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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Perception, Reality and the '04 Sox
by Hal Vickery

The absolute worst part of winter is that it is the cold and flu season.  I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by comparing the suffering from a cold or flu to any really serious illnesses, but the symptoms certainly are annoying.  This particular bug has hung on all week and may even have originated before SoxFest.   

Upper respiratory viruses always make me long for warm weather, and this one is no exception.  Someone remarked to my son last week, “Wouldn’t it be great if it was about 85 degrees out right now and we could go to a Sox game?” 

When my son reported that to me, my response was, “And watch them lose?” 

And therein lies the problem for The Chairman and his minions.  There is an adage that goes, “Perception is reality.”  The perception among Sox fans this off-season is that the Sox at best have spent the winter spinning their wheels and at worst have thrown the Little White Machine into reverse. 

Kenny Williams has reported that his budget is $58 million for the 2004 season.  Unfortunately for him his current payroll stands at $64 million.  That means that he has to dump about $6 million in salaries before the season starts. 

How do you dump that kind of salary?  One way is to make a deal involving Magglio Ordoñez.  At $14 million his is the highest salary on the club.  However, there are a couple of snags involving a deal with Ordoñez.   

One is trying to find another club willing to pay Magglio’s salary.  Rumors of proposed trades earlier in the off-season indicated that one reason the deals didn’t go through was because the clubs in question wanted the Sox to pick up a large portion of the $14 million.  When you’re dumping salary, you don’t want to assume salary for someone you’re dumping to save money. 

The other problem is that Ordoñez is the most popular player on the team.  Kenny Williams is well aware that if the Sox are in contention come July, his ability to use additional funds to pick up key players may very well rest on attendance.  Trading Ordoñez would probably hurt attendance, and Williams wants no part in being the cause of that. 

Another obvious player who could be traded would be Paul Konerko with his $8-million salary for 2002.  Just read various message boards and you’ll see that Sox fans have been quite creative in finding ways to get rid of the Sox first baseman. 

The problem is that Konerko went into a slump in July of 2002 and didn’t come out of it until July of 2003.  It is widely believed that Konerko has a congenital hip problem that could eventually force him to retire.  It’s awfully hard to find a taker for that deal, especially when Konerko is also tied up for the 2005 season.

That leaves just one obvious candidate.  Frank Thomas is the most productive hitter ever to wear a White Sox uniform.  He is a favorite of The Chairman.  However, the conventional wisdom is that Kenny Williams wants to get rid of Thomas.  

The most recent rumor is that Thomas would be sent to the Dodgers for starting pitcher Odalis Perez.  This has been put on hold, however, as the new ownership of the Dodgers tries to find a replacement for their current general manager, Danny Evans. 

The trade seems to make sense from a financial standpoint.  The Sox need to dump $6 million in salary.  Thomas’s salary for 2004 is $6 million.  It sounds like a good fit financially.   

Thomas is also reportedly unhappy with comments made by new manager Ozzie Guillen when he was first hired.  This means that Thomas might just revoke his 10/5 privilege to veto a trade.

The one glitch from the Sox’ point of view in the whole setup seems to be that if traded, the Sox will have to pay Thomas a bonus of $2 million.  This would put Williams somewhere near that amount over budget.   

Does this mean Williams will have to dump that much additional salary?  Or will The Chairman look at the bonus to Thomas as a one-time write-off? 

Stay tuned, as the soap opera that is the Chicago White Sox continues.


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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