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What should we read into the assignments of Sweeney, Fields, Owens, Gonzalez et al. to Winter Ball? Didn't Jerry Owens tear it up in Venezuela last year before unexpectedly leaving? Has he been demoted in only being sent to the AZL? Also, any plans for Lance Broadway, who appears on track to make the 2008 Sox?Also, any ideas about what happens in the 2007 Sox outfield? Pods is out, I think, but Sweeney can't take his place because then Brian Anderson or Juan Uribe becomes the leadoff hitter. Fields seems to have some speed, but he's not an outfielder. So does Sweeney become the platoon outfielder with Fields starting in left? (I realize that I'm asking for info the Sox haven't decided yet.) --Andrew, St. Louis

With Owens going to the Arizona Fall League, it gives him a chance to play closer to home as well as give several high-ranking Sox talent evaluators a chance to watch him very closely. Sweeney, Fields and Gonzalez just need to keep playing. This will be a very important seven months for them leading up to the 2007 regular season. Let's wait and see what Lance Broadway does in 2007 before making a decision on 2008, but he's done well so far.

The Sox need more consistent production out of the leadoff spot. I understand why some people want Podsednik replaced, but it's hard to find a very productive leadoff hitter without giving up value. Either someone might have to fill in on a one-year basis while Owens continues to develop, or they might have to move another position player to fulfill the leadoff spot.

I was a big fan of Aaron Rowand. Are his leadership intangibles missed on the Sox this year and are they just as good without Rowand this season? --Alan Orenstein, Austin, Texas

I think everyone misses Aaron's friendship in the clubhouse and his fearlessness and unselfishness on the field. He did hit into a lot of double plays last year. They had to move his salary to help get Thome and break in Brian Anderson.

I find it amazing how quickly some fans will give up on certain players who are having a bad stretch. And everyone seemed shocked that Kenny kept the same starting rotation after the trading deadline. I don't understand it. Mark Buehrle has been a solid pitcher for five years, but after one bad stretch, people say his career is over. Same with Garcia. I'm glad that Kenny kept these guys. They shined last year and just need to perform better. Who would Kenny have gotten to replace them? It would not have been worth giving up so quicklyon players who have performed so well in the (recent) past. --Pete, Chicago

Very true, Pete. But one starting pitcher will have to be dealt this off-season, and I don't think it will be Jon Garland, Jose Contreras or Mark Buehrle.

Why do many of the Sox players hold their batting gloves in their hands while running the bases? It looks goofy and effeminate, especially when Paulie does it. I'm pretty sure the uniform pants still have pockets. --Dave, Chicago

I've been told it keeps the players from extending their fingers and possibly jamming them or risking a break.

I know it's early for trade thoughts but I think they should trade high and send Crede, Uribe and any starter of their choice for Tejada (and maybe a prospect). Fields would take 3B and McCarthy become a starter. What do you think? --Mel Fleeman, Alhambra, Calif.

I don't think Tejada is in the Sox's sights right now. If they could get a shortstop who could bat leadoff, that would be great. I think Crede should be an All-Star, and financial reasons would be the only way he'd go elsewhere. Fields presents a pleasant problem. It will be a busy off-season.

Do you think Kenny regrets trading Chris Young, who is tearing up the Pacific Coast League, for a pitcher with no heart? What do you think we can get for Javier Vazquez in the off-season? If I had to choose, I take Garcia over Vazquez. Give me someone with some fight in him. --Jim Harlan, Chicago

When are the Sox going to realize it's time to give up on Vazquez? The guy's a bum. Give him away and spread the money around to the guys who deserve it like that Gold Glover at the hot corner. It blows my mind that Vazquez is the highest paid on the staff. --Ryan Ostrowski

I don't think Kenny regrets trading Young because the Sox wanted a durable pitcher with a great upside like Vazquez has. I think Javier brings a lot of value, but his salary for next season ($12.5 million) could make a deal difficult.

Hey Mark, I am a White Sox fan living in Connecticut and I'm going to see them play the Red Sox at Fenway on Labor Day. Any tips on visiting Fenway as a White Sox fan? --Luis Santiago, Hartford, Conn.

Arrive early, enjoy the neighborhood, and don't mention the Yankees. Boston fans were very classy after the White Sox eliminated Boston last October.

Is it me or are the Sox pitchers giving up a lot of homers this year, especially the crucial ones? --Jay Choi, Glenview, Ill.

There seem to be a lot of crucial homers, especially by the likes of the Tigers (Craig Monroe) and Minnesota (Torii Hunter) lately.

I think that the Tigers are stealing the Sox's signs. Last week when Joe Crede was out on a suicide squeeze, it was a pitchout. The reporters didn't say it but I saw it. Pudge Rodriquez was definitely two feet outsidewhen he got the pitch. The Sox runners are being cut down on their stealattempts too. Maybe they need some new signals right now. --Tom Gregory, Sylvania, Ohio

Good point, because I wasn't covering the game but noticed that Ozzie whistled and signaled to third base coach Joey Cora with his wrists crossed to indicate a play was on.

