Ten years ago, way back in 2008, the White Sox were coming off of a pretty miserable season. A World Series championship and 90-win campaign had given way to a 72-90 trudge. Postseason heroes Jermaine Dye and Scott Podsednik looked cooked. Injuries caused guys like Jerry Owens and Josh Fields to become everyday players. Rookie John Danks had to take a whole lot of lumps, and Jose Contreras crumbled. Something called an Andy Gonzalez racked up -2.2 WAR with alarming efficiency.
GM Kenny Williams, never one to admit defeat, decided to retool the team and try to get back on track. What followed was a surprising rebound season full of highs and lows, culminating in one of the most exciting games in franchise history. The White Sox got bounced by the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS, and they haven’t been back to the postseason since, but the good times of 2008 are worth revisiting. This isn’t exactly a team with a storied history in October, so we take what we can get.
Today, we’ll look at the process of assembling a whole new team from the wreckage of 2007. In subsequent days, we’ll review how the season went down and what came next.
When the 2007 season came to a merciful end, Williams and the Sox had a long list of needs to address, and spent the next few months checking them off one by one.
Upgrading at Shortstop (November 19)
With Juan Uribe looking less and less like an average player, the Sox made a one-for-one swap of free agents to be, sending right-hander Jon Garland to the Los Angeles Angels (then of Anaheim) for Orlando Cabrera. OC brought with him a reputation as a great defensive shortstop with a meh bat; he had a career 86 OPS+ to that point, but had also just won his second Gold Glove, and this at a time when Derek Jeter was winning them by default.
Beefing Up the Bullpen (November 22, January 21)
After using 17 mostly uninspiring relievers in 2007, the Sox invested $30 million in two shiny new setup men, Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel. Linebrink had pitched in 70-plus games four straight seasons, and had been excellent for the Padres before stumbling in his contract year. His 4-year, $19 million deal had little precedent for a non-closer. Dotel had spent three years on and off the disabled list, but had previously been a high-octane fireman with the Astros.
Acquiring Actually Carlos Quentin (December 3)
The next step was to take a chance on a talented but oft-injured outfielder with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The White Sox traded minor league first baseman Chris Carter (yes, DFA’d after a 40-homer season Chris Carter) to Arizona for 25-year-old Carlos Quentin.
Williams famously said that acquiring Quentin was one of his offseason goals—“and not a player like him, but actually Carlos Quentin.” These words misquoted led to the nickname “THE Carlos Quentin” (TCQ).
Dipping into the Cuban Market (December 21)
In September of 2007, the star of the Vegueros de Pinar del Río defected from Cuba to play Major League Baseball. 26-year-old Alexei Ramirez had just hit .335/.437/.574 in Serie Nacional, but when the Sox signed him to a major league deal worth $4.75 million over four years, nobody knew how his talent would translate, or even where he would end up on the diamond.
Fixing Center Field for Good(?) (January 3)
Brian Anderson had quickly proven he wasn’t cut out to be a starting center fielder. After Darin Erstad and Rob Mackowiak took the bulk of the starts in center, the Sox heavily pursued Torii Hunter in free agency. Just when it looked like Kenny might Get His Man, the Angels swooped in and signed Hunter to a 5-year, $90 million deal the night before Thanksgiving.
Forced to go down a different route, Williams instead swung a huge trade. Ten years ago today, the White Sox traded top prospects Ryan Sweeney and Gio Gonzalez (again), plus Fautino de los Santos, to the Oakland Athletics for (TW: Nick Swisher) Nick Swisher.
Swisher was a brash, entertaining personality and a patient, powerful switch-hitter coming off back-to-back 4-WAR seasons. Even better, his very affordable contract ran through 2011 with an option for 2012. The Sox gave up a lot to get Swisher, but in return got a young stalwart who could anchor the team for years to come.
The End Result
Ramirez showed enough in Spring Training to break camp with the big-league team, while Quentin snuck onto the roster because of an injury to Jerry Owens.
The Opening Day lineup and roster looked like this:
LF Nick Swisher
SS Orlando Cabrera
DH Jim Thome
1B Paul Konerko
RF Jermaine Dye
CF Alexei Ramirez
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Joe Crede
2B Juan Uribe
Bench: Carlos Quentin, Brian Anderson, Pablo Ozuna, Toby Hall
Rotation: Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez, John Danks, Jose Contreras, Gavin Floyd
Bullpen: Bobby Jenks, Scott Linebrink, Matt Thornton, Octavio Dotel, Nick Masset, Mike MacDougal, Boone Logan
This eventually resulted in a lineup with four new players, a rotation with two young recent acquisitions (Danks and Floyd), and a remade bullpen that mixed free agents and rookies to supplement the two holdovers that could actually pitch. Now, it was time to see what these new-look White Sox could do.