In November of 2009, the White Sox were able to pick up Andruw Jones' fading star on the cheap, and they got a sneakily productive bench season out of him.
They're hoping to see the same out of Kosuke Fukudome this season. Like Jones, Fukudome had to resort to a one-year contract with a base salary of $500,000 with the goal of boosting his stock back into seven-figure territory.
And hey, had the Sox waited a month, they could have gotten a shot at Aaron Rowand, who won't be receiving a chance with the Miami Marlins. Ozzie Guillen cut his former center fielder on Thursday, which leaves Rowand looking for a job and contemplating retirement.
At one time, Jones, Fukudome and Rowand simultaneously entertained multiple options for enormous paydays. They all signed their megacontracts during the 2007-08 offseason, and as it turned out, all three disappointed their employers by rather severe margins.
- Jones: Two years, $36 million for -0.4 fWAR, -0.6 bWAR.
- Fukudome: Four years, $48 million for 5.6 fWAR, 8.8 bWAR.
- Rowand: Five years, $60 million for 5.0 fWAR, 2.6 bWAR.
Despite their sizable salaries, none of these guys set the market for center fielders during that period. That honor went to Torii Hunter, who inked a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels. Oddly enough, Hunter is the only one of this group who has come close to earning his money. He's been an OK value for Los Angeles, hitting .279/.349/.465 and contributing about 12 WAR over those four years.
The same can't be said for the others, and the White Sox can consider themselves lucky, considering how badly they needed a center fielder that winter.
Hunter was the White Sox's No. 1 target that year. They went all-out on their sales pitch, with recruitment/marketing videos and the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera to show Hunter they wanted to improve team speed. They reportedly offered him five years and $75 million, which still would stand as the most lucrative contract in franchise history had Hunter signed it.
He had said all the right things about Chicago ("The grass runs true!"). Then again, he said the right things about every city. This past winter, Mark Buehrle said that he struggled with free agency and said he never wanted to endure it again. He stood in contrast to Hunter, who absolutely relished it back in 2007. He visited everywhere, he flattered everybody, and he had quite the host of suitors by the end of it all.
Unfortunately for White Sox, the Angels barged in and shocked baseball by upping that offer to $90 million.
The Sox then went hard after Fukudome, supposedly offering $50 million for four years. When he opted for the Cubs, the Sox shifted gears. They never seriously considered Rowand despite the considerable pressure to remarry, and Jones was represented by Scott Boras, so, yeah. Instead, they traded for Nick Swisher. He wasn't supposed to be the everyday center fielder, but Jerry Owens' injury and Carlos Quentin's emergence made it necessary.
Looking back at it, it seems like the Sox's talent evaluators did a decent job with a high-risk market. They were sold on Hunter, and at the price they offered for Hunter's subsequent production, the investment would have been fair. Their Plan B, Fukudome, ended up being the undisputed second-best player of the lot. And they ended up with Swisher, who is meeting expectations four years later. He just never met them for the Sox, but we've been down that road a few thousand times.
What's funny is that two of those signings were intended to cover up previous poor purchases. The Dodgers signed Jones to mask the odor emanating from the five-year, $45 million investment in Juan Pierre, only to end up redefining the phrase "throwing good money after bad." Hunter's signing was even more surprising, because they just signed Gary Matthews Jr. to a five-year, $50 million deal the previous winter (right before he was linked to a steroid-distributing pharmacy thanks to a story broken by a certain newspaper).
Given that the Sox were in desperate need of center field stability that winter, they read the market relatively well. Alas, they ended up taking their medicine three years later when they acquired Alex Rios. Sure, he was a waiver claim, but it's effectively the same a signing since it's purchasing outside talent.
This is all to say that the open market is a real bitch, and let's hope Trayce Thompson has plenty more where this came from: