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Brooks Boyer and What's New With the 2011 White Sox

by Mike DePilla
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
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A new, two-level bar/restaurant will open at the Cell next week, the BP Crosstown Cup will be advertised more aggressively this June, and the

Sox will wear their white pinstripe uniforms more often this season.

Those are a few of the insights White Sox

Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Brooks Boyer shared in a conference call yesterday afternoon with a motley crew of bloggers from various White Sox sites. (So if you see a bunch of other articles just like this across the internet, yeah, we’re all cool.)

Brooks Boyer and What’s New With the 2011 White Sox

The most exciting news Boyer discussed was the opening of Bacardi at the Park, the new food, drink and general hanging out establishment by Gate 5, just north of 35th Street, that will make its debut at the Sox home opener next Thursday. The new joint, which will be open all day long- generally two and a half hours before the game until two hours after the last out- will feature 67 flat screen televisions, a menu catered by Gibson’s and room for up to 350 guests.

I will try to snap a few photos of the place when I visit for a pre- or post-game beer next week.

Boyer said the Score’s morning hosts, Mulley and Hanley, will officially kick off Bacardi at the Park with a remote broadcast beginning at 5 AM next Thursday, the first of what will likely be many radio and television live remotes. Boyer’s goal is to make the restaurant a destination of its own (you don’t need a game ticket to get in), and he points to that evening’s Bulls/Celtics game as a perfect chance for fans to hang around Bacardi at the Park after the afternoon’s Sox game.

Bacardi at the Park will only be open on game days for now, but if the location catches on as a hang out for non-Sox game events (like that Bulls/Celtics game), it will soon open on off days as well. Sox fans are always clamoring for a place to go around the park before or after the game, and with a food menu crafted by Gibson’s and drinks by Bacardi, this looks like it might be a winner.

Other new things at the park this year? Boyer talked about the brand new Metra Rock Island line stop at 35th Street, complete with dedicated Sox trains that leave right after the game, that will help alleviate traffic concerns. He also talked up new ballpark organist Lori Moreland, who has the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Nancy Faust. Moreland, who won the job after an in-ballpark try-out (with people in the stands giving feedback), will make her debut at the home opener next Thursday, though her season schedule has not yet been set. (Boyer said a full 81 days “would be tough”.)

If there was as a one-word summary for the rest of Boyer’s message, it would be “aggressive”. The Sox front office was aggressive in putting a quality team on the field, the marketing team set an aggressive budget to promote said team, and sponsor BP will be aggressive in its visibility advertising its Crosstown Cup, presented to the winner of the Sox/Cubs interleague series.

The Gulf Coast oil spill, as well as the Blackhawks Stanley Cup run, took a lot of the luster off of last year’s inaugural BP Cup. Nonetheless, Boyer said he was “really excited” about the BP Cup this season and a “long-time partnership” going forward. “It’s not the World Series trophy,” he conceded, “but it still means something.” Maybe to the casual fans. But the diehards will still probably roll their eyes at the idea of added importance to six mid-season, already over-dramatized, out-of-division games. (And Derrick Rose might have something to say about putting everything else on the back burner this June.)

The BP sponsorship is part of a general swelling in the marketing department, which has to bring in significant revenue to justify the team’s lofty payroll. White Sox sponsorship dollars dipped after 2007- when the team and the economy both tanked. Boyer said things have been on the upswing for three straight years now, and that he anticipates an increase again in 2011, when everything is set and done. That is of course good news, as the general formula tells us that more sponsorship revenue = more $$ to players = more winning.

Aside from new sponsorships (Boyer said a new name will be announced for the former Jim Beam club soon), more revenue will accumulate for the Sox through dynamic ticket pricing, which will allow the club to change a given day’s ticket prices based on a variety factors including weather, team record and giveaways. The system was tested out late last fall with, it was noted, limited dynamism. But with a few tweaks Boyer says this season the dynamic option will be a boon to value-seekers on slow days as well as profit-maximizer for the team on busy days. As with the case of all degrees of price discrimination, this will probably benefit the team more than the fans (i.e. don’t expect $5 upper deck tickets any time soon). Keep an eye on premium lower box and outfield seats, where this system will kick in first.

