|The Chicago White Sox and The Off-Season|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on December 05, 2008
No one thinks of the Chicago White Sox as a small market team.Â Â In fact last year they won the AL Central with the fourth highest overall salary base among American League teams (and fifth overall).Â And those same White Sox may be leading in another race â€“ they are trying to recreate themselves during what promises to be a financially trying time for all of baseball.
The secret is that general manager Ken Williams and the White Sox arenâ€™t holding a fire sale. They donâ€™t intend to just be competitive in 2009; they plan on winning the division again.Â But their vision of the White Sox is that of a meaner, leaner team that relies more on youth.Â That means reversing course on a lot of what the Sox have done over the last decade.
The Sox have never chased big name free agents (or at least they have never caught one in recorded memory) but they have acquired that same type of player by trading away their prospects and gambling on big time players like Jim Thome (with cash included in most of the deals), thus taking on only a fraction of the associated salary burdens of those players.Â Thatâ€™s why the White Sox ended up paying $121 million in payroll last season for a team that couldnâ€™t win 90 games.Â Their quick exit from the playoffs drove a point home - especially when they saw the success in models based on youth and speed like Tampa and Minnesota last year.
And for a change itâ€™s not the Sox that are dumping prospects for established players.Â Say goodbye to Nick Swisher and hello to Wilson Betemit (and two pitchers), a utility infielder who may get the nod at second base, but is thought to be a good enough third baseman to take over the everyday role if Josh Fields fizzles again in 2009.
Gone is Javier Vazquez - a strikeout machine who hasnâ€™t impressed fans in the win column â€“ traded for a package of prospects, headed by single A catcher Tyler Flowers who has impressive power and can hit for average, as well as almost ready for prime time shortstop Brent Lillibridge who got a cup of coffee in Atlanta at the end of last season and appears to be more of a defensive player at this point in his career.
Between those two moves Williams freed the White Sox of close to $40 odd million dollars in salary obligations over the next three years, including almost $15 million for 2009.Â In another economic climate that might be a sign that the ChiSox were attempting to free up some wiggle room for a free agent acquisition, but thatâ€™s not what Williams seems to be talking up in the media.
Even if Williams fails to move Dye, or any of the other high priced players entrenched on the south side of Chicago, he has done more than imply that he would be very happy to put the product he has now on the field for the 2009 season.Â Still, while there is no fire sale going on, itâ€™s clear that the White Sox plan is no longer all about winning right now. Instead their goal is to be tough competitors for years to come, while lessening their risk in an uncertain economic time.