SARASOTA, FLA. -- The builder is confident, but also nervous.
The builder has spent the entire winter molding and revamping. He has gone by the book, and he has gambled. The builder has jettisoned pieces and added new facets to the plan. The builder has worked hard, and is content with what he has done.
Yet the builder still doesn't know what will happen when the blanket is pulled off his creation. Is it ready to be taken out on the road?
"I think we're going to be in for an interesting spring," said the builder, Chicago White Sox General Manager Larry Himes.
This will be Himes' second spring training with the White Sox, but it will be the first with "his" club.
Last year, Himes oversaw a montage of players assembled by Roland Hemond and Ken Harrelson.
The White Sox were somebody else's players, somebody else's team. Himes watched and evaluated.
Then, when Himes was ready, he acted. The following numbers bear Himes' stamp: Only 18 of the 38 players on this year's spring training roster were on that roster last spring; Of the 16 pitchers, only four were in camp with the big squad for the first workout last spring. Of the 38 players currently on the roster, only four are over the age of 30. The coaching staff has four new faces.
The winds of changes are rippling the Florida palms, and Himes is the guy doing the blowing.
"Last year when I came to camp, it was a matter of me not knowing anyone," Himes said. "I didn't know what we had. I didn't know what the players' abilities were. Almost all of last year was a learning experience for me. This year I know what the guys can do, and I know what the players we've traded for can do. I'm going in that much more ahead."
So are the White Sox, Himes believes. Changes were needed on a club that for the second straight year finished fifth in the American League West.
Gone will be familiar faces such as Floyd Bannister, Richard Dotson, Jose DeLeon, Bob James and Ron Hassey. In their place, for the most part, will be inexperienced youngsters.
"It's a young man's game," said White Sox manager Jim Fregosi. "You win by experience, not age. However, there comes a time when you have to analyze things and say, 'How good are you doing with the vets?' If you're not good enough with the vets, then let's find some young kids who can play."
The White Sox think they've found a few choice ones in Jack McDowell, Melido Perez, Lance Johnson and Dan Pasqua. They represent the team's future.
"They're still unknowns, but I like having them," Himes said.
The biggest unknown going into camp will be the starting rotation. Who will be the opening day starter is anyone's guess now. The subtraction of Bannister, Dotson and DeLeon has left a lot of questions.
Going into camp, Dave LaPoint looks to be the No. 1 starter. Ex-Cardinal Ricky Horton also figures prominently in the starting rotation.
Fregosi is tentatively penciling in McDowell and Perez, but he's keeping his eraser handy. Perez has only three games of major league experience, and McDowell (3-0, 1.93 earned-run average in a late-season stint) still has to prove more in the manager's eyes.
"He'll have to pitch well to make our staff," Fregosi said. "He's got a fine arm, but let's not go crazy over what he did in the last month. Let's see how does this year."
If the youngsters falter, the White Sox probably will turn to Jerry Reuss, 38, a left-hander invited for a spring training look. Bill Long figures to be used as a starter and in relief, and Joel Davis could work his way into the picture with an impressive spring.
The bullpen is set from the right side with Bobby Thigpen and John Davis, acquired from Kansas City in the Bannister deal. Right-hander John Pawlowski also will get a long look after an impressive winter season.
The left side is wide open. Holdover Ray Searage will compete for jobs with newcomers Ken Patterson and Tony Blasucci.
"Jimmy's going to work them all out, and hopefully, a few will emerge from the pack," Himes said. "Our pitching staff is going to be competitive."
The same can't be said for the everyday lineup, although that situation might change if Carlton Fisk decides to play somewhere else. Fisk, declared a free agent by an arbitrator's ruling, has until March 1 to decide if he'll stay with the White Sox. If he doesn't, it would leave the catching in the hands of newly acquired Mark Salas and Ron Karkovice, who hit .071 as a rookie last year.
For now, the White Sox are assuming that Fisk will be with them. That will leave Kenny Williams as perhaps the biggest question of this camp.
The White Sox couldn't find a real third baseman through a trade, so they will try to make one out of Williams, last year's center-fielder. He's due in town Sunday, a full week ahead of the position players. The White Sox want him to get a head start.
"We don't have a timetable for him," Fregosi said. "We're not going to expect a lot. He's going to play, and hopefully we'll see some improvement by the time the season starts."
There will be competition at second base, where Fred Manrique and Donnie Hill will battle for the starting job. The White Sox also want to see what Santiago Garcia can do there. Drafted from the Toronto organization, Garcia, 22, is long on talent but also long on emotional problems in his past.
"He's going to be a guy I'm going to be very interested in seeing what he can do," Himes said.
Himes knows what Greg Walker can do at first and Ozzie Guillen at shortstop. The starting outfield also seems settled with Pasqua in left, Johnson in center and Ivan Calderon in right. Harold Baines is coming into Sarasota this weekend so the White Sox can take a look at his knee to determine if he can be more than a designated hitter.
"It's just the opposite of last year," Fregosi said. "Last year our pitching was set, but our everyday lineup wasn't. This year, we're set on the field but not on the mound."
Fregosi and Himes should have a few answers in the next six weeks. With all the new players in camp, it might take three weeks to get the introductions out of the way.
"We all have to get to know each other," Fregosi said.
Himes thinks all the pieces of his creation will come together.
"We've probably got the youngest team in the American League," Himes said. "This is a great time for us to establish an attitude for our organization. We can implement the things we want done. Jimmy will have a strong impact on the club. We have a good opportunity to solidify our foundation."