After 2007, the Chicago White Sox were an afterthought, not expected to do much of anything in the powerhouse American League Central. Detroit and Cleveland were both far too talented for either the White Sox or Twins to contend with, and many tagged the White Sox for a battle for the cellar.
Kenny Williams must not have gotten that memo, as he went out and spent like a contender.
He traded three highly-touted prospects (Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez, and Fautino De Los Santos) to the A's for the fiery center fielder Nick Swisher.
He made the first move of the 2007 Winter Meetings by trading slugging first-base prospect Chris Carter for the oft-injured, but extremely talented, Carlos Quentin.
He proceeded to trade dependable innings-eater Jon Garland to the L.A. Angels for a defensive-minded shortstop in Orlando Cabrera.
The next two additions were to an atrocious bullpen, Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink were signed to anchor the seventh and eighth innings and build a bridge to All-Star closer Bobby Jenks.
Finally, he finished off his offseason extravaganza by signing Cuban defector Alexei Ramirez.
Even after all of these moves, the White Sox were still considered a third-place team at best. But they proved doubters wrong, and battled the equally-surprising Minnesota Twins until the end of the season. The White Sox were then bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual AL-Champion Tampa Bay Rays.
Although Williams had a roster that screamed contender, he wasn't happy with it. Orlando Cabrera ran into many clubhouse issues, Nick Swisher didn't hit and Joe Crede's balky back never recovered. There was no leadoff hitter, no center fielder, and very little speed.
Williams claimed to have a plan for months, and apparently, it was to rebuild the Sox into a younger, faster, more athletic team. He has been moving overpriced veterans, and has been shopping slow-footed slugger Jermaine Dye. His moves this offseason may confuse some, but if you look at them closely, you can see his plan:
- Signed 26-year-old second baseman Jayson Nix.
- Allowed Orlando Cabrera, Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Uribe, Joe Crede, and Horacio Ramirez to walk into free agency.
- Traded Nick Swisher to the New York Yankees for utility man Wilson Betemit and righties Jeff Marquez and Johnny Nunez.
- Traded Javier Vazquez to the Atlanta Braves for catcher Tyler Flowers, shortstop Brent Lillibridge, lefty hurler Santos Rodriguez, and third baseman Jonathon Gilmore.
- Signed 19-year-old Cuban defector Dayan Viciedo to a four-year, $10 million dollar contract.
By trading Swisher and allowing Cabrera to walk, Williams has the flexibility to move Ramirez to shortstop and play a young, athletic option at second in either Chriz Getz, Lillibridge or Nix.
By moving Javier Vazquez, he acquired a once highly-touted middle infield prospect in Lillibridge, a slugging catcher Tyler Flowers, and two young minor leaguers with great tools.
Viciedo is nearly major-league-ready at age 19. Williams has insurance for the powerful Josh Fields at third, and the flexibility to trade Konerko or Dye for more young starting pitching, or possibly a leadoff hitter.
The White Sox general manager most likely isn't finished, as there are still holes on the team.
As of right now, the lineups look like this.
- Jerry Owens - CF (bad option)
- Chris Getz/Brent Lillibridge - 2B (both speedy contact hitters with above average defense)
- Carlos Quentin - LF (No. 5 in MVP voting despite missing all of September)
- Jermaine Dye - RF (will likely be moved)
- Jim Thome - DH (still provides 30+ HR & 90+ RBI)
- Paul Konerko - 1B (showed life at the end of the year; could be traded)
- Alexei Ramirez - SS (20-20 candidate next year)
- A.J. Pierzynski - C ( Calls a good game, provides a good bat)
- Josh Fields/Dayan Viciedo - 3B (Fields hit 23 HR in 100 games in '07, Viciedo has 40+ HR potential)
The Starting Rotation
- John Danks - LHP (Broke out last season)
- Gavin Floyd - RHP (Also had a break-out year)
- Mark Buehrle - LHP (Dependable innings-eater, always has a sub-4 era)
- Jeff Marquez - RHP (Sinkerballer compared to Jon Garland)
- Clayton Richard/Aaron Poreda - LHP (Richard gained valuable experience last year, Poreda is the best pitching prospect in the organization)
That screams .500 to me, but the offseason is still rather young. Look for Williams to add a lead off hitter, possibly Chone Figgins of the Angels, and a veteran starting pitcher, maybe old friend Jon Garland.
Overall, Williams has given himself more flexibility to make deals, more bargaining chips, and a much more athletic team. He picked the right year to do it, as none of the other teams in the division are clear-cut favorites to win it.