Back in mid-August, Billy Beane said the following:
"I didn't think it was going to be this year - mostly because of our pitching staff and I think even in the middle of all the injuries, it's holding up pretty well.
"But there will be a time when we rebuild. And if you do it when everybody thinks and says it's time for you to rebuild, you're too late. So there will be a time when we take a full step back and do it the right way."
At the time, we had been asking for the gutting of the Sox major league club for a solid 3 months. And thinking back, we probably should have called for a rebuilding effort when we didn't like the 2007 roster construction as spring training came to a close.
With his moves this off-season, Billy Beane had the courage and foresight to forgo mediocrity in the present for a chance at future greatness. Kenny Williams, meanwhile, has lived in denial for almost a year, and now, thanks to a general lack of direction, has the Sox positioned for an extended run of mediocrity, perhaps worse.
The inclusion of the White Sox top 5 prospects in Oakland's rebuilding effort is paradoxical. The consensus entering this season was that the White Sox had a weak farm system (bottom 10), and as such you wouldn't think they would have much around which to start a rebuilding effort. But with the re-acquisition of a rebounding Gio Gonzalez, along with continued development of Chris Carter and Aaron Cunningham, plus the out-of-nowhere season from Fautino De Los Santos the White Sox had a solid, but not spectacular, amount of prospect talent. It was a minor league core that could be considered strong with a few more key pickups.
The A's have chosen to build around that solid core with the inclusion of high-upside guys in Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson while the Sox have sacrificed that future talent for solid high-obp OF/1B and two fringy guys with potential.
Kenny's off-season moves have now violated every rule I outlined in our officially sanctioned off-season plan.
No contracts longer than 2 years (I could be persuaded to 3) to 30-and-over players.
Do not sign any Type A Free Agents not named A-Rod.
Practice restraint on the open market.
Hold onto the following 3 minor leaguers in any trade (in order): DLS, Gio, Carter.
The success of this move depends not only on the success of Swisher, but maybe even more so on the rapid development of the Sox limited young core of near-major-league-ready players. As of this moment, the White Sox are counting on Danny Richar, Carlos Quentin, Josh Fields, John Danks and Gavin Floyd to make significant contributions to their 2008 club. Jerry Owens, Alexei Ramirez, Jack Egbert, and Lance Broadway could also be leaned on heavily. That second group encompasses nearly all of the Sox talent above A-ball. In other words, they're the group upon whom the 2009-2010 Sox will turn when looking for reinforcements.
In Fields, Richar, Quentin, Ramirez, and Swisher the Sox again have some youth in their lineup. But aside from Swisher, all carry differing degrees of question marks (though all are significant questions) about their ability to play at the major league level. Richar, Quentin and Ramirez all seem like utility players with upside. They could all end up with the dreaded AAAA tag in a year. And Fields has such a unique skill set as a batter that he has left me empty in a search for his batting contemporary. It's unknown whether he'll be able to adapt a new approach that closes the hole in his swing to better hit the major league fastball.
The willingness to move both Gio and DLS may say something about how much the Sox value SSS favorite Jack Egbert, who ZiPS sees as possibly the Sox 3rd most effective starter in 2008. For the Sox to be anything more than mediocre over the next 5 plus seasons, most of their young talent needs to step up to become average or better major leaguers, especially the pitchers since the Sox don't have a position prospect with above average potential above low-A.
The performances of Floyd, Danks, Egbert, Broadway, and Charlie Haeger will be paramount to the longer-term success of this deal, as they represent the Sox only position of depth. It will be from this pool which the Sox will draw to plug the inevitable holes that are bound to crop up through aging, injuries, and young players failing to meet front office expectations. Disconcertingly, it's hard to see much demand for a group which largely profiles as back-of-the-rotation innings eaters.
As for Swisher and the deal itself, I was surprised to see he was locked up for at least 4 years (with a 5th year option) on a very reasonable contract. The price of two very good pitching prospects and a an outfielder with an ETA of 2009 whom scouts adore seems about right for a player of Swisher's caliber and contract status. I really like what Swisher brings to the Sox. He's entering his age 27 season, can get on base, and hit for power all on a below-market contract. He's going to represent a large upgrade over his '07 counterpart no matter where he plays. I just question why the Sox thought they were in a position to deal that amount of talent for a large upgrade, but a large upgrade that still doesn't seem to get them close to the post-season.
Indications are that the White Sox view Swisher as a CFer, which over a full season would be a massive stretch. Swisher only played CF last year in Oakland because of injuries and Milton Bradley's issues. He is a CFer in the same sense that Carl Everett was a CFer in 2003. I wouldn't mind him getting some time in CF over the next couple of years, but he's not the long term solution the White Sox were looking for there. I imagine Owens and Quentin will be given a major look in CF during spring training, and we should expect to see all them in center at some point this season.
Overall, the Sox are a better team than they were yesterday. But they're still an organization adrift in mediocrity with no concrete plan to once again reach the shore of excellence.