Mark, who can fans write to complain about the umpires? They have assumed so much power that it is having a negative impact on the game. --Jerry LaCamp, Eugene, Ore.

I think Sandy Alderson's leaving the Commissioner's Office to run the San Diego Padres was one of the biggest blows suffered by Major League Baseball. This is no knock on Mike Port, who is about to complete his first year supervising the umpires. But Sandy was great at enforcing umpires to conform with rules and conduct.

What is Jermaine Dye's contract status? I know that Josh Fields has beenplaying some outfield in the minors. How close is he to the big leagues and is he a viable option to suplant Dye in right field, if Dye were to go elsewhere? --Harry, Tinley Park, Ill.

The Sox hold an affordable $6-million option on Dye that they should pick up. Josh Fields needs more work in the outfield before he's considered a serious candidate to play there.

Please check your answer on the White Sox home runs last year. I think we hit more than 200, and I don't remember anyone else hitting much more than that. --Ed Lasak, Riverside, Calif.

Ed, I don't know how much clearer I can make this, but here are the 2005 American League home run totals for the top four teams: Texas (260), New York Yankees (229), Cleveland (207), White Sox (200).

Do you see the sox trading Juan Uribe and making Alex Cintron the starting shortstop? I think Cintron would be a better No. 2 hitter than Iguchi who strikes out way too much. --Mike, Tinley Park, Ill.

Mike, I think the Sox can do a lot worse than Cintron at shortstop as long as they upgrade at other areas. Alex has made great strides as a hitter and fielder. He doesn't have the arm of a Uribe, but he's very dependable.

Mark, you are around this team everyday. Do they really seem like they are giving it their best? It seems like they have not played hard since sweeping the Cardinals. I know the players would like to win, but do they REALLY WANT to win? It seems like they only win when the other team gives them games. What is your opinion? --Will, Chicago

Will, these guys are playing hard. I just think that the AL Central has improved very much and opponents are taking advantage of the Sox's weaknesses, particularly stealing at will in the Minnesota series.

It is my opinion that although the Sox have a lot of good things goingfor them--hitting, power, defense, bullpen, bench--there are also major andminor deficiencies that have cropped up this year--starting pitching, lack ofoverall speed, inability to throw out opposing base-stealers, and a couple obvious holes in the batting order like left field and shorstop. On the lastpoint I don't consider CF as one of the holes because the Anderson/Mackowiaktandem is at least average and could get better. What are the major areas that you think the Sox need to address in the off-season, no matter how they fare the rest of this year? --Jim Kesler, Tampa, Fla.

Jim, I think the Sox need a power arm in the rotation and a commitment to fundamentals, such as holding runners and taking the extra base (going from first to third on singles). The leadoff position should be closely examined.

Can you please explain why Ozzie keeps playing Mackowiak in center? I don't think the Sox have lost games because of Anderson's lack of hitting but they have lost a few because of Mackowiak's fielding. --Bob O'Connell, Hoboken, N.J.

Mackowiak has to play some of the time, and his defense has been disappointing at times. He might be better suited for left field.

Why is Matt Thorton getting the majority of the work as opposed to Neal Cotts? Is it just that the velocity on Thorton's fastball is a little higher? The same situation's that Guillen would call for a lefty is now going to Thorton? --Dan Dahil, Chicago

Thornton is simply pitching better right now than Cotts and has a better chance of getting a strikeout in a late-inning situation. Thornton's development has been one of the most pleasant surprises this season.

The numbers show that left handers have a far better chance of getting to Johan Santana then right handers. The numbers also show that time and time again when Ozzie trots out his right-handed hitting lineup against him they do absolutely nothing. Nada. Zip. So WHY does Ozzie continue to do that? Would it hurt to, at least, try putting Pods and A.J., for example, in the lineup against him? I mean how could they do any worse? Only a fool keeps repeating the same mistake over and over when they know better and I don't think Ozzie's a fool. --Mark Liptak, Chubbuck, Idaho

I guess we'll have to wait and see what lineup Ozzie uses on Saturday vs. Santana. Ozuna was more creative last Sunday. I remember covering a game in the mid-1990s in which then-Giants manager used Jeff Reed and John Patterson (both left-handed hitters) as pinch-hitters to offset John Franco's screwball, and it worked in a late-inning win.

Everybody keeps talking about dealing one of the starters in the off-season, but we don't really have any position needs next year. Players are either signed or a decent prospect is waiting to step in. What do you think about dealing Vasquez and Garcia for a top-of-the-rotation guy? This would open a spot for McCarthy and upgrade a pitcher. Some team short on arms might be willing to take two for one like this. Salaries would be the big thing. What do you think? --Sean, Tucson, Ariz.

Sean, not a bad idea. But I think the Sox could use a hard-throwing starting pitching prospect. I could see them dealing Vazquez and Garcia, but they'd have to get a starting pitcher and a pitching prospect. Sean Tracey, Charlie Haeger or Heath Phillips (who has drawn some comparisons to Buehrle) could compete for the fifth spot, but I'd like to see someone with a little more major league experience unless Tracey throws strikes more consistently.

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