Boyer also touched on the sensitive uniform issue. Sox fans are still upset over the removal of the diamond sock patch on the road gray uniforms, and most believe Boyer’s rationale of “image branding” doesn’t justify a clearly inferior fashion decision. He reiterated that branding logic to us, saying that although he liked the diamond patch, his main directive was to get the “Sox” logo on that jersey to present a consistent image. I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now: though its not at the top of my list of important beefs, I do agree with the consensus of Sox fans that it was a needless change. The road ray does happen to be my favorite uniform, but at least I’ll always have my road gray authentic “Buehrle”, complete with diamond logo patch. You can take away my freedom, but you’ll never get my diamond-patch jersey!

Speaking of uniforms, Boyer did mention the team will be wearing their home white pinstripes more often this season. In recent years, the alternate black jerseys have taken a precedence, and though Boyer says he holds no sway at all in the clubhouse, he was promised the white pinstripes would carry more of the load in 2011.

Oh, and will any more Sox players be joining Twitter this season?

Brooks laughed that one off:

“Given what’s happened in the past with some people in the clubhouse, and some people who thought they were in the clubhouse, I don’t think that’s something Kenny and Ozzie are pushing.”

Good call, guys.


Marquez, Connie's Out; Milledge, Lillibridge, DiGiorno In

by Mike DePilla
Monday, March 28, 2011
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Can you believe it? Only four days from today Mark Buehrle will take to the mound at Progressive Field in Cleveland to kick off the 2011 season. Buehrle received his final tune up before Opening Day yesterday afternoon, and the results indicate he's ready to go: 5 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 7 K, 0 BB.

However, Buehrle's K-filled outing was not the most surprising news to come from Sox camp yesterday. Ozzie Guillen and co. team made their unofficial final round of cuts, and with the surprising dismissal of Jeff Marquez, it appears the Opening Day roster is set with 11 pitchers and half a dozen outfielders, including both Brent Lillibridge and Lastings Milledge.

SSS chief Jim Margalus, who only four days ago wondered aloud how Marquez snuck his away onto the (preliminary) 25-man roster, today tried to make sense of the new rotation and came to the same conclusion I have: it's not optimal. Having both of Milledge and Lillibridge on the roster is about useful as Krusty the Clown's famous superfluous third nipple.

Of course, I was the guy who wanted Alejandro De Aza, he of the good defense and baserunning, to make the club as the primary back up outfielder, and he was cut before any of these guys. When you break it down, there just isn't enough opportunity for Milledge, who is behind Mark Teahen, or Lillibridge, who is behind Omar Vizquel, and if Ozzie tries too hard to find at bats for all of them, he will be actively hurting the team.

Now, Marquez should never have sniffed this team anyway. A prime example of why spring stats should be thoroughly ignored: Marquez was having a sensational spring through his first four appearances, allowing a bunch of hits but no runs and only one walk over 7.1 innings. Since then (March 14), he's been battered mercilessly: 10 IP, 7 ER, 14 H.

James at White Sox Observer points out that, in taking Milledge, Lillibridge and Phil Humber over De Aza and Marquez, the Sox are logically selecting the best overall players, regardless of roster depth. And of course their roles will be so limited that it will hardly affect the outcome of many games one way or another: selecting Milledge over De Aza is not like going to post with Mark Kotsay as your starting DH over Jim Thome.

So there's no use making too big a deal out of it. (And on the pitching side, it's six one way half a doze another- Humber is bound to be terrible as the 5th starter but any of the options would be equally bad.) At the end of the day, I still think Teahen and/or Lillibridge are not long for this team. It feels like Ken Williams is shopping them both aggressively, and one of them will be moved no later than April. When one of them gets dealt, and/or Quentin gets injured, then we will have an interesting debate about playing time for Milledge or Dayan Viciedo.

******

Sox fans, you need to check out former-Examiner JJ Stankevitz's new endeavor, Beer Leaguer. The site is already overflowing with excellent content, including rundowns of all recent Sox maneuverings and analysis of the Konerko/Cameron trade, the Richard/Peavy trade and John Danks' and Gavin Floyd's pitch selection. Great stuff. And, it all comes without seventeen pop-up ads!

Filling Stankevitz's old seat at White Sox Examiner is Brian Henkels, who has already logged five stories.

******

New food at the Cell? Buried in a Tribune article today about Wrigley Field is a blurb about some minor vendor changes at the Cell this year:

"On the South Side, new offerings at U.S. Cellular Field include an Irish pub, cheesesteak sandwiches and tamale carts. The park will change its Beers of the World locations to Midwest Brews, featuring craft beers from neighboring states. Wow Bao, new last season, is adding Mongolian beef to its offerings."
The article also mentions that the Cell will now serve DiGiorno pizza instead of Connie's. I am a big Connie's pizza fan, but it is much, much better enjoyed at Connie's restaurant location a few minutes away from the park than inside the stadium anyway.

