Earlier this week, MLB.com's Scott Merkin ran down his top five franchise-changing developments from the 2011, with his list going as follows:
5. Mark Buehrle leaving
4. Rebuilding or retooling?
3. Dunn's struggles
2. Ozzie and some of the coaching staff leaving
1. Ventura returning
Check out the article for the explanations. My list differs from Scott's -- and hey, your list may differ from mine. Let us know in the comments what your top five would be if you disagree with anything.
5. White Sox extend Danks
This folds into the "rebuilding or retooling" bullet point, although it's nowhere near a rebuild. The Danks extension, for now, confirmed that.
4. Buehrle departs for Miami
The next four points are all intertwined, with the likelihood of Nos. 2-4 happening low without No. 1 on the list. Buehrle's departure was the product of...
3. Ozzie departs for Miami
...Ozzie Guillen being there and the White Sox neither the funds nor room in the starting rotation to keep him. And Ozzie Guillen leaving for Miami opened the door for...
2. Ventura's surprising hire
...nobody saw the Ventura hire coming outside of those in the White Sox front office, and it'll go down as one of the more interesting -- that could mean good or bad -- hires in White Sox history. But at the root of all this great change:
1. The unexpected downturns of Dunn and Rios
The White Sox had plenty of problems outside of this pair, but because both Adam Dunn and Alex Rios earned 12 million last season, they received much of the attention for the team's disappointing season.
The progression is this: If Dunn and Rios played near their 2010 levels to begin the 2011 season, perhaps the White Sox don't lose 17 of 21 games in April and early May. Even if the Sox went 10-11 in that stretch, they would've emerged above .500 -- a mark they didn't reach until July 2. By then, attendance lagged and the Sox had to deal away Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen at the deadline to free up some money.
Over the course of 2011, had Dunn and Rios each been three-win players (as they were in 2010), they would've netted the Sox about nine more wins, per FanGraphs' WAR. Nine wins puts the Sox at 88 on the season, firmly in playoff contention if not for the AL Central, for the AL Wild Card.
Maybe Buehrle still goes. Guillen, too, perhaps, still leaves with the pull of Miami too strong. But the chances that both franchise-altering moves happen would have to be lowered with the Sox contending for the playoffs through the end of the season, right?
For the record, these aren't the kind of downturns that you can predict. Rios, maybe -- he struggled in the second half of 2010, at least -- but not Dunn. So don't jump to blame Kenny Williams for this. It's not his fault.