offseason is far from over. I would look at Keppinger more as a full-time infielder, whose versatility gives manager Robin Ventura numerous lineup options.

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

Chicago White Sox, Tyler Flowers, Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Chris Sale