The Irish pub may refer to "TBD's", the sports bar located at the north entrance to the park across from 35th Street. Or it may refer to something else completely new. I'll find out Thursday, April 7!

The Blip

by Mike DePilla
Monday, March 21, 2011
Bio | Previous | Home

It appears that, with his most recent setback, Jake Peavy has finally lost his manager's trust. He lost my trust last July (see here and here).

We were all told to expect a so-called "blip" or setback in Peavy's recovery from his unprecedented lat injury, and even the optimists among us were skeptical about an Opening Day roster spot for the former Padre. Though he was cruising along nicely this spring, and starting to incite some less-guarded optimism in the blue Glendale sky (Fegan started sipping the kool-aid, ever so slightly, last week) there was no way he'd avoid any kind of speed bump at all.

This is Jake Peavy, after all.

In 2009, his debut with the Sox was delayed when he was hit by a line drive on the mound in a minor league rehab start. (That was after he injured his ankle by running the bases.) Last spring, he nearly bought the farm in a freak spring training car crash that he walked away from unscathed. Then of course came the unprecedented lat tear. Crazy stuff happens to this guy.

So shoulder tendinitis, which doctors will re-evaluate this week, is hardly a shocker. What is shocking is that it's taken this long for Ozzie Guillen to wise up about Peavy's lack of self-restraint. Over at South Side Sox, Jim Margalus notes there were four entirely valid reasons that Peavy should not have started Saturday, the day this injury became severe enough to shut things down, and theorizes that it is much easier to say "no" to the Bulldog from 1000 miles than from a few feet. I guess from such a close distance Peavy can resort to Chuck Norris roundhouses or Jedi mind tricks to get his way to the mound.

In any case, it remains just plain foolish to expect his body to hold up through the rigors of a long season. Like Carlos Quentin, he is just too fragile and susceptible to freak injuries, the Sox fantastic track record of injury prevention and treatment notwithstanding. Hopefully this shoulder trouble is just a "blip", and he is able to join the Sox in mid-April.

If the re-evaluation goes well this week and the severity of the tendinitis does not force a several-month shut down, there is still good reason to believe Peavy can contribute meaningfully sooner rather than later. But counting on this guy to take the ball every five days and throw it 92 mph 90-100 times this summer just isn't wise.

******

Something that is wise: naming Brent Morel the starting third baseman. Supposedly, Ozzie has all but made it official. Peavy's injury might force a re-jiggering of the Opening Day roster, but I said last week and still believe that Brent Lillibiridge is nothing more than trade bait at this point. The Sox aren't paying Omar Vizquel $1.75 not to be the primary infielder off the bench.

******

Lastings Milledge has continued his impressive spring, but is still ruffling some feathers with his helmet-less strolls across homeplate on homeruns and unnecessary arguing of balls and strikes. The guy has a higher ceiling than Alejandro De Aza offensively, but that's not how you evaluate 4th outfielders. I am hoping his power surge with the bat doesn't distract Ozzie from that fact that De Aza plays better defense, is a batter baserunner, and would make a better seldom-used back up outfielder. Ozzie's decision should come this week.

******

In another smart move, Ozzie named Matt Thornton the closer to start the season. For reasons I cannot quite articulate, I had wanted Chris Sale to be the closer all winter and most of the spring. I can't really back that up, as it was just a gut thing. But I just felt more comfortable having Thornton available in high leverage situations in other innings, and letting Sale settle into the ninth for a year, where he dominated last season. However, the results this spring forced Ozzie to do things exactly the reverse.

Sale has had issues with command this spring, leading to a 6.48 ERA and 13 hits in 8.1 spring innings, while Thornton as cruised along like normal (6 IP, 7 H, 3.00 ERA). Those numbers are of course meaningless, but this is Sale's first spring training...ever. There's nothing wrong with letting him sort out any issues while the established Thornton gets his shot at the ninth.

******

Over at The Hardball Times, Chris Jaffe offered his White Sox preview, predicting an AL Central crown for Chicago.

Also, check out James Fegan's excellent run down of the Sox' AL Central opponents at White Sox Observer (Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City). A Minnesota preview is, I'm assuming, coming this or next week.

