It's all but official: the White Sox acquired the big bat for the middle of their line up, though it cost them their popular centerfielder. Peoria native Jim Thome, a perennial 40 HR threat coming off his worst season as a pro, is coming home to play for the World Champs.
Here's the deal:
2 pitching prospects, reportedly Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood.
Thome gives the Sox a bona fide left handed thumper. I mean, the man can mash. In his last three full seasons Thome has hit 141 HRs, an average of 47 per season. Add in his career .408 OBP and you are talking about one of the best sluggers of the past ten years. Added bonuses: the guy has historically been a monster at the Cell (in 2004 he had 4 HRs and 10 RBIs there... in only 3 games!) and is one of thenicest, most professional ballplayers in the majors, making him a great fit for the Sox tight clubhouse.
And with the Sox only on the hook for $24 million of the Thome's three remaining years, re-signing 1B Paul Konerko is still very likely (the bet here is that it will happen in a week or two).
Too good to be true? Well, Thome's subpar, injury-plagued 2005 season is the cause for concern, and the reason the Phillies were willing to deal him. Thome hit only .207 with 7 HRs last season and missed 103 games due to back and elbow injuries, then watched as rookie Ryan Howard stole his starting position. He's 37 years old now and likely to become a full time DH- was his injury-riddled 2005 an abberation or a sign he's on the decline?
I'm sure Ken Williams did his due diligence on this deal, and is satisfied with Thome's healthy status recovering from Tommy John surgery and chronic back problems. Serving only as a DH could cut down the injury risk as well.
Losing Aaron Rowand will be tough- he personified the grinder, selfless, blue collar attitude that gave the '05 Sox their identity and contributed to their desire and success. His defense was a sight to behold, and he came through a number of times in the clutch throughout the season (who could forget the game-tying single vs. the Dodgers with 2 outs in the 9th?).
But, from a numbers point of view, this is a good move. Rowand played excellent defense, but didn't have the stellar offensive season that seemed on the horizon after his break out 2004 campaign. Replacing him with rookie Brian Anderson- for now, a Juan Pierre move might still be in the offing- will not be a significant drop off. Anderson's defense is as good as Rowand's, and his raw speed and power at the plate give him a higher ceiling than Rowand offensively.
The other factor here is the abundance of outfield prospects the Sox have in the minor leagues. Behind Anderson, Ryan Sweeney, Chris Young and Jerry Owens could all be major contributors to the big league team as soon as 2007.
Losing Haigwood and Gonzalez could end up being costlier than Rowand, as both starters have major league potential. Haigwood went 14-3 with a 2.82 ERA in A ball and 6-1 with a 1.74 ERA after being promoted to AA Birmingham. Gonzalez went 13-6 between low A Kannapolis and high A Winston-Salem with a 2.82 ERA. A high price to pay, but necessary for the Phillies to eat half Thome's contract.
So it's not even Thanksgiving and Williams has pulled off a blockbuster. What else does he have in store before this offseason is over?