This is one of a series of posts in which we grade each team’s wily hot stove maneuvers and tragic offseason blunders.
“It all began when we traded Aaron Rowand,” says my colleague, and fellow ChiSox fan, Joeff Davis, “Who’d we get in that deal? We shouldn’t have made that deal.”
On the surface, I would typically agree with Joeff. Shipping a fan favorite in a blockbuster deal is always a gamble, but at the time, it was a risk the GM felt he needed to make. And it made sense. Acquire a future hall-of-famer in Jim Thome, who can produce from the DH slot, a spot vacated with the then departure of a diminished Frank Thomas.
But if at any point are we to measure the intangibles in baseball, it’s with trades like this. Aaron Rowand earned the nickname “the legend” because of is all-out style of play and demeanor in the clubhouse, according to his teammates off course. Moving a player like that can only break the chemistry, the balance, that reigned in the dugout. Ask any White Sox fan, “what’s one of the more memorable moments of the 2005 world series?” Some will say Scott Podsednik’s walk-off homer in game two, but the true fan will say, Rowand’s reaction to said home run, captured and broadcast all over the world.
Ever since that trade, the Sox have hit a funk; sure they won 90 games in 2006, but that wasn’t even good enough for second place. Sure, Kenny Williams solidified the bullpen, and assembled what seemed to be a strong rotation; plus, the addition of Thome to its already home-run-hitting lineup couldn’t hurt. But of course, the runs never came; and thus, the 90-win team that barely missed the playoffs in ’06, became the 72-win team on the brink of rebuilding in ’07.
It’s the center fielder, stupid
Funny how one move can hurt a team in so many ways. After Rowand was traded, Williams knew one of his glaring priorities was to find a suitable replacement to patrol center field. Seemingly, the team was loaded with promising prospects: Jerry Owens, Brian Anderson, Ryan Sweeny, so naturally, the team that produced Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordoñez and Aaron Rowand would no doubt call up the next star-in-the-making. Well, I have two words for all of you: Joe Borchard. The single, most expensive longest home-run ever hit at U.S. Cellular field.
Though Anderson was an apt defensive replacement in 2006, his offensive numbers were abominable: 135 games, .225 .290 .359. There was no way he’d make the team in 2007 with those numbers. Both Owens and Sweeny had their fair share of AB’s last year, with Owens coming off as the potential candidate for center field. Sweeny was traded to the A’s in the Swisher deal. So what did Williams do last year? He signed Darin Erstad. He just couldn’t stay off the vets.
Get to the HOA already!
So rolling into 2008, the message was loud and clear: Kenny, get a center fielder. That’s it. Well, turns out Williams was set on getting said center fielder; he tried. He honestly tried. And when he failed, he splurged all his CF cash on relievers. And he made some trades.
Well, what about Carlos Quentin, he’s an outfielder.
Yes, Williams traded a young first baseman to the D’backs for Quentin, but let’s keep things in context. The Sox needed a center fielder that could produce out of the 6th or 7th spot on the line-up, Quentin was out most of last year, and coming off an injury can be a tough time adjustments-wise to any major leaguer. No matter what his upside is.
Fine, then what about Nick Swisher? He can play the outfield too.
Yes, Swisher can play the outfield, but he’s been a natural right fielder a spot that Jermaine Dye will not give up, nor should he. In 2007 Swisher logged 59 games at center, 57 at right, 44 at first and 5 as a DH. Though he only committed three errors in center, that’s one more than what Anderson made while playing 134 games at center in 2006. So he’s definitely not a defensive upgrade.
In all honesty, the center field issue is becoming moot. Williams got someone to patrol center, and that should be enough for now, but then he made some other puzzling moves. Why sign Uribe if you were actively looking to upgrade at short, trading one of your more consistent starters for a veteran like Orlando Cabrera? (Don’t say you weren’t looking to upgrade – you were and that’s a good thing). Why resign Joe Crede if Josh Fields is ripe for a full major league season? Who’ll play left?
Yes, the bullpen needed some work, but why in the blazes would you sign Octavio Dotel for $11 million dollars? Why give Scott Linebrink, a reliever with a respectable, yet not outstanding, 3.71 era, and a 2:1 K/BB ratio, $19 million over 4 years?
I don’t know. It seems to me that after 2007, the ChiSox panicked into thinking they had too many holes, when in reality, an upgrade at center, left, and perhaps short would’ve sufficed. Well, actually, the bullpen could’ve used some work too, I guess. So in retrospect, Williams addressed most of these needs with players he probably didn’t envision. But all in all, I still have this foreboding sense of pessimism. Let’s hope it’s only remnants of 2007′s nightmare.
Notable Additions: Orlando Cabrera, Carlos Quentin, Nick Swisher, Scott Linebrink, Octavio Dotel
Notable departures: Jon Garland, Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez, Faustino De Los Santos (both in the Swisher trade), David Aardsma
C – A.J. Pierzynksi
1B – Paul Konerko
2B – Danny Richard
SS – Orlando Cabrera
3B – Joe Crede/Josh Fields
LF – Josh Fields/Jerry Owens
CF – Nick Swisher/Jerry Owens
RF – Jermaine Dye
DH – Jim Thome
LH – Mark Buehrle
RH – Javier Vazquez
RH – Jose Contreras
RH – Gavin Floyd
LH – John Danks
Setup: Octavio Dotel, 4.11 ERA, 11 saves
Closer: Bobby Jenks, 2.77 ERA, 40 saves
Grade: B –
I have to give Williams some credit for pulling off some bold trades when the free agent market snubbed him, even if those trades moved the team on a horizontal plane, talent-wise, instead of drastically improving it. And if we’re to take the recently held SoxFest as any indication, fans overall are cautiously optimistic:
CHICAGO — Ken Williams was so excited to take questions from the White Sox faithful during Sunday’s final SoxFest event that he began the last of three weekend Town Hall Meetings some 30 minutes before its scheduled start.
Williams had the idea for the early opening when he was signing autographs and a handful of fans started throwing him questions about the White Sox. So, Williams sat on the dais by himself, as participants lined up behind a crowd microphone to continue heaping praise upon his offseason work.
“One thing I couldn’t figure out was, to me, we made some obvious improvements,” Williams said. “I couldn’t figure out why this team wasn’t being viewed the way we all internally were feeling.
“Despite what fans read or hear on the radio, our fans will make up their own minds and draw their own conclusions. I realize it’s a small sample size-wise, but they have a chance to voice their pleasure or displeasure and it’s appreciated.”
Will the fans respond the same way at the ticket booth?