July 3, 2003
White Sox Make their Play
Wednesday night, the White Sox played the first game of their new Malcontent Era, beating the Twins 8-6 in 12 innings thanks to some extra-inning heroics by Paul Konerko and Frank Thomas. Trade acquisitions Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett--both of whom have been dogged by questions about their attitudes--didn't contribute much to the win, combining for a single and two walks in 11 plate appearances.
Nevertheless, the Tuesday trades that added Alomar and Everett to the fold are two of the best moves of Kenny Williams' tenure as White Sox GM. He addressed the team's biggest need--left-handed hitting--at a reasonable talent cost and did so in a way that didn't commit the Sox to the players beyond this season. Alomar was essentially had for Royce Ring a first-round pick in 2002 who has the "closer" label and good stuff, but little else going for him. Everett's price is as yet unknown--three prospects--but according to initial reports, it looks like the White Sox won't be giving up prime talent such as Joe Borchard, Jon Rauch or Kris Honel. (For a team seeking arms, the Rangers would do well to come away with Neal Cotts, a left-hander with 96 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings at Double-A Birmingham, though Cotts may also be off limits.)
The White Sox desperately needed the help from the left side. Back in May, I pointed out that the Sox had little to offer from the left side of the plate, an imbalance that rendered them helpless against good right-handed starters. While the team's numbers and record against righties have improved a bit since then, they remained heavily tilted towards the right side, getting more than 2/3 of their plate appearances from right-handed hitters. Other than Jose Valentin, their lefties hadn't contributed much.
Sox LHBs vs. RHP: AB AVG OBP SLG Jose Valentin* 208 .260 .346 .529 D'Angelo Jimenez* 207 .242 .325 .420 Brian Daubach 99 .263 .376 .424 Armando Rios 85 .224 .264 .329 Willie Harris 78 .218 .238 .256 Joe Borchard* 32 .188 .316 .250 *as LHB
Alomar and Everett are both switch-hitters who hit much better from the left side of the plate. Against right-handers:
2003 AB AVG OBP SLG Roberto Alomar 181 .304 .375 .403 Carl Everett 196 .286 .369 .617 2000-2002 AB AVG OBP SLG Roberto Alomar 1308 .317 .392 .479 Carl Everett 924 .284 .357 .530
Alomar, even in a down year, is an improvement on Jimenez, who hasn't played well since the firing of hitting coach Gary Ward in May. Everett is a huge upgrade on the parade of lousy center fielders the Sox have used, and becomes the big left-handed threat the lineup needed not just this season, but for the past few seasons.
This isn't the perfect deal for the Sox. Neither Alomar nor Everett is a good defensive player. Alomar's reputation is that of a Gold Glover, but he was overrated in his prime and has lost considerable range over the past three seasons. Everett, who isn't a center fielder by any stretch of the imagination--and has had his best season in years in 2003 in no small part because he's been kept out of center--will be asked to play there by the Sox, who have established starters on both corners and a backlog at DH. The chance for his acquisition to blow up on them is largely tied to the potential that playing him in center field will cost the team runs, lead to the demise of his bat, and cause him to hurt himself.
The catch is that neither player is replacing a good defender. Jimenez is a fair glove man at best, with good hands but not much range or skill at turning the double play. Aaron Rowand, all of the White Sox 2003 center fielders fit this description. Everett is likely to be worse than any of his predecessors, but he'll also be the best hitter of the group by a huge margin.
The AL Central is a winnable division, and flags fly forever. The Sox are in battle with two flawed teams. The Twins so screwed up that they insist on saving their best pitcher for those all important down-three-runs-in-the-sixth situations. The Royals have plenty of problems too, though they did make a move to improve its bullpen by adding Curtis Leskanic. In this group, getting close to .500 makes you a contender, and getting over it makes you a favorite.
Kenny Williams has made two moves that directly address his team's biggest short-term weakness, upgrading the lineup with players who are improvements at their positions. The cost in talent looks to be small, the added payroll is easily absorbed, and the Sox haven't committed themselves to aging players beyond this season. The two trades are excellent ones for the Sox, and coupled with the Jimenez trade last August and last winter's Bartolo Colon pickup, indicate that Williams has improved significantly as a GM.
Postscript: The Sox designated Jimenez for assignment Wednesday, a move that appears to make little sense. Even assuming he wasn't going to play much in the wake of the Alomar pickup, he had value as insurance, as a part-time third baseman and top-notch backup infielder. Jimenez was an unpopular player in San Diego, however, and as well as he played for the Sox, didn't endear himself to this set of teammates either, which was clearly a factor in this decision. Whether this warrants removing him from the roster is a difficult thing to know from the outside.
Williams has 10 days to turn Jimenez into something the Sox can use. Given the number of teams he'd help at either middle infield position, he should be in good position to extract talent for Jimenez. The questions about the infielder's interpersonal skills, and the industry's overwhelming reluctance to acquire players with lousy reps, may keep Williams from getting value for him.