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White Sox players, front office face change

Caption
(Nam Y. Huh (STF))
The White Sox's A. J. Pierzynski reacts after striking out during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field. Pierzynski hit a career-high 27 home runs this season, but he is not expected to be back with the Sox next year. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO – The White Sox made a surprising run at a division title. Now, big changes could be in store.

They might be saying goodbye to Jake Peavy and A.J. Pierzynski, and the front office could be in for some shuffling, too, after the Sox lost their grip on the AL Central lead and finished three games behind Detroit at 85-77.

The Sox led by as many as 31⁄2 games and spent 117 days in first place, scenarios that few would have envisioned when the season began.

“I can’t say enough about these guys for their effort and commitment,” general manager Ken Williams said. “It’s one thing to talk about it, [and say], ‘Let’s pay greater attention to fundamentals and all these things,’ but once you leave spring training, a lot of times, some of those things fall to the wayside. Not with this group. So I can sit here and only be so disappointed in us for not closing this thing out because if there is such a thing as losing the right way, this group did.”

So now what?

The Sox reportedly will promote their top two baseball executives, with Williams becoming the new vice president of baseball operations and assistant general manager Rick Hahn replacing him as the GM.

Williams is the fourth-longest tenured GM in baseball, and he just completed his 12th season, a run that included a championship in 2005 to end an 87-year drought along with another division title in 2008. Hahn has been credited with negotiating contracts with Paul Konerko, John Danks, Alexei Ramirez and Gavin Floyd along with evaluating and signing first-round picks Gordon Beckham (2008) and Chris Sale (2010) during his 12 seasons in the organization.

The Sox have been consistent contenders during that span, finishing at or above .500 nine times. Now, they reportedly will give Williams and Hahn fancier titles in a move that would seem to mirror the one chairman Jerry Reinsdorf made with the Bulls in May 2009, when he promoted John Paxson to executive vice president of basketball operations and Gar Forman to general manager.

Job descriptions aside, the task remains the same. And the Sox have some big decisions to make.

They can exercise a $22 million option on Peavy or buy him out for $4 million. If they do that, they could try to bring him back at a lower rate, but he might be attractive on the open market. After all, the former NL Cy Young winner put aside three injury-riddled seasons to make 32 starts, posting a 3.37 ERA and going 11-12.

Kevin Youkilis also could be gone after being acquired from Boston in late June, with the White Sox not expected to pick up his option.

Then, there’s Pierzynski.

His contract is up, and if his eight-year run in Chicago is over, he’s ending it on a strong note. He set a career high with 27 homers and matched one with 77 RBIs while hitting .278.

“I would love to come back and finish my career here, but at the same time I know how baseball works,” Pierzynski said. “I know the way things work and we’ll see. Maybe we can work something out. If not, I’ll always look back fondly on my time here and appreciate it.”

I love the city of Chicago. I love the fans here. I love the people here. I love the organization and you’ll never hear me say anything bad about them.”

As disappointing as the finish was for the Sox, there were still plenty of positives they can take away from this season.

Robin Ventura was a success in his first season as a manager, bringing a sense of calm after the Ozzie Guillen era. Players praised him and Ventura gave it right back to them, saying, “I enjoy the people I work with, the guys on the team, what they’ve done, so that part’s been fun.”

It helped that Adam Dunn (41 homers, 96 RBIs) and Alex Rios (.304, 25 homers, 91 RBIs) rebounded from miserable seasons. Sale emerged as an All-Star in his first year as a starter, with a 17-8 record and a 3.05 ERA, and Konerko got off to a blazing start before finishing a .298 average and 26 homers. He had surgery Thursday on his left wrist and is expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

Considering the disarray they were in a year ago, with the Williams-Guillen saga having come to its explosive end, this wasn’t a bad season for the White Sox.

“There are things that went on this year that just can’t be denied as far as positives,” Konerko said.

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