But as the first-place White Sox start a four-game series Thursday at Yankee Stadium against the best team in baseball, consider that Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy aren't the only professionals on the South Side enjoying renaissance seasons.
And, surprise, the local baseball executive drawing praise by trading for a Red Sox player with World Series rings isn't the one Chicago might have expected in spring training. But Ken Williams is doing quite well, thank you.
Don't take for granted what the Sox have done as baseball nears midseason. The team Williams put together, the one some analysts picked to lose 100 games, finds itself simultaneously contending and rebuilding. Teams generally pick one or the other but rarely try both at the same time. The Sox dared to try.
In the offseason, Williams hired Ventura, traded outfielder Carlos Quentin, declined to re-sign ace Mark Buehrle and dealt closer Sergio Santos yet the Sox remain relevant no matter what their sad attendance figures show. They held a 21/2-game lead in the American League Central when they arrived in New York despite having two-fifths of the starting rotation — John Danks and Philip Humber — on the disabled list. They overcame injuries because young players developed and veterans emerged — or re-emerged in the cases of Dunn, Peavy and hot-hitting Alex Rios.
A year ago, all three disappointments represented valid reasons to question whether Williams' go-for-broke mentality had filled the Sox roster with aging name players at the high expense of youth and Jerry Reinsdorf's millions. A year later, they offer evidence why GMs such as Williams still trust the backs of players' baseball cards.
Increased credibility in the Sox resurgence comes in the examples of player development. Lefty Chris Sale leads the AL in earned-run average. Closer Addison Reed, from the same 2010 draft class, has 10 saves. Second baseman Gordon Beckham, the eighth pick of the 2008 draft, seems to have solved his confidence crisis. Every time outfielder Dayan Viciedo hits a home run or rookie revelation Jose Quintana produces another quality start, the Sox scouting department celebrates. And who gets a raise for claiming steady leadoff man Alejandro De Aza off waivers in 2009?
Before the first game at U.S. Cellular Field this season, Williams bristled when I asked him if 2012 represented a referendum on whether his organization can develop players. Now we suspect the Sox can.
The trade for Kevin Youkilis, the Sox's best in-season deal in years, merely confirmed what we already knew about Williams the wheeler-dealer. He remains the GM in town whose thinking most reflects the fan watching at home, the executive who makes moves become a reality in a way fantasy baseball owners envy. Need a third baseman? Get a third baseman. Need a starting pitcher? Anybody really doubt that if the Sox stay in first that Williams won't finagle a deal for a veteran starter?
The Sox getting Youkilis affected Chicago baseball this season more than the Cubs calling up first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo will be aiming for Sheffield Avenue long after Youkilis has retired to Main Street. But while Rizzo stays busy until October making an impression, Youkilis can help the Sox make the playoffs.
Credit the Sox and Williams for acquiring the player now and expecting the fans to come later, instead of the lame threats of being paralyzed by poor attendance almost nobody bought. Williams will make few $2 million gambles safer than Youkilis, who looks motivated to prove people wrong.
Those who know "Youuuuuuuuuk'' say his trademark intensity challenges everybody in his company to do even better — and now that includes Williams. As the stakes increase, so will the expectations. Williams might say he can't do this or won't do that, but ignore it all. Let Williams' actions speak louder than his words. This is what I heard loudest from Williams this week: This year, the Sox really are all in.
Dylan Axelrod takes the mound Thursday, reinforcing the Sox's need for a proven starter. The Yankees need one, too, after Andy Pettitte joined CC Sabathia on the disabled list Wednesday. Winner of the weekend series gets Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza? Don't stop now, Kenny.