Mailbag: Analyzing the Thome deal
Beat writer Scott Merkin answers your questions
CHICAGO -- My somewhat famous MLB.com e-mail Inbox, famous in the sense that I've mentioned it as part of stories for two consecutive weeks, started to fill up some time around 4 p.m. CT on Wednesday afternoon. Twenty-four hours later, I had received more than 200 e-mails for this week's edition of the White Sox Mailbag.
I'll give anyone interested three guesses as to what the topic was for most of the questions, and as the old saying goes, you won't need the first two. Yes, at times, it seems difficult to please the ever-changing high expectations of the White Sox fans, mixed with a healthy dose of sentimentality. The overwhelming feeling was not exactly 100 percent positive in regard to the trade sending Jim Thome to the South Side of Chicago in exchange for Aaron Rowand and two young left-handed pitching prospects.
It's a true testament to the impact Rowand had in Chicago during a fairly short time that White Sox fans would be more upset about losing him, as opposed to being thrilled with the acquisition of a player in Thome who is as classy (2002 Roberto Clemente Award winner) as he is talented (430 career home runs). That fact was not lost on Rowand when I talked to him Wednesday night.
Most of the fans questioned Thome's age, 35, and his health in chastising the trade of the popular Rowand. But I guarantee that a general manager does not exist who is more diligent than Ken Williams where trades and major acquisitions are concerned, so you can bet Thome's back and right elbow will be near 100 percent by Spring Training at the latest. As far as 35 being old, I'm a few years past 35 and I can tell you that's not old. Unfortunately, I just don't have the power to hit 40 home runs anymore.
One final point before we open the Mailbag. A handful of fans asked for Rowand's e-mail, in order to send him their messages of gratitude. Here's an even better option. E-mail me your messages of thanks for Rowand to the White Sox Mailbag, and I will alert the former White Sox center fielder when they are all run on our site. We'll try to put them all together in the next week or so.
Rowand was one of my favorite players on the White Sox. It was hard to see him go, but I thought it was a good trade. I'm hoping that Paul Konerko comes back, but what do you think about a possible trade for Juan Pierre? With Scott Podsednik and Pierre in the lineup together, in front of Thome and Konerko, this lineup could do a lot of damage to other teams. Would this be a good addition or is it just a dream?
-- Bobby S., Chicago
Bobby, you seem to have the perfect attitude where this pre-Thanksgiving maneuver is concerned. There's no question Rowand was a very popular figure in Chicago, through his grinder-like contributions on the field during the White Sox drive to the 2005 World Series title and his efforts off the field to be a part of the community. Even if Rowand hits 35 home runs for the Phillies in 2006, he always will be remembered as a member of the White Sox family.
But with Thome's talent and demeanor, he has a chance to become a mythical figure in the Chicago sports scene. It seems to be one of those "both sides benefit" sort of trades perfected by Williams, much like the Podsednik-Carlos Lee deal with Milwaukee last year.
As for Pierre, don't look for him to be playing on the South Side of Chicago. In order for a team to continue developing and keep its budget at a reasonable level, it needs to add a few of its own homegrown products every year. In 2005, it was Brandon McCarthy and Bobby Jenks who came up from the Minors and produced. In 2006, Brian Anderson will get the first shot to take over in center field, but keep an eye on Jerry Owens and Chris Young.
Owens would give manager Ozzie Guillen a second speed guy at the top of the order with Podsednik, and Guillen spoke highly of him after his recent Manager of the Year press conference. Young, though, has the potential to be the best of the group, with a chance, and I stress a chance, to be a 30-30 player some day.
With the acquisition of Thome, does that mean the end of Frank Thomas in Chicago? Konerko is the top priority of the White Sox, if I'm not mistaken?
-- Trevor N., Belleville
Trevor, it certainly looks as if Thomas' 16-year-stint on the South Side has come to a close. If Konerko re-signs with the White Sox, then it's all but official. If Konerko opts to sign somewhere else, then Thomas could still return, with Thome moving to first base.
Williams was asked about Thomas during his conference call to announce the Thome trade Friday, but refused to comment with the Konerko negotiations still taking place. Williams also sounded as if more information needed to be provided on the healing process of the latest fracture of Thomas' left navicular before a final decision could be made.
Another Thomas fan, Steve from Madison, Wis., asked if Thomas in fact was done with the White Sox, would there be a chance he could take a job coaching for Guillen? The answer would be a definite "No," at this point, as Thomas believes he has three solid years of playing remaining. He also wants to pick up those 52 home runs to reach 500 for his career.
Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told me during the playoffs even if Thomas leaves, he always will be considered an important member of the White Sox family. So, the options down the line to be part of the organization always remain.
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Do you think the White Sox gave up too much for Thome, including Minor Leaguers Daniel Haigwood and Gio Gonzales? I think that was too much for a 35 year old. Don't you think?
