When I look at this year's White Sox -- at least, in their everyday lineup -- I see last year's Cubs. Both have abundant talent but lumpy roster configurations, bulbous at the corners and thin up the middle. Yet when Lou Piniella came in as the Cubs' manager a year ago, he was free to experiment. He used more than 120 different lineups over the 162 games -- seemingly trying something new every day early in the year -- until he arrived at things that worked that had previously been discounted, such as playing Ryan Theriot at shortstop, where he hadn't played since the low minors, and putting Jacque Jones in center field.
Can Ozzie Guillen work the same magic? Although Ozzie earned praise for his intuitive approach during the championship 2005 season, ever since he's been overly devoted to players and their set positions -- on the field and in the batting order. The Sox have two players at third and a hole at second, but has Ozzie even considered moving Josh Fields across the infield, the way Lou moved Theriot a year ago?
Apparently not. What's more, it's still unclear how Ozzie will solve the outfield clutter involving Jerry Owens, Nick Swisher, Carlos Quentin, and Brian Anderson -- four players and two spots, with Jermaine Dye apparently set in right. If Ozzie goes with a set lineup, he'll likely put Owens in center and bat him leadoff, with Swisher in left hitting second. General manager Kenny Williams faces a similar dilemma in whether to deal Joe Crede for whatever they can get for him -- not fair value, evidently -- or stick with Crede at third and send Fields back to Triple A Charlotte.
For what it's worth, here's what I'd do: Stick Crede at third and Anderson in center, purely for their stellar defense early in the season, when the weather will make homers scarce and defense imperative. I'd stick Fields at second and deal with his poor range and hope that Joey Cora can teach him to turn a double play in short order. I'd stick Swisher in left and bat him leadoff, but freely insert Owens -- with Swisher, Paul Konerko, or Jim Thome sitting -- depending on the weather conditions and the pitching matchup. Here's my 13-man Sox offensive roster:
A.J. Pierzynski, Toby Hall
Paul Konerko, Josh Fields, Joe Crede, Orlando Cabrera, Jim Thome, Juan Uribe
Brian Anderson, Nick Swisher, Jermaine Dye, Jerry Owens, Carlos Quentin
I'm sending Danny Richar and Alexei Ramirez to the minors as a double-play combination, both to be returned ASAP or in the event of a Fields catastrophe at second. Here's my opening day lineup in Cleveland against C.C. Sabathia, to be tinkered with on a daily basis after that:
Look, I'm not saying I have all the answers. I'm suggesting that Lou found a way to put the best eight position players on the field at the same time last year for the Cubs and it worked out pretty well for them, and with their roster the Sox need to seek out unconventional ways to do the same. If second base is a hole and Richar or Ramirez isn't ready (don't talk to me about Uribe as an everyday player), why not try Fields at second? If a trade needs to be made, and Crede can't be moved, shop Dye instead with an idea of opening right for Swisher and platooning Owens and Quentin in left. What I know is that Anderson and Crede are so good defensively they belong on the field on a daily basis, at least early in the season, when the weather's cold. It will make the pitching better at a time when pitching dominates.