Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What, Indeed?

I'm glad that the Sox are playing Tampa Bay this week. At least there is one entertaining team on the field.

Bob asks, "what the heck has happened to the White Sox?" Good question. To summarize the 2007 White Sox at this point in the season, no one except Jim Thome is creating any offense, the defense is mediocre, the outfield is the worst in baseball, Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle are the only two consistent starters, and apart from Bobby Jenks the bullpen can be politely described as a complete disaster.

How did the Sox get from October 25, 2005, to this? Certainly they have had some bad luck, but as Branch Rickey said, "luck is the residue of design." Decisions made this past winter have come back to roost, and the team has laid an egg.

Following the White Sox World Series championship of 2005 (I still can't stop typing that phrase) Williams made some very good decisions. Rather than stand pat, gloss over some weaknesses, and figure, hey, we won it with these guys, we can do it with them again, Williams shook up the roster, getting Jim Thome, Javier Vazquez, and some supporting players like Matt Thornton. The Sox didn't repeat, and the Vazquez trade cost the Sox Chris Young (more about that later) but the Sox were arguably a better team in some ways in 2006 than in 2005, falling a bit short against strong divisional competition.

But following 2006, Williams did not address the needs of 2007. When Aaron Rowand went to the Phillies for Thome, a hole opened up in center. The Sox thought that they had a rookie to replace him with. They did, but it was Chris Young, and they traded him to Arizona. Brian Anderson was not up to the task. By the end of the season the left fielder was down with an injury, capping off a mediocre season pretty much in line with most of his career.

So Williams went into the winter with an excess of starting pitching, and two holes in the outfield. He made two trades, giving up a starting pitcher in both deals, and came back with...younger starting pitching. And no outfielders.

Now, looking at them in a vacuum, I think that Williams came out ahead on both trades. Having gotten John Danks for Brendan McCarthy, I sure as hell wouldn't give him back. Freddie Garcia has crashed and burned in Philadelphia while Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd have pitched well at the minor league level. But what the Sox needed to compete in 2007 were outfielders who could hit, not pitching prospects.

Williams made one move to patch the outfield. He signed Darin Erstad.

Erstad has many admirers in the media and in the stands, so I hope that their feelings aren't hurt when I say that he is not a championship caliber outfielder. Here is Erstad's career record. Please point out to me any year since 2000 in which he has been a good player, much less a star. As an added bonus to his inability to hit, he also misses games with injuries. Lots of games.

So what happens? Erstad takes over center field, doesn't hit, and then gets hurt. Anyone surprised by this? If so, are you also surprised every morning when the sun comes up in the east?

Last night the Sox started an outfield of Scott Podsednik, Luis Terrero, and Andy Gonzalez. No matter who your infield is, you cannot win in the major leagues with an outfield like that.

I agree that the injuries to Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye, Podsednik, and Thome were unfortunate. But when your bench consists of no better hitter than Rob Mackowiak, I think that you deserve what you get.

The starting pitching hasn't been bad, although I think that Jose Contreras is done. The bullpen, on the other hand...only Jenks and Boone Logan have ERAs under 5.00. I am disappointed but can't say I'm terribly surprised, either. Mike MacDougal, Matt Thornton, Andy Sisko, and David Aardsema all have great arms but all came with plenty of risk attached. I think that the upside of the group was worth the gamble, but the dice roll came up snake eyes this time.

Remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Chicago media back this past winter when Baseball Prospectus predicted a losing record for the 2007 Sox? Maybe those numbers geeks weren't so dumb after all.

I think that there is a chance that Kenny Williams is smarter than we think. Is it possible that he looked over his roster after his last season and thought to himself, "there is no way in hell we are going to beat Detroit and Minnesota and Cleveland with this roster. Scott Podsednik? Juan Uribe? Brian Anderson? Are you kidding me? Time to reload!" That would go a long way towards explaining the Garcia and McCarthy trades. We shall see what actions he takes as the trading deadline approaches.


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