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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Big Trade, Big Controversy?
by Hal Vickery

Kenny Williams is definitely not one to rest on his laurels. In the first few weeks after the Sox became World Series champions, Williams let go Series pinch-hitting hero Geoff Blum, and DH-outfielder Carl Everett, and took the buy-out option on Frank Thomasís contract.

Then last week came the big surprise. Williams saw the opportunity to pick up that long-missing left-handed power hitter that has been missing from the Sox offensive attack for so many years. In a deal that shocked many Sox fans, Williams picked up Jim Thome from the Phillies.

The price was steep, though. To get the Phillies to eat a large portion of Thomeís salary, they extracted a heavy price. In addition to two minor league pitching prospects, the Sox had to let go of centerfielder Aaron Rowand.

This sent shockwaves throughout Sox fandom. Rowand is the epitome of the word ďgrinder.Ē His nickname was crash long before that dirt bike accident he had a few years ago. Some Sox fans couldnít understand the trade for that very reason. The Sox are giving up a healthy 28-year-old centerfielder for a 35-year-old first baseman coming off elbow surgery.

An informal poll taken on the WSI message boards showed, however, that the vocal minority who spoke out immediately against the trade was just that: a minority. As of Saturday morning, over fifty-four percent of those responding thought this was a good trade, whole only about thirteen percent hated it.

As for myself, I was right there with about a third of the voters, giving this trade an unqualified ďmaybe.Ē The most obvious reason is that Iím hedging my bet because you never know whatís going to happen during a 162-game baseball season.

If Thome reinjures his elbow or if his chronic back problems sideline him for any length of time, the trade obviously looks bad, especially if Rowand has a monster year with the Phillies. On the other hand, if Thome helps bring the Sox to another post-season berth, then the trade looks good.

But thatís just on the Thome end. The value of this trade also revolves around two players I havenít mentioned yet. The Thome deal looks especially good if Paul Konerko re-signs with the Sox. Thome then becomes a DH who can spell Konerko on occasion at first base.

On the other hand, if Konerko signs elsewhere, then Thome becomes the first baseman with Ross Gload the presumed backup. The Sox then lose five years at first base and then need to decide what to do about the DH slot.

The obvious solution, if he is healthy, is to sign free-agent Frank Thomas to an incentive-laden contract. If Thomasís ankle problems are as serious as they very well might be, he could be forced to retire. That means the Sox might still have to look for either a first baseman or a DH. It is little wonder that Williams has reportedly given Konerko until December 8 to decide whether he will re-sign with the Sox.

The other key player in this puzzle is rookie outfielder Brian Anderson. In 2005 Anderson had just 34 at-bats, batting only .176. However, Sox scouts are reportedly saying that Anderson is ready for major league competition.

In September Roland Hemond told a gathering of Sox fans that Anderson has been playing with a pin in his hand that is scheduled to be removed this off-season. Hemond seemed to think that removal of the pin should really help his swing and improve his hitting.

As it turns out, the rationale I had in voting ďmaybeĒ was just that. Anderson is definitely an unproven commodity at the major league level. In a game that values strength up the middle, Anderson could be the weakest link, especially if it turns out that he canít hit major league pitching. In my opinion, heís even more of a wild card in this Rowand for Tohme trade than Konerko.

If Konerko doesnít re-sign, the Sox can look during the remainder of the off-season for either a first baseman or DH to complement Thome. We wonít know if Anderson will click until a month or two into the 2006 season. At that point it could be difficult to make a deal until the end of July.[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]
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Then Williams will be forced to stick with Anderson and hope he comes around or look to the farm system for someone having a hot year to replace him.

Ultimately, though, I guess you have to make a decision about a trade, just so you donít look like some fence-sitting wimp. So hereís what I think is going to happen.

Konerko will re-sign with the Sox, making Thome the regular DH. Anderson, minus the pin, will be everything the Sox hoped for, at least for a rookie season. He wonít make Sox fans forget Rowand, but heíll be decent enough to help the club on its way to another post-season appearance.

Although Iím not willing to give this deal an unqualified ďyesĒ vote, I do think it is a trade that should help the Sox. When you get right down to it, I think thatís all Iím capable of is leaning in one direction on any trade or signing, but thatís as it should be.

You never know whatís going to happen until all the games are played, and at this point we havenít played any of them.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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