On a Risky Path, Chairman's "All In" Moment Yet to Come

by Mike DePilla
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Bio | Previous | Home

The Chairmain knows his team's fans are no fools.

Speaking to reporters in Glendale yesterday, Jerry Reinsdorf retold the now infamous story of the two paths GM Ken Williams presented him for the 2011 season: go young or go crazy and how he signed off on the risky "All In" strategy.

Now, I don't think Kenny was ever all that serious about a full-on rebuilding because a.) it's just not his style and b.) the Sox have one of the single worst farm systems in baseball, so rebuilding would be a slow, painful process, without a clear light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, they could have amassed some draft picks from losing Paulie (not AJ- the Sox didn't and wouldn't have offered him arbitration), and they could have picked a few good prospects by trading John Danks or Gavin Floyd.

But fans wouldn't have shown up much to watch what Reinsdorf called "a worse team with a lower payroll." So, noticing his sagging attendance, he threw down the proverbial gauntlet and expanded the payroll by $30 million to bring in a winner, much to the delight of his GM and his fans. James Fegan, for example, sings his praises today at White Sox Observer.

That payroll expansion is gutsy enough. But what really impresses me about Reinsdorf's interview is his honesty and realism. While in the past he (or his ever guilt-tripping GM) would have laid down some line about how the onus is now on the fans to show up to justify his decision. He did not do that here:

“We put the risk on ourselves. We put the monkey on our backs. We’re spending the money. We never expected people to go wild and buy tickets like mad. We know we have to prove that we’ve got a team worthy of winning the division. If we do, I think we’ll draw better."


Perfect summation of the situation.

In his article, author Chis "the Ranger" Rongey noted that there hasn't yet been a spike in ticket sales, which are about the same as 2010's, but that Reinsdorf's goal is to draw between 2.6 to 2.8 million fans. That is a relatively reasonable goal... if the team wins. Attendance has declined in each of the last four years, and one more uninspiring, losing season might have been enough to send attendance figures back to the dark empty-blue-seat days of the early '00s.

YEAR ATTENDANCE



2006 2.95 mil Post-World Series euphoria
2007 2.68 End of the World Series hangover
2008 2.5



2009 2.28



2010 2.19




Barring a complete and utter disaster, that trend should end this year. Based fan excitement and the ownership commitment shown in the payroll increase, even a marginally-competitive Sox team should see an uptick from last year and draw north of 2.3 million this year, provided they don't turn in a Pittsburgh Pirates-like first half.

However, getting from there to 2.8 million will only happen if they are vetted winners. Not pretenders getting by in a so-so division. Not a .500 team looking for the spark. Real winners.

The good news is the foundation is in place for a rapid fan response.

In the past, Sox fan have been slow to respond to unexpected early-season success, instead taking an attitude of "Prove it to us first, then maybe we'll come." However, all the effort and money put into making this team a real contender and the lofty expectations from the get-go have bought this team some goodwill and serious credibility. I believe Sox fans will be quicker to respond to a fast start than usual, when skepticism and ambivalence about fluke-y teams is more prevalent.

Winning always puts more butts in the seats no matter what, but I think that process will happen faster this year, provided the team gets off to a good April and May. Jerry and Kenny have won that benefit of the doubt. If this team comes out smokin', there will be fans in the seats by the end of May and early June. If they stay hot and turn in a 90+ win season, 2.6 million fans is very realistic. Always important, the April performance of this club is even more crucial this year.

On the flip side, if this team gets out of the gate extremely slow, things are going to be even uglier than last year. A rerun of '09 and '10 collapses amid expectations would leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth, and there will be no more second chances. The team won't win, fans won't come, and with financial losses on the line Jerry will be forced to decide whether to cut bait or stick with the loser. If he cuts bait, get ready for some anti-climatic endings to the Sox careers of some World Series heroes. If he sticks with it, can we really expect the same "All In" effort in 2012? Probably not. This year is the test-risk.

Bottom line: the Sox better win. Early and often.

Interestingly, if the team gets off to an average start, the toughest decision yet will come. Despite all the rhetoric, Kenny and Jerry aren't really, truly "All In" yet. That final shove might come in July, when a good-but-not-great Sox team might need one big acquisition to put them over the top and make them World Serious. Will Jerry be "pot-committed" and authorize a further expansion of the already maxed-out payroll, realizing it would be stupid to come this far and just get an 83-win team? Or will he evaluate it as throwing good money after bad, going to far over the line?

That will be the true Degree All-In moment.


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