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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

 

Free Agents:  The Good, The Bad and the Gimpy!

by Senor Sock  

Free Agent season opened last Friday with fairly low expectations for most White Sox fans. All the big names either seem like a bad fit (Manny Ramirez) or too pricey a proposition (C.C. Sabathia). But then again, who ever would have expected Jerry Reinsdorf to outbid everyone for Carlton Fisk and Albert Belle? Belle admittedly turned out to be a headcase and left after two seasons (despite his bat, the Sox were happy to see him leave), but not before setting the Sox single season home run record (49) that still stands today. All Fisk did was  play 13 seasons, hit 214 home runs, and play in 4 all-star games on his way to the Hall of Fame.


The world's foremost playboy, celebrity Sox Fan, and sock, Senor Sock!  The Toast of Argentina is swingin' Hollywood-style for our Pale Hose!

To Senor Sock, free agency season is like going into a singles bar. You probably won’t be going home with Angelina Jolie or Denise Richards, but you could end up with a very talented type “B” free agent! 

Generally the ChiSox have stayed away from the high priced/high risk players and concentrated two different types of free agents: 1. the kind who have good but not “cover of SI” talent (kind of like “the girl next door” type rather than Jessica Alba) or  2. older, experienced pros (think Kim Basinger), often coming off injuries who are trying to squeeze just a little more toothpaste out of the tube (Sandy Alomar Jr. anyone?) to get one big paycheck or one more try at the brass ring. 

Some of the free agents in the first category have worked out quite well. Floyd Bannister never lived up to his potential but did get 66 victories in his five years after coming over from Seattle. For a low price the Sox signed former Dodger Jerry Reuss in 1988 and he rewarded them by leading the team in wins with a 13-9 season (it wasn’t a very good team) and a 3.44 era before being shipped off to Milwaukee to close his career. 42-year old knuckleballer Charlie Hough managed to win 16 games over two seasons with the Sox, posting a respectable era in the process. Originally White Sox property when he was young and talented, the team traded Doug Drabek away (for Roy Smalley Jr. in one of the worst Sox trades ever), only to reacquire him in 1997 when he was pretty much going on fumes. Yet Drabek managed to go 12-11 in his return to the Sox. He replaced Kevin Tapani who posted a 13-10 record the year before. Kurt McCaskill wasn’t going to win any Cy Young awards, but getting him in 1992 wasn’t going to break the bank either. He ate some innings and posted a respectable 12-13 record in his first year on the south side before his career slid downhill. In 1993 Boston exile Ellis Burks had a brief stay in right field and responded by hitting .275 with 17 homers; Dave Martinez played good defense and quietly hit .307, .318 and .286, something I didn’t realize until I just now looked it up; Harold Baines was a successful free agent signing in 1996 (.311, 22 hr) though not so much in 2001.  

But a lot more of these “name” players have turned out to be like Rob Dibble (0-1, 6.28) or Dave Righetti (3-2, 4.20) or Chris Sabo (.254 in 20 games).  Dave Steib killed us when he was with Toronto, and then did the same when he joined the team (1-3, 6.04). Guys like Wil Cordero, Kenny Lofton, Danny Darwin, Julio Franco, Mike Devereaux and Jorge Fabergas seemed to come and go without anyone noticing at all. 


Finally a venue large enough for our own Hollywood celebrity!  The 100,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum hosts the Sock!

For every good pitcher the Sox managed to sign like Tom Gordon in 2003 (3.16, 12 saves) or Terry Leach in 1992 (6-5, 1.95)  they seemed to sign two that were complete busts like Rick White (6.61 era) or Joe Magrane (1-5, 6.88 in 1996).  

In December of 1996, the Sox had to choose between signing two starting pitchers. One had been with the Boston Red Sox and looked to be on the downside of his career. He lobbied hard to join the team. But the other was younger, cheaper and had won a number of games in the bandbox known as Wrigley Field . So the Chicago passed on suspected steroid abuser Roger Clemens and went with the “safer” bet, the wretched Jamie Navarro. Whatever you think of Clemens, he won over 160 games the next 11 years. Meanwhile Navarro’s name is still a curse word on the South Side, and justifiably so. Just try going into a bar on the south side and calling someone “a Navarro”. He went  9-14 with a 5.79 era, 8-16 6.36 and 8-13 with a 6.09 before taking his bad attitude and all the money he made with the Sox to go back to Milwaukee and deserved obscurity. 

As for the second category of free agents, Bill Veeck liked to try and sign injured players for cheap and hope they worked their way back to success. His first attempt at a reclamation project, former Yankee Ron Blomberg, failed miserably. He hit .231 with five home runs in 1978. He couldn’t hit lefthanders even BEFORE he was hurt. However, Veeck succeeded when he signed former Twin Eric Soderholm, who was the heart and soul of the 1977 South Side Hit Men. Soderholm played excellent defense and hit .280 with 25 homers after missing all of the 1976 season. Too bad Soderholm couldn’t stay healthy. The rest of his career was plagued by injuries. But he was a low risk gamble. So was Soderholm’s ex-Twin teammate Glenn Borgman. But Borgman had less luck than Soderholm, however, playing only part of 1980, hitting .218. 

In 1991 the Sox signed an outfielder with an artificial hip: Bo Jackson. Bo knows fastball and provided a lot of excitement in his limited time with the Sox. He was a low risk signing with a high ceiling. He ended up with disappointing numbers, but was worth it just for the memorable moments of hitting a home run in his first at bat after hip surgery and hitting a 3-run home run in ‘93 to clinch the division title for the Sox. 

But it seems that for every Bo Jackson there seemed to be a Cleon Jones (.200) or George Foster (.216) or Tony Pena (.164) who had nothing left in the tank. 

In recent years the Sox have scored with free agent signings: Jermaine Dye has become a mainstay; A.J. Pierzynski has revived his career after being hated in San Francisco; Tadahito Iguchi gave us some great moments; Dustin Hermanson posted a 2.04 era with 34 saves in 2005 before his body simply wore out; and the Cuban Missile has made Kenny Williams look like a genius. 

Can Williams find another Missile out there this year flying below the radar or another aging vet (David Eckstein, Alex Cora, Ray Durham) who still has one more good year left in him? Or a gimpy star who’s trying to bounce back (Bartolo Colon, Randy Johnson, Brad Penny, Pedro Martinez, Mark Prior)?  

It should be an interesting off season. 


Editor's Note:  An idol in his native Argentina, Senor Sock became the toast of the entertainment world while a regular on E! Entertainment Television's Emmy-award winning "Talk Soup". He has been romantically linked to many of the world's most beautiful women, including Suzanne Somers, Monica Bellucci, Donna D'Errico, Halle Berry and Peri Gelpin. Visit his NEW WEBSITE at http://sockfilmreviews.bravehost.com.   He is of course, a lifelong White Sox fan.

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Free Agents:  The Good, The Bad and the Gimpy?

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