-- Pancho, Moline
There's that age issue again. I wonder if fans will be commenting on Thome's age if his home run total surpasses it by the end of 2006.
Both Haigwood and Gonzalez are very good prospects, and both are left-handers, making them an even more important commodity. Two people close to Gonzalez's development told me last week that he could help the Phillies in some capacity at some point next season. And he's only 20.
Ultimately, the purpose of the First-Year Player Draft and bringing along players through the system is to make the Major League roster stronger. This process could happen through a player such as Anderson or Owens stepping into the starting lineup, or it could happen by giving up a young player or two in exchange for an All-Star such as Thome. I don't think the White Sox gave up too much, as long as Thome stays healthy.
As Williams stressed during his conference call Friday, that issue of health is the same for any important player on any team with serious postseason aspirations.
How can the Rowand-for-Thome trade open the door for younger, up-and-coming Sox players when Aaron is only 28 (with five years Major League experience)? Kind of reminds me when Frank Robinson was traded in his prime, but was labeled an "old 30" by his GM.
-- Robert, Denver
Robert, nobody is arguing that Rowand is a young talent, and in my opinion, has All-Star seasons ahead of him. But as I stated above, with the plethora of supremely talented 22 and 23-year-old outfielders inhabiting the White Sox system, Rowand was deemed as the player who not only was expendable in this situation, but also a player who could bring the most in return.
Youth not only will be served in center field, though. With Haigwood and Gonzalez departing, look for a number of Minor League hurlers to step up to the challenge and fill their void. A few names mentioned to me were Lance Broadway, last year's first-round draft pick who already seems to have the poise of a veteran, knuckleballer Charles Haeger and left-hander Tyler Lumsden, who drew rave reviews during the Instructional League.
As for comparing Rowand's situation to that of Frank Robinson, I have a ton of respect for Rowand as a person and as a player, but I don't think he'll ever become a Triple Crown winner like Robinson.
Scott, Damaso Marte has a great deal of potential but so far more than struggles to find the plate. Should the Sox send him back to the Minors to find himself or is he up to be traded?
-- Keith, Chicago
Marte will not be going back to the Minors any time soon, and barring a trade, he will be part of the White Sox bullpen in 2006. Left-handed reliever Scott Eyre signing as a free agent with the Cubs pretty much took care of that decision.
Although he has slipped behind Neal Cotts as the primary left-hander in the bullpen, Marte still possesses electric stuff. The biggest problems seemed to be his control, which Marte disputed, pointing to the same amount of walks allowed in 2005 as 2004. Of course, that walk total came in 30 less innings this year.
If anyone can bring him around, it's pitching coach Don Cooper. But the White Sox need Marte to regain his confidence overall and his success against left-handed hitters, specifically. Both disappeared near the end of last season.
Why haven't the White Sox explored trading Joe Crede? I think that they could make a megatrade for New York's Alex Rodriguez. A proposed trade could be Crede, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia and prospects for A-Rod. It would give Chicago the MVP talent it needs.
-- Frank, New York
It's of very little surprise that this e-mail came from a fan whose e-mail moniker was "Yankee fanatic." I always like to throw in the interesting suggestions from the amateur general managers, although I don't think Rodriguez is going anywhere any time soon. Neither is Buehrle, for that matter.
As for Crede, he figures to be the White Sox third baseman for at least 2006 as an arbitration-eligible player. Williams talked recently in regard to Crede's diligence where preparation and maintenance concerning the two herniated discs in his back are concerned. That praise and confidence doesn't preclude the White Sox from seeking out a little insurance, such as veteran switch-hitter Bill Mueller, at third base.
Hello, Scott. I don't have a question, just an announcement. The day after the World Series sweep, I got my SOX tattoo on my right shoulder blade. It's gorgeous, and I love it! I've been a diehard SOX fan for over 20 years and this season was so very exciting. We have such a colorful team, just jam-packed with an array of super talented players. This is a great feeling and the World Series was over almost four weeks ago but I'm still flying high! I'M SO HAPPY WE WON THIS SERIES! Please tell the team THANK YOU MUCH FOR DOING SO GREAT! I AM VERY PROUD and LOVE YOU ALL! See you next season, and let's do it all over again!
-- Laurel, Addison
Laurel, I have received countless e-mails telling me of trophy rooms developed at the houses of respective White Sox fans, not to mention body art added by strong supporters such as yourself. I've also been sent a number of tales of superstitions adopted by fans, from wearing the same shirt during every playoff contest to playing the same music before every game, to ensure a White Sox title.
Instead of running one or two of these in every Mailbag, why don't we put them all together. So, along with the tributes to Rowand, send in your wildest superstitions and strangest reactions to the White Sox title and we'll run them all together in the near future. If you have pictures to be included, that we can run with the story, feel free to send them along.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.