White Sox, A's, AL Central, and my baseball blasphemy
by Scott Long
When you are someone who believes in the sabermetrical approach to baseball, but are a White Sox fan, you are put in a difficult position. You see, most of my favorite writers in the SABR world have a negative view of the Sox. GM Kenny Williams has been portrayed as one of the 2 or 3 dumbest people in his job, which the book "Moneyball" highlighted. In the past, I've discussed my thoughts on Williams, which I would describe as mixed. Just having a mixed view on him is something most who check in here feel is pure stupidity, as Williams is Public Enemy No. 1 on their list.
I've been a big fan of how Billy Beane has run the Oakland A's, but I feel there has been a lack of critical analysis in looking at this year's team, while the biases these same experts share about the White Sox have created poor expectations for their season. Now I know this statement is something the baseball blogging community sees akin to blasphemy, so let me demonstrate why like Peter Frampton, I feel like I do.
To begin with, both teams have much in common on the surface, as they play second fiddle to more popular teams in the same market (Giants and Cubs). The cause and effect of this situation being they have salary restraints that are more akin to smaller markets. There is no doubt that the A's have done a spectacular job in being one of the top 5 teams in baseball over the past few years, despite these financial issues. My focus though, is on 2005. ""
The biggest move that has been slammed by critics of Williams is his decision to trade Carlos Lee for Scott Posednik and Luis Vizcaino. On the surface, this looks like a bad trade, but Williams made the trade to give him some money to play with in the free agent market. With this money, he was able to sign a starting pitcher, Orlando Hernandez and a starting catcher, A.J. Pierzynski. If you throw these 2 players in the deal, it's a great trade for the White Sox.
I would argue that Hernandez might have been the best signing of any pitcher, this off-season, as only injury kept him from being a 8 million a year guy. Pierzynski is the best catcher the White Sox have had since Carlton Fisk and he should be a fan favorite to all the masses of Chicagoans with ski's at the end of their name. Throw in the pick-up of Tadahito Iguchi, who was priced at a discount because of the failure of Kazuo Matsui in 2004, and the White Sox seriously upgraded their team at three key spots.
Now look at the contract of Jason Kendall, who makes more than all 3 of these players and I question Billy Beane's decision on getting him. I'm not opposed to Beane's trades of Muldar and Hudson, as he picked up some young arms, which financially are the key to his system. I just would question how they can win more than 85 games with a staff that features one top-notch starter (Harden), one pitcher (Zito), who seems to be a decent number 3 at this point, one young gun (Haren), who has great potential, a couple of question marks in the back of the rotation, and decent bullpen without a proven closer. Despite this, most at Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Toaster have chosen them division winners. I would agree that the AL West is the weakest it's been in quite awhile, but 2006 looks like a better fit for the A's winning the division.
The flavor of the past month in baseball has been the Cleveland Indians. I feel like I know this team, as it has some great offensive power and questionable pitching and defense. (See the White Sox of the past 10 years) I've heard some claim that the Tribe's pitching is the best in the division. This is insane in the membrane, considering that outside of Jake Westbrook, the rotation had obscene ERA's in 2004 and it's bullpen has a well past his prime Bob Wickman just waiting to implode at the end of games. Add to this most of the offense in 2004 had seasons which were on the career year scale and I just don't see where this is much better than a .500 team.
The Detroit Tigers also were picked to finish ahead of the White Sox, even though, outside of Jeremy Bonderman, they don't have a guy I would consider better than a 4th starter. Their two biggest acquisitions in the off-season were Troy Percival and Magglio Ordonez, who just might be the two most overpaid players at their positions for 2005. (Especially considering their health risks.) I like their offense, but I just don't how they win more than 75 games this year.
The Minnesota Twins are the most complete team in the AL Central and deserve to go in as the favorite. Any staff that has Johan Santana at the front and Joe Nathan in the back, looks pretty imposing. It's after you get past Radke that I see the problems. Carlos Silva's peripherals are very shaky and who knows what Kyle Loshe and Joe Mays will give them. The offense is solid, but not spectacular and I would argue that Ron Gardenhire is as good of a manager that is in the AL, so I like them to win the division, but the experts saying they will play in the series seem to be a little light-headed.
On the subject of the White Sox, let's clear up a few things. They have been trying to trade Carlos Lee for the past couple of seasons and there just hasn't been much of a market for him. Lee puts up nice numbers, but is very streaky and is one of the reasons the team rarely meets its Pythagorean winning percentage. Sure the team would be better having him in left versus Posednik, but as mentioned above, the team is better without him, if you add what they purchased with his salary.
Another thing to discuss is this idea that Kenny Williams could have traded Joe Borchard instead of Jeremy Reed in the Freddy Garcia deal. The Mariners had targeted Reed, so I don't know where this notion came from. As I mentioned in a past post, I believe Reed will be a solid player, but not a superstar and is better suited for the dimensions of Safeco, instead of US Cellular Field. The Sox also have an excellent OF prospect, Brian Anderson, who I suspect will be starting for them in 2006, so Reed's value to them was somewhat muted.
I know it appears like there is some "homerism" going on, considering my passion for the White Sox, but I've been very critical of Kenny Williams in the past, so my opinion of his off-season is something new. In the past 18 months, besides the good moves I have outlined already, he has signed closer Takatsu for little money, traded for a solid shortstop in Uribe, and has made good decisions in not giving big money contracts to Bartolo Colon and Ordonez, when other organizations have.
A starting staff of Beuhrle, Garica, Hernandez, Contreas, and Garland is as good as any team in the AL outside of New York and Boston. When you add in if one of the 5 falters from injury or production, the Sox can go to the Triple A and bring up quite possibly the best starter in the minors in Brandon McCarthy, well things look rosy. A bullpen with 5 guys who have saved at least 7 career games (Takatsu, Marte, Hermanson, Politte, and Vizcaino) further demonstrate the depth of pitching the White Sox have.
So this is why I think the White Sox will finish second in the AL Central. If Frank Thomas comes back at his 2004 numbers, this team will battle the Twins right down to the wire. Without him, I still think they are a second place club in the AL Central. In regards to the A's, I just think there is too many questions with it's pitching to win more than 85 games and I see them as more of a .500 ballclub in 2005.