With pitchers and catchers reporting in just a little over a month from now and the White Sox and Cubs fan conventions taking place over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting a three-part series on the offseason moves of each of the Chicago teams and the rest of Major League Baseball. First up are the White Sox.
It’s amazing – my baseball team has not only won the World Series, but it is actually making aggressive yet shrewd moves to try to win another one. I’ve got to give Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf credit. Unlike his seeming eagerness to see Michael Jordan to walk away so that he and Jerry Krause could reconstruct the Bulls (we’re only now recuperating from that dark experiment), it looks like he’s stepping up the commitment of the White Sox organization to build upon the team’s success. At the same time, Kenny Williams has been doing a phenomenal job this offseason – he’s ripping off everyone in sight. Here’s my review of the major moves by the Sox:
1) Trading for Jim Thome – It was tough to see a great character guy (and noted Bears nut) in Aaron Rowand be traded away, but the Sox needed to get another bopper in its lineup. Despite Jim Thome’s injuries last season, he has been one of the top 10 hitters in baseball over the past decade. If the Sox hadn’t made this trade, we would be seeing Paul Konerko being walked every other at-bat a la Barry Bonds circa 2003. Instead, Konerko is going to see even better pitches to smack in the 2006 season. If Thome comes anywhere close to his 2004 production, the Sox offense might be talked about as much next October as the team’s pitching staff.
2) Re-signing Paul Konerko – A lesser Paulie would have told the Sox, “F–k you – pay me.” Instead, our Paulie turned down a bigger contract from the Angels in order to stay with the Sox, which just goes to show you how he’s a rarity among professional athletes today. Konerko’s got the physical skills and the leadership skills (not to mention the numb-chuck skills) to build a franchise around for a long time. Keeping this guy was the most important move the White Sox could have possibly made this offseason.
3) Trading for Rob Mackowiak – How Kenny Williams jacked the Pirates on this trade I’ll never know. Not only did he get rid of Damaso Marte, the biggest piece of deadweight on the roster, but the Sox also received in exchange arguably the best bench player in baseball. Mackowiak has a solid bat and can play all of the infield and outfield positions. More importantly, his versatility allows the Sox to carry a 13th pitcher on the roster instead of another position player, which means the team’s dominant pitching depth will go even deeper.
4) Trading for Javier Vasquez – Speaking of pitching depth, Kenny Williams pulled off another no-brainer with the El Duque-for-Vasquez trade. El Duque will live on forever on 2005 Sox DVD retrospectives with the miracle shutdown of the Red Sox after entering the game with the bases loaded in Game 5 of the ALDS. However, he was hardly playing at all in the second half of 2005. To receive Vasquez, a 200 innings per year guy in return for a pitcher with an unknown birth date that’s breaking down before our eyes could very well be Kenny Williams’ coup de grace. Sure, Vasquez struggled with the Yankees and Diamondbacks, but both of those clubs were trying to make him into a #1 or #2 starter. On the White Sox, he’s going to be the fourth or fifth starter! Baseball’s best rotation just got even better.
5) Re-signing Jon Garland – Locking up Garland beyond 2006 has me dreaming of a rotation primed for a multiple-season run along the lines of the Braves of the 1990s. I just hope his 2005 season wasn’t a flash in the pan and that he’s truly living up the potential everyone was talking about when he was traded over as a young prospect from the Cubs back in 1998.
Something tells me Kenny Williams isn’t finished yet. The addition of Vasquez gives the Sox six viable starting pitchers. The young Brandon McCarthy was lights out in the number five slot after the 2005 All Star break. If this were fantasy baseball, the Sox would keep McCarthy as a long reliever in the bullpen. However, I doubt they are going to essentially demote such a stud young kid after having so much success as a starter last year. Look for Williams to trade Jose Contreras (the only starting pitcher who isn’t signed past next season) for another big bat in the lineup.
Regardless of what the Sox do from now until pitchers and catchers report, they have to receive mad props for not resting on their laurels and continuing to make hungry and aggressive moves. They’re finishing off the types of deals that a team that hasn’t won anything (like the Cubs) ought to be making.
In the wake of the Corey Patterson trade, stay tuned for my Cubs offseason analysis…