GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The White Sox don't like to use the word "rebuild," preferring to operate under the illusion they're realistic contenders again despite a 99-loss season in 2013.
After general manager Rick Hahn's impressive remodeling job, the Sox should be much improved and more interesting to watch.
Whether the Sox are good enough to contend with the Tigers and Indians in the American League Central is another story.
"Anything is possible," Chris Sale said Saturday as Sox pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. "That's just how sports and life is in general. The Red Sox were the worst team and then they win it.
"That's how sports is and that's how we're going to try to rewrite the ending this year."
Even if they looked like contenders at this time last year, the Sox definitely ended up the worst team in the division and finished exactly where they belonged.
"We're not running away from the record from last year," Hahn said. "We know we earned that record and have a number of areas we need to improve on. We're pleased with the progress, but we don't feel by any stretch our work is done."
For the unthinkable to happen this year, they will have to start beating their division rivals, after finishing 26-50 against the Central. They were a ludicrous 2-17 against the Indians. But spring training is a time when amnesia is the preferred mode of thinking.
"It's a fresh start," veteran starter John Danks said. "We all get to try again. We like the group they are putting together and we are going to be fun. It can't be any worse than last year."
No, it probably can't get any worse, as Danks said, and yes, anything is possible, as Sale suggested. But if the Sox were to finish a few games above .500 with 84 victories that would be an improvement of 21 games, which should be satisfactory after last year's crash-and-burn.
"The idea is to be ready to win games," manager Robin Ventura said. "... We're going to see what we have when we go there. But nobody wants to live through last year."
Ventura forgot "again." To avoid repeating the nightmare of 2013, much will depend on Sale, who turns 26 in March after having established himself as the American League's best left-hander the last two seasons; and Danks, who had a career-high 14 losses in 2013 after shoulder surgery in August 2012.
If starters Sale, Danks and Jose Quintana pull their weight in the early going, the Sox can build some confidence in the first month. They play 16 home games through April 30, when pitching and defense will be at a premium in the raw weather.
What kind of defense they will play is unknown.
In 2012, the Sox set franchise records for fielding percentage (.988) and fewest errors (70), tops in the majors in both categories. With most of the same players in 2013, they were 29th in fielding percentage (.980) and errors (121).
What can spur a turnaround?
"First, it's the mentality of playing defense, your mindset about how important it is," Ventura said. "Just because last year was what it was, it doesn't mean it's going to happen this year, just like the year before we were really good at it. ... You're not going to win games if you don't play defense. We proved that last year."
Matt Davidson, the prospect acquired from the Diamondbacks for closer Addison Reed, could be their best young third baseman since Ventura arrived in 1989. But he still has to adjust to the majors. Ventura committed 25 errors in his first full season in 1990 before winning six Gold Glove awards.
Davidson is not assured a roster spot, but the Sox would like him to win the position with a strong performance in the Cactus League. Hahn said it will depend on more than just numbers.
"It's probably a little more art than science," Hahn said. "But (it's) going to be fun to watch -- where he is in terms of his development, how we project where he can get to and what's the best path to get him to max out that ceiling of his. We feel it's pretty high."
Has Hahn created a masterpiece, or will all the moves be considered paint-by-numbers come October?
Time to start to find out.
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