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No. 2 starter No. 1 target
After all the changes that took place in 2002, the White Sox enter the off-season with the same goal as last winterfinding a No. 2 starter. The Sox lost 3-1 to Minnesota in their season finale at the Metrodome, getting swept by the Twins on a two-run, tie-breaking homer by Bobby Kielty in the eighth.
It was Kielty's second game-winning shot in the last two games, leaving the Sox at .500 with an 81-81 record, 13 1/2 games behind the Central Division-winning Twins. Jon Garland pitched seven strong innings but got no decision and finished 12-12.
Now it's up to general manager Ken Williams to fill in the blanks to make up the gap. Does Williams envision a quiet off-season?
"I expect that we will exhaust every effort to try to find that No. 2 guy to go with Mark Buehrle," Williams said. "It's not lost on me that that No. 2 guy may be Danny Wright or Jon Garland. Heading into next year, I'd like a little more certainty than that and allow them to grow at a similar pace as they have, rather than expect a little bit too much too soon. Quiet on one end, but certainly not without hard work under the radar screens to fill that need.
"If it happens, we're better off. If it doesn't, we're still in pretty good position with the way some of these guys have evolved. Maybe that's not an off-season addition, maybe a midseason addition. You may be in a better position at that point. Certainly other clubs will come after our everyday position players or maybe our bullpen. I have no interest in giving up any of that in order to fill that need [for a starter]."
Last year's primary addition was Todd Ritchie, who was supposed to be a No. 2 starter but went 5-15 before being shut down in early August. Ritchie is no longer in the picture, though veteran free agents Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Jamie Moyer and Paul Byrd figure to draw interest from Williams.
Whether the Sox will spend the money is another story. After dumping veterans in late July, they signaled a return to the rebuilding days of the late 1990s.
"The positive thing is that we got a lot out of the last month and a half," manager Jerry Manuel said. "If the season was a disappointment, which it was, I'd take it the way it ended simply because I think we're headed in the right direction. I feel very good about our young players who've come up the last month and a half and performed extremely well against some upper-division clubs."
The Sox have a strong offensive nucleus with Magglio Ordonez, Paul Konerko and Frank Thomas, who is expected to return. Buehrle established himself as one of the league's top lefties. Garland and Wright had strong second halves, and the bullpen appears solid with the trio of Damaso Marte, Keith Foulke and Antonio Osuna.
The kids showed they can play. But can they play well enough to compete with Twins in 2003?
"I think so," rookie third baseman Joe Crede said. "We showed we can win in the last two months. I think we have a pretty good record. I have no reason to believe we can't. I think we can contend with the Twins and everyone else."