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No easy answers about which direction Sox should take next season

A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski

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Updated: November 8, 2012 12:04PM



Getting younger and older at the same time, the White Sox have some tough questions to answer this offseason. Do they have one more song left? Do they keep the band together? Or should they start working on fresh material for their next CD?

That will be the hot topic general manager-in-waiting Rick Hahn, team president-to-be Ken Williams, manager Robin Ventura and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf will hash out at the upcoming organizational meetings.

There was a lot of talk about
fatigue as the Sox’ lead in the American League Central slipped away in September. Was it wear-and-tear on the veterans or the
uncharted territory of the longer season for all those rookies?

‘‘The Sox got into a gear where they couldn’t get going,’’ an American League scout said. ‘‘That’s the hardest thing about it. If you have veteran guys who present themselves with that energy level, you’ll have a lot of success. The Yankees have the best players in the game, but they present that ‘attack mode’ focus every night. The Sox almost fell into a malaise.’’

What they believe is left in the tanks of right-hander Jake Peavy, reliever Brett Myers, third baseman Kevin Youkilis and catcher A.J. Pierzynski will be discussed. Pierzynski, who will be 36 in December, is a free agent. The Sox have contract options on the others.

Saying goodbye would save a lot of coin, which might be the fiscally prudent thing, considering attendance has dropped six years in a row. It fell below 2 million
this season for the first time since 2004, even though the Sox were in first place for 117 days.

The Sox, who opened the season
with close to $98 million in payroll, have $80.75 million in salary on the books next season for designated hitter Adam Dunn, left-hander John Danks, first baseman Paul Konerko, outfielder Alex Rios, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and relievers Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton and the buyouts for Peavy, Myers and Youkilis. That jumps to $90.25 million if right-hander Gavin Floyd’s $9.5 million option is picked up.

There are those in the organization who think the Sox have
another bullet left with basically the same group. Some others don’t agree, knowing the AL Central champion Detroit Tigers should get better with catcher/designated hitter Victor Martinez coming back from a knee injury.

Opinions vary about whether Pierzynski will return. Those close to him have serious doubts, but there are people in the organization predicting he’ll come back after his career season of 27 home runs and 77 RBI.

Having a ready replacement for Pierzynski would make it easier to let him go. While flashing exceptional power with tape-measure homers, Tyler Flowers (.213, seven homers) struck out 56 times in 136 at-bats. Adding a projected 160 strikeouts and a low on-base percentage in 400 at-bats to Dunn’s 200-plus strikeouts is a risky mix.

The same can be said of replacing Youkilis, 33, who batted .236 with 15 homers and 46 RBI in 80 games after coming from the Boston Red Sox. Opening Day third baseman Brent Morel (back) needs to prove he can stay healthy, Williams said last week, to be an option. Youkilis’ $13 million option will be bought out for $1 million, and even though his production faded in September, his on-field and clubhouse presence were valuable enough that the Sox might try to re-sign him.

Despite proving he is healthy again — 3.37 ERA in 219 innings — Peavy’s $22 million option will be too rich for the Sox, who will pay him a $4 million buyout. They still could work out a deal with newly hired agent Jeff Berry.

Should Peavy go, picking up Floyd’s option makes sense —
unless the Sox pick up Myers’
$10 million option for the purpose of making him a starter again.
Myers, 32, has six seasons with double-digit victories in his career, and Williams didn’t rule out that possibility last week.

Without Floyd, Peavy and
Myers, four lefties — or five in the unlikely event free agent Francisco Liriano is re-signed — will be the Sox’ starting pieces for the rotation (Chris Sale, Danks, Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago). Right-hander Philip Humber (6.44 ERA) also might be considered.

‘‘Those questions have to be
examined,’’ pitching coach Don Cooper said. ‘‘That’s up to Rick and Kenny to figure that out.’’



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