This winter has developed slowly for the White Sox so far. Their two major-league moves kept familiar faces around; the minor moves brought in organizational players of varying interest. The Blue Jays they are not.
After a non-playoff season, new names are a lot more alluring. We haven't lived and died with their failings, so it's a lot easier to downplay their downsides and project hopes on them (Blake Tekotte's only 25!). With old guys, you hope they'll figure out a way to stop screwing up in the fashion to which they're accustomed.
It's rarely more clear than with the Dewayne Wise signing, which inspired an unusual amount of consternation for a $700,000 deal. You can see it in the comments on our post about it. Or you can see it over at Southside Showdown, where Nick said the move "really upsets him." James followed up by dreading all it could imply, mostly in terms of trading a better player and entrusting Wise with more playing time.
In a vacuum, it all looks trivial. There's nothing to dislike about the contract, which is barely above the league minimum. There's nothing wrong with what Wise did in 2012, either. As a left-handed reserve outfielder, he did the three things expected of him:
- Provided an offensive option against right-handed pitching (.288/.322/.463)
- Served a purpose as a pinch runner (19 steals in 23 attempts)
- Played all three outfield positions passably.
That's a useful bench player. That's an upgrade over Jordan Danks.
Except, in this case, the player is Dewayne Wise, and the team is the White Sox. When the two parties have met in the past, they have introduced the Peter Principle to a new generation of children.
It certainly doesn't help that his run with the Sox in 2012 mirrored his half-season in 2008, at least through the first eight steps.
No. 1: Signed a minor-league contract with the Sox
- 2008: Joined the organization in March.
- 2012: Signed with the Sox in August after the Yankees DFA'd him to make room for Ichiro Suzuki.
No. 2: Received the call when Paul Konerko went on the DL
- 2008: Rib cage strain on June 17.
- 2012: Concussion on Aug. 10.
No. 3: Played surprisingly well during Konerko's absence.
- 2008: Hit .412/.432/.706, 3-for-3 in steals
- 2012: Hit .333/.333/.667 as a key member of The Konglomerate.
No. 4: Earned a permanent roster spot.
- 2008: Pablo Ozuna was DFA'd.
- 2012: Jordan Danks was demoted to Charlotte.
No. 5: Received more playing time than he ever had before.
- 2008: Took over as the primary left fielder in September, hitting second most frequently.
- 2012: Took over as the primary center fielder in September, hitting first and third most frequently.
No. 6: Faded down the stretch.
- 2008: Went 3-for-31 with four walks over the last 10 games of the regular season.
- 2012: Went 2-for-22 with two walks over the Sox's last 12 days in contention.
No. 7: Still ended up with a career-best OPS+ at the end of the season
- 2008: 91
- 2012: 91
No. 8: Locked in a major-league salary for the following season after years of battling for a job.
- 2008: $500,000
- 2012: $700,000
The next step, as we know, is not pretty. In 2009, Ozzie Guillen settled on Wise as his Opening Day center fielder and leadoff man. Everybody but Guillen recognized the latter as an especially bad idea.
White Sox fans needed all of five innings to start booing him after Gil Meche struck him out three times in as many at-bats. Two games later, he was out of the leadoff spot, and just when his season started taking a turn for the better at the end of the first week, he gave "full extension" a different meaning, separating his shoulder on a beautiful lunging grab.
The season wasn't a complete loss -- after all, he made "The Catch" -- but it was a tough season for everybody involved, and Wise left Chicago with somewhat of a bitter taste in his mouth.
As we saw here and at Southside Showdown, many Sox fans find Wise's now-certain return equally unappetizing. It's not that Wise can't contribute or be worth the investment, but all these signs of overcommitment are there. Plus, there's an exciting new "X" factor, in that Alejandro De Aza volunteered to move to left field for Wise after months of cromulent center field play. That's still pretty weird, and it makes it pretty easy to picture Dayan Viciedo being over-platooned with an unproductive Wise three weeks in.
But there might be an equally novel balancing force in play. The Sox are coming off a season where they did not hesitate to exile the misfit toys. In June, the Sox cut ties with Kosuke Fukudome and Will Ohman (an overcommitment himself), even though they earned $3.5 million between them in 2012.
And Fukudome is a rebuttal of sorts to the question, "Why Wise so soon?" Sure, the Sox have a tendency to guarantee Wise's employment way sooner than other teams do, and they could have easily waited for a better bench player to present himself down the road. Then again, Fukudome was a "better" bench player that surfaced late. He looked like a perfect fit when the Sox signed him in February, but that vision never came close to realization, which is why the Sox had to turn to Wise for a second time and third season in the first place.
Another Wise encore might end the same way, but the Sox can make sure it ends better, regardless of how he performs. If he plays well, history will tell the Sox to resist all urges to overexpose him. If adequate bench play is out of his reach, it's time to try Tekotte or JorDanks or Jared Mitchell or the next next-best option. Either way, the key is keeping 3½ better options in front of Wise the entire time. If that part falls through, then it's time to get itchy.