White Sox's free-agent options are limited

CHICAGO – With the White Sox beginning two days of organization meetings in Arizona on Wednesday, the subject of free agency is sure to be on the agenda.

While some major free agents are starting to be linked to prospective new clubs, the White Sox haven’t been included in any of that buzz, which was expected. Offseason spending won’t be what it has been after last year’s $127 million payroll investment went belly up.

The White Sox won’t be able to stay completely away from the free agent pool, they just won’t be going anywhere near all the intrigue. In other words, Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes won’t be getting calls from general manager Kenny Williams.

The White Sox do figure to be pouring over utility infielder possibilities, which isn’t the sexiest list in baseball but does happen to be a necessity. It remains unclear if the White Sox will bring back veteran Omar Vizquel, who will be 45 next season.

Since Vizquel could play three infield positions, any potential replacement would have to possess supreme versatility. Two such candidates stand out on the free-agent board: Jamey Carroll and Nick Punto.

If those names don’t give you chills, you obviously aren’t alone but they would both fill a need and neither figures to break the bank.

Carroll will be 37 next season, while Punto will be 34, making them far less of an age concern than Vizquel.

Carroll is more of a middle infielder, but can handle third base in a pinch. He is coming off a two-year $3.85 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has been exploring starting possibilities, though, including one to play second base for the Tigers.

Punto can play second base, third and shortstop and is coming off a one-year deal at $750,000 with the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Another backup infield option is Jerry Hairston Jr., who was a key contributor to the Milwaukee Brewers’ playoff run and just finished a one-year $2 million deal.

The White Sox could lose free agents Mark Buehrle and Ramon Castro, but Chris Sale would move into the rotation for Buehrle and Tyler Flowers’ presence makes Castro expendable.

Juan Pierre is also expected to depart via free agency. Alejandro De Aza is projected to take his spot in left field, but he isn’t a prototypical leadoff man which is what the White Sox would still need after Pierre’s departure.

Trading right fielder Carlos Quentin could free up some salary to pursue a free agent who can play left field and lead off. Williams has said, though, that he is only interested in trading for major-league ready talent so a leadoff hitter who can play left figures to be one of his targets in a potential Quentin deal.