Two days ago, as the Yankees marched on to yet another purchased World Series title, the White Sox appeared like they could take any number of routes to fill out their '10 lineup. I had planned on writing an SSS Official Off-Season Plan as I have in the past -- quick synopsis: upgrade IF defense by negotiating with the devil. Buy Adrian Beltre, shift the left side of the infield one space right. Find a cheap scrapheap corner outfielder. I was thinking Xavier Nady (also a Boras client) and re-up with Jim Thome -- but Kenny Williams had other ideas, wasting no time in reshaping the '10 roster.
Jettisoned (for sure): Jermaine Dye, Josh Fields, Chris Getz; (maybe): Scott Podsednik (I'm never going to write off his return)
Returning: Mark Kotsay
Newcomer: Mark Teahen
We basically knew all those moves Thursday morning, but it still wasn't apparent how the Sox would use Teahen. My own thought was that it would mean an end to our years of having a lumbering, full-time DH on the roster. In that scenario, Teahen would have played 3B/OF and Pods probably would have been back as well, rotating with any number of players through the DH spot. But Kenny erased that notion by naming Teahen the White Sox 3rd baseman of the immediate future.
What does it all mean for the '10 roster?
The moves leave the Sox with two obvious holes at Designated Hitter and a corner outfield spot. DH is unlikely to be filled anytime soon, as the Sox don't have much to spend and the bottom has fallen out of the defensively-challenged hitter market in recent years. It's likely that the Sox will go bargain hunting as the calendar turns to February, with Williams not ruling out bringing back Jim Thome or even Dye.
"I don't think you can rule it out because it's a long offseason," said Williams, adding he might not fill the designated hitter role until the latter part of the winter. "We just got started. Everyone knows I think the world of this guy."
The remaining corner outfield spot is a bit trickier. The Sox stand with about $90M committed to their players making above the league minimum (arbitration figures estimated), and an operating budget that figures to come in under $100M. It's unlikely that they can bring in adequate talent at those two premium offensive positions on the open market for less than $10M. This means a trade, of course, is on the horizon; and Bobby Jenks seems like the most likely to leave.
Phil Rogers seems eager to remove Paul Konerko's $12M contract, though he never provides a team willing to take on that contract, or how the Sox will replace his production.
No, I suspect Jenks-for-an-outfielder will be the rumor of the off-season; and it's already started courtesy Joe Cowley with a Jenks and Jordan Danks for Carl Crawford postulation on 670 the score. We'll have plenty of time to discuss these rumors over the winter.
For now, let's take a look at what it means for the Sox as they stand currently:
Beckham moves to 2nd -- In my unpublished off-season plan, I wanted to move Beckham off third not because I didn't think he could play there, but because I thought it was the best way to upgrade both offense and defense at the same time. I don't particularly care which infield spot he gets moved to. Alexei Ramirez committed a number of errors and short, yes; and he was a bit of an adventure turning the double play. But he was solid, and overall a reliable glove in the field.
I learned after the 2000 season not to get upset at an adequate shortstop who draws the ire of radio call-in guests with some high profile errors. Every shortstop makes errors, and most of them are of the 'bad' variety. Alexei is no different than any host of major league shortstops. He was the definition of average defensively. He was merely frustrating because he showed plus range and the ability to make some spectacular plays, but negated it by making the occasional annoyingly lackadaisical error, which he seemed to correct as the season wore on. (He was probably one of the top 5 defensive SS in baseball in the second half). I'll take my chances that he's more the second-half Alexei than first-half.
So Beckham moves to second base, a position that would seem to be more natural for him, and his predicted destination since being drafted in '08. He should have no trouble making the transition, as we saw him make considerable progress at 3B over the course of the season. My only complaint is that if the Sox had this in mind, there was no reason not to be playing Beckham at 2B over the last month of the season when the Sox were clearly out of the AL central race.
As for Teahen at third, um, yeah, that's another story. He's bad defensively. Not quite Josh Fields bad, but close enough that he shouldn't be considered a first option, and isn't the type of player who pushes a franchise player like Beckham to another position.
Offensively, Teahen is living off his reputation from a breakout '06 season when he put up and ISO of .225. In the three years since, he's averaged an ISO of about .135. He has the glove of Mark Reynolds, and the bat of Pedro Feliz.
Watching Teahen bat against the White Sox in recent years, you might get the impression that he was a speedy baserunner, as I seem to recall two separate inside-the-park homeruns. And while he did use Kauffman's expansive outfield to pile up 23 triples in his first 4 seasons, he managed only 1 last season. Diving into the Bill James Handbook, Teahen is listed as having a negative impact on the bases last year due to his ability to run into key outs. James also has a measure called Manufactured Runs Created, a measure of the little things (bunts, steals, sac flies, etc.) impact on creating runs. In this category, Teahen ranked among the Royals top 3 at 16 MRC. But the Royals ranked last in the league, and Teahen appears to be marginally above average here. (A full data set was not provided, and I'm not going to draw any conclusions based on a year of data.)
Teahen's only under contract for a year, and, thanks to the $2M from the Royals, should only cost the Sox about $2.5M. So maybe he's just a stop-gap, future utility guy, and the Sox have supreme confidence in their 3B depth (Retherford, Viciedo, Morel).
So what did the Sox gain by adding Teahen? Not much in my view. They didn't give up anything of value. Chris Getz is the best player they gave up, and he might be able to post some league average production at his peak (if he can stay healthy).
Overall, it was the right idea -- getting a 3B to move Beckham to a more natural position -- but Teahen is the wrong player to take the Sox to the next level.