The Day the White Sox Lost the Central

When I first heard about the Ken Griffey Jr. trade, I decided to hold off writing about it until it became official. Once it appeared to have significant legs, I decided to wait until the end of the trade deadline to make sense of the Sox roster on the whole. 3 O'clock came and went, and I decided I would wait until I heard Kenny Williams and/or Ozzie Guillen talk about the acquisition. They've both had their say, and I'm sitting here, 8 hours after the deadline, just as confused about the deal as I was 12 hours ago.

Kenny:

'We're not looking for that guy from Seattle. What we're looking for is for you to use your instincts.'

"Center field is actually the easiest of the outfield positions to play from a health perspective. I know that doesn't sound right because you've got to go a lot of left and right, but trust me, it's a little easier to play center field.

"[Instinctively], we feel he's going to give us at least what we were getting out there," Williams added. "Remember, we didn't have the prototypical guy out there in the first place. Swish did a heck of a job, and he'll continue to get some time out there. But he isn't the most prototypical guy that you can put out there, and you don't have to be if you have good baseball instincts."

I'm almost contractually obligated to post my "Where Would He Play" T-shirt here, but now it contains much less irony. (Heck, maybe it's more, but just in a different way.) When the graphic was created, the Sox had 2 entrenched outfielders, with an injured Scott Podsednik in LF and ineffective Carl Everett at DH begging to be replaced. It wasn't exactly hard to find a place to put Griffey. This time, however, the Sox have their most productive corner outfield tandem since Maggs/Lee, and perhaps ever. Meanwhile, Jim Thome, the club's primary DH, has shaken off a slow start to post a near .900 OPS thanks to a two month stretch OPSing over 1.000.

No, Griffey is clearly here to take the place of the struggling Paul Konerko. That might be a decent upgrade if Griffey played 1B. But he doesn't, and Nick Swisher does. Problem solved! Put Griffey in CF, move Swisher to 1B. Brilliant!

Problem: Griffey's fielding

Center Field

UZR: -46 runs per 150 games (2003-2006)
PMR: -44 outs per 150 games (2005-2006)
RZR: -36 outs per 150 games (2004-2006)

Right Field

UZR: -16 runs per 150 games (2007)
PMR: -14 outs per 150 games (2007)
RZR: -22 outs per 150 games (2007-2008)

Say what you will about individual defensive metrics, but we have a mountain of evidence that Griffey is one of, if not the worst everyday defensive player in the game. You're talking about a guy who's a -15 run corner outfielder when he's completely healthy, which he never is.

Griffey is completely self-aware of his defensive shortcomings. In fact, it was the main reason for the holdup on the trade this morning. Griffey was afraid he would make a fool of himself in center, and had to be convinced by Kenny Williams that everything would be OK. Hence, the quotes above.

Ozzie:

"I'm going to put the best guys I think we have to give us a better chance to win the game," Guillen said. "We brought Junior to play, but if Junior don't play the way we think he should be playing, then we're going to have guys here to replace. We are here to win, and we will see how it works."

That will be Ozzie's challenge. Currently, he's got to bench the guy with the "C" on his jersey, the face of the offense, the guy who took less money to stay. And in the very near future, once he comes to the realization that Griffey is not an option in CF, and a poor one on the corners, he has to squeeze 2 future Hall of Famers and 4 above average talents into just 5 positions. There are bound to be bruised egos to go along with the bruised bodies somewhere along the line.

Having Griffey around as insurance against a case of gigantism seems like a great idea, and rotating him in and out of the lineup to keep everyone fresh seems prudent. Yet, Griffey doesn't exactly add much (if any) value in either of those scenarios, no matter what type of voodoo math you apply.

On the plus side, the Sox gave up a heaping pile of Who Cares? for Griffey, and got the Reds to kick in money (both for this season and next season's buyout) as well. But just because something doesn't cost you much, like say, 50 cents, doesn't mean you should buy it.

Oh... there was a game last night. And it sucked. And there will be a lot written about momentum, and ejections, and stuff being thrown on the field. And not a lick of it will have any staying power as a narrative if the Sox rebound and start kicking ass over the final two months.

I don't think the Sox lost the division today. I'm merely playing off the defeatist attitude that tends to be pervasive on this site.

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