Have you ever been to a restaurant where some little brat ruined the evening for an entire dining room, throwing food, screaming and generally being ignored by his parent(s)? You initially focus an intense rage towards the kid. "If he wasn't here, I could just enjoy my meal in peace," you think. But after witnessing a few moments of neglect by indifferent parent(s), you realize it's not really the kid's fault. He doesn't know any better. He's just a kid whose parents are oblivious, beaten down, or some combination of both.
That's how I feel today.
I want to channel all of my anger towards Ozzie Guillen, who ultimately had the final say as to whether Jim Thome would be back on the South Side, but in reality it's Guillen's metaphorical parents who bear much of the responsibility for this situation. (Don't worry I'll get to Ozzie later)
Kenny Williams is the General Manager of White Sox. Among other things, it's his job to provide Ozzie with the best possible team he can while working under the budget provided. Back in '04-'05, when I could still get fired up about the 25th man on the roster, I couldn't stand to see Timo Perez on the roster. "If he's on the roster, he's in danger of being used," I used to say. When Williams decided to hire Ozzie, it became part of his job description to protect Ozzie from himself, to keep the ineffective-yet-grindy, effort-over-talent guys to a minimum.
You don't let a 4-year old play with kerosene and matches, and you don't let Ozzie Guillen design your offense. Both end in nothing but pain.
Williams' deflection to Ozzie, his insistence that Ozzie have the final say on the bass-ackwards DH situation, has to rank up there with the, the Todd Ritchie Deal, Foulke-for-Koch, and Swisher-for-Goggles as ill-conceived from the outset deals which will no-doubt immediately be rationalized by the local media.
It's been reported that KW along with the man signing the checks, Jerry Reinsdorf, both wanted Thome back. Yet, they still found a way to defer to their sub-ordinate. There's a large part of me that wants to write in big bold letters: Hey, KW! Grow a Pair! You're the guy who built this city's first World Series winner in 88 years. You've got the hammer. Use it. But in a way, having the guts to turn over the decision making process to Ozzie takes a huge pair. A huge pair, and maybe a heaping helping of hubris.
Hubris because the White Sox can win the division next year without Thome. Williams showed he has some of the biggest balls in the game when he reconstructed the team last summer. With the addition of a full-season of Jake Peavy to the Buehrle-Danks-Floyd trio, the Sox now own a rotation that can go toe-to-toe with basically any team in baseball. (Plus, I'm a big fan of their 6th starter, Daniel Hudson, who I see as a near-average starter this year) Unfortunately, they still might not have enough offense to make it work.
Let's take a look at the additions to the team since start of last season, and let's throw in the left-handers to make a point.
|3-yr OBP||3-yr BB%|
The White Sox had a .329 OBP as a team last season in a league where average was .336. The lack of guys who got on base was one of their weaknesses last season. So what has Kenny done but gone and added three regulars who have essentially average on-base skills, none of whom get their via the walk all that often. Mark Teahen leads the lefties in OBP at an incredible .330, and is tied with Kotsay in walk-rate at 7.6%. Rios, Teahen and Jones strike out a ton to go along with their lowish OBPs, and only Jones offers real plus power. Though he's had all of one good half-season in his last three. These guys all share the same skill... Throw in Alexei Ramirez and you've got a whole club of hackers without big power.
No longer are the Sox a one-dimensional homerun hitting team; they're one-dimensional in a completely different way now. Unfortunately, that dimension does not put it on the board, Yes! Swinging at virtually everything and generating little power might work if you had a bunch of guys who knew how to find their way on base, but with this crowd, it's going to be a long summer of hoping for breakout seasons from Beckham, and Ramirez and for Quentin and Teahen to regain the strokes from their respective breakout campaigns.
* * * * *
I feel like I should qualify my position on the DH-by-committee and Ozzie in general before continuing any further.
You could see the Sox move to a "more athletic" DH coming from a mile away. As soon as Thome was sent to the Dodgers, I was busy constructing a somewhat DH-less lineup in my head. e-Gus can back me up on this from our conversation prior to Teehen's, I was all for going in a a more Angels-like direction. The key was in getting 10, not 9, starting-capable regulars, with a few of them having some positional flexibility. Anything less than 10 starting-capable players meant you would, more often than not, be swapping in a bench bat for whoever was playing DH on that day.
You can win without a DH in the AL, but you need good pitching (which the Sox had/have), good defense (they're probably better than last year, but had only one way to go), and an abundance of above-average bats. Unfortunately, all of the Sox additions have been of the usually average (Teahen, Rios, and Pierre) and average-at-best (Jones, Kotsay) variety.
Even more unfortunate is the average-at-best category has essentially been handed full-time DH duties. The addition of Thome wasn't some type of zero-sum game to the White Sox bottom line, even if it might have been for Jones and Kotsay's at-bats. I'll wait for Colin to crunch the numbers, but there isn't any debating that Thome is a better run-producer than even a platoon of Jones/Kotsay. And there's no debating that the Sox would be a stronger team with them being ready to step in to prevent a collapse should one of the real 9 starters go down. As it is now, the Sox are essentially playing a man down, as they did in the final month of the season without Thome last year.
Ozzie's "All The Pieces Are In Place" Moment
Back in the day, Dave Wannstedt, then the embattled Bears head coach, told reporters "All the pieces were in place" for a Super Bowl run. He had finally been allowed to make the Bears over in his own image, including the unjust jettisoning of Kevin Butler who had to "compete" for his job as place kicker with undrafted (and woefully ineffective) free agent Carlos Huerta. Butler was the last remaining Bear from the Super Bowl and consequently the last remaining connection to the Legend of Ditka, a shadow Wanny had desperately been trying to crawl out from under. Huerta would famously flop, missing a FG in all three of his games before being cut. But the damage was done.
Wanny had, in an attempt to make the Bears his team, made them weaker in a way that was completely obvious to anyone not named Wannstedt. It was (arguably) the moment he signed his ticket out of town, although it would take another couple of years for the axe to fall.
So here's Ozzie, a manager by title, who famously argued for hours with Kenny Williams during his initial interview for the job. It's no secret to anyone that he has a desire to make a team in his own offensive image (need I remind you that image is not that good even for a shortstop?) But what Ozzie has lacked in new-school sabermetric acumen, he has made up for with a deft touch with his pitching staff and an affable demeanor that deflects attention from his struggling players. On the whole, he's been one of the better managers in baseball during his tenure.
But making personnel decisions is not, and should not be, Ozzie Guillen's job. Ozzie is largely responsible for the Sox tendency towards a 13 man pitching staff, a tendency that removes innings from better relievers and gives them to the worst pitchers on the staff. In many ways the DH decision is much the same, only worse.
Thanks to Ozzie the Sox have decided to forgo resigning one of their best bats last season because of the desire to get more at-bats for the entirely mediocre (and nearly aged as Thome) bench guys. And unlike the bullpen scenario, these guys are going to be counted on to play every day, and there isn't any fall-back option. It's sink or swim with the (former) bench guys. More than likely, sink.
Adding insult to non-signing, Minnesota is rumored to be interested in Thome. So the Sox could lose one of their best players, play without a DH, give also-rans the DH duty, and watch Thome sign with their biggest rival. Every turn you take looking at this non-signing just makes it worse.
Ozzie has been insulated against much local criticism because of his personality and his other assets as a manager. But after this latest decision, I know of at least one blogger who will be out for blood when the Sox offense predictably struggles. This non-move is nothing but an I Can Make A Team In My Own Image ego trip, and I, for one, could do with less ego and more smart decisions coming from the White Sox brass.