Reading The Vazquez Trade Tea Leaves

It now appears as if most outlets are in agreement on the return from the Javier Vazquez trade.

Braves get: Javier Vazquez, Boone Logan, Late Inning Headaches
White Sox get: Tyler Flowers, Jon Gilmore, Brent Lillibridge, Santos Rodriguez, $23M lighter

It's late, and I got preoccupied planning for a downtime that didn't exsist, so I'll just point you to Jim's completely fictional blog for some specifics on the players the Sox are receiving. I'd like to spend some more time talking about the bigger picture.

What are the White Sox Doing?

The simple answer is dumping payroll, getting younger. But closer inspection--hell, it doesn't even take close inspection--reveals another force is at work, a winter cleaning of Ozzie Guillen's doghouse.

In two trades the Sox have purged themselves of three players in whom Guillen no longer had confidence. Nick Swisher played his way out of town with a pouting act and a .197 second-half batting average. Vazquez chartered his flight with a 13.22 ERA in his final 4 starts as a member of the White Sox, taking Boone Logan and his 38 baserunners in his final 10 IP along with him as a carry-on.

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Unlike the Swisher trade, this deal netted the Sox some prospects with some real upside. Tyler Flowers is shooting up prospect lists after his 12 homer performance in the AFL, where KW is said to have "drooled over" him. He's a big body who won't stick behind the plate long term, but would be a huge get if he can provide adequately-below-average defense for a few years. Jon Gilmore is a young, toolsy third baseman with power potential who struggled in his brief foray into A-ball, but hit well in rookie ball. (Red flag: has just 19 walks in 522 minor league at-bats) Santos Rodriguez is unknown who struck out a bunch of rookie leaguers while pitching from the pen as a league-repeater.

While those 3 figure to spend all of the '09 season in the minor leagues, Brent Lillibridge should find himself competing for a spot on the Sox roster. Not that I have any idea how he fits, or even why he deserves such a right. To say I'm not a fan of Lillibridge's is an understatement. I didn't like what I saw from him in the '07 futures game (admittedly, the only time I've seen him), and he's done nothing at the plate to change my mind in the 18 months since then.

Moreover, I don't really understand where he fits in the Sox plans. They've added Wilson Betemit and Jayson Nix to their in-house candidates, Josh Fields and Chris Getz at 3B and 2B, respectively, and figure to officially add Dayan Viciedo soon. Though, I've already expressed my doubts about his ability to compete for a job this spring. I don't think Lillibridge is here to take Alexei's shortstop gig away from him. I suppose he might be competing for a utility role--he apparently has a good glove--with Betemit figured to keep third base warm for Viciedo. Lillibridge was once thought by some to be a candidate to replace the outgoing Andruw Jones in Atlanta's center field, but he couldn't find his way onto the '08 roster, and after posting a .294 AAA OBP and a consistent 3:1 K/BB ratio above A-ball, I'd say it's a safe bet that he shouldn't find his way onto the Sox '09 roster either.

If there's any single reason to be put off by this deal, aside from acquiring what looks like another future 1B/DH type, or failing to acquire a young starter in return, or Lillibridge in general, or that the Sox don't figure to have get any benefit out of the deal in '09, it's that John Schuerholz and his scouting staff tend to come out on top in these type of deals. (Note: I know he's no longer technically the GM, but it's still his staff and he's the F'n team president.) Last year he stole Jair Jurrgens from Detroit. And the year before that it was Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez. The last deal that's truly comparable to this one, however, is the Hudson trade. Dan Meyer never turned into anything and Juan Cruz, despite his strikeout rate and type-A status, has not delivered on his former promise. Reportedly the Sox were allowed to pick 4 from a list of 5 prospects. No doubt the Braves felt safe losing any of the players listed.

What does the rotation look like now?

As of this moment the Sox have 3 starters, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd. The immortal Jeff Marquez, Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda will fight for the remaining two spots, though one of Richard/Poreda will likely end up in the pen as a LOOGY with potential. Lance Broadway and Jack Egbert are next in line for a starting spot, which, along with Marquez and his terrible AAA K-rate, is probably why the Sox are looking for a young starter in return in the rumored Jermaine Dye trades. Jose Contreras may return sometime late in '09, but it's best to simply think of him as lost for the season and be pleasantly surprised if he exceeds expectations.

No really, what are the White Sox doing?

I can't say for sure. The winter meetings are still a week away, and the Sox have already cut their projected '09 payroll down to the $96M range. Perhaps the economy has hit them hard. Perhaps they are embarking on the rebuilding that should have started in May of '07. Perhaps they're clearing payroll to make a run at a mystery free agent, even though they'd swear otherwise. Perhaps they're clearing room to lock up their arbitration eligible (Jenks) or soon-to-be eligible players (Q!, Danks and Floyd) and buy out a couple years of free agency, a return to the cost-certainty-era Sox. There's only one thing I can say for certain, this will not be the White Sox last move of the off-season. I'm almost expecting Dye to be dealt at the Winter Meetings, netting a young starter in return, and picking up a free-agent outfielder on the cheap as the market craters late in January. Whatever happens figures to be exciting, surprising, and should give us plenty of discussion fodder for the rest of the off-season.

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