Sox too cheap for bidding wars
After leading fans, media to believe they were bringing Hunter to The Cell, South Siders lose one-sided bidding war to Angels
November 23, 2007
BY JAY MARIOTTI Sun-Times Columnist
Shocked? What is Ken Williams so "shocked" about? In the Reinsdorfian tradition, the White Sox underbid for a major free agent, making their fans believe they were going guts-out after Torii Hunter when, in the context of a rich 2007 marketplace, they merely were half-buttocksing it. Then they told the world about their offer, a dumb poker move that let the Angels swoop in on Thanksgiving Eve and sign Hunter to a five-year, $90 million deal.
Shocking? Try embarrassing.
Because once again, the Sox have shown they're full of stuffing when it comes to bidding wars. Deep down, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf doesn't want to win such battles, or he and Williams would have been more competitive for Hunter in a period when baseball is flush with wealth -- $6 billion in revenues this year, as Bud Selig repeats every five minutes -- and Sox fans have been filling U.S. Cellular Field the last three years. Don't you just love Reinsdorf? For two decades, he has been centrally involved in trying to build a better industry financially, but once that has been accomplished, he still refuses to play high-stakes, big-boy ball in a major city. You're better off not bidding for Hunter at all than losing him to a more pro-active franchise that makes you look, well, second-rate.
"They shocked me," Hunter said of his new club. "I wanted to be with these guys. I thought maybe they didn't need a center fielder like me but they shocked the world. I love these guys. I want to say thank you, guys, for choosing me. I'm honored.
"I've watched the Angels play for a long time. They play the game the right way, they play hard-nosed baseball every day."
As opposed to the Sox, who suffered the worst offense in the major leagues last season, a plague that won't be helped by the consolation signing of set-up reliever Scott Linebrink.
Consider this the latest significant setback in a bloody, 17-month Sox slide, which includes a 109-135 record since early July of 2006. This is more confirmation that a star like Hunter, who fled Minnesota with the aim of winning a championship, thinks he has a better chance of achieving those goals in Anaheim than on the South Side. "Maybe I can do some damage and get about three rings out of this," he said. More and more, it's becoming obvious that baseball people view 2005 as an aberration for the Sox, a championship that won't happen again anytime soon. The Angels have sustained a consistently high level since their World Series triumph five years ago, primarily because they have an elite manager in Mike Scioscia and a title-driven owner in Arte Moreno. The Sox have a ditzy manager in Ozzie Guillen and an owner who likes to win but only at his price, though Reinsdorf has no problem charging top dollar at The Cell.
Remember: A $100 million payroll in 2007 is equivalent to a $65 million payroll a few years ago. That's how much the baseball business has boomed. It's one thing to pass on Alex Rodriguez during his brief availability window, with Williams explaining at the time, "For our purposes, we would very quickly run the average fan out of our ballpark ... our economic situation wouldn't allow for something like that." But now, the economic situation doesn't allow for Plan B. What DOES the economic situation allow for, gentlemen? A mid-priced alternative like Coco Crisp, I assume, even though fan favorite and '05 character-builder Aaron Rowand is out there in free agency. My guess is, Rowand will end up with the Dodgers because he, too, costs more than Sox management wants to pay.
And brace yourselves, Soxdom, because more surprises could be coming from the Angels at your expense. Earlier this week, Williams made a questionable move in dealing pitcher Jon Garland -- a skilled, durable starter entering his prime at 28 -- for Orlando Cabrera, a fine shortstop who, unfortunately, is 33 and becomes a free agent next offseason. The trade came only days after Williams strangely spent $4.5 million to re-sign another good defensive shortstop, the out-of-shape Juan Uribe. But in relinquishing Garland, all the Sox did was put the Angels' new general manager, Tony Reagins, in a sweeter position to land another player supposedly on the Sox's radar. With a rotation that now goes six-deep and a surplus in center field, Anaheim can put together a much better trade package for a more prized Cabrera -- Florida's gifted, young slugger, Miguel Cabrera -- than the Sox. In the Garland deal, all the Sox did was weaken their rotation, deplete their potential trade pool for Miguel Cabrera and pick up a veteran who might play here one season.
Yep, the Ken Doll is being humiliated by a rookie GM in Disneyland. But the bigger problem is Boss Reinsdorf, who establishes the tone for tighter spending when the Angels seem far more interested in getting deals done and beating the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Tigers in an ultra-competitive American League.
What I resent are these orchestrated pep rallies by Williams intended to excite Sox fans -- and, of course, sell tickets. At the start of November, he sounded like an enraged bull in defining his offseason mindset as "Full go." Said the GM: "We have unfinished business. I didn't like the taste I had in my mouth watching (postseason baseball) from my couch."
Then, after dumping Garland, Williams launched into his we're-conquering-the-world speech, saying, "Last year did not sit well with any of us. We'll be damned if we're going to go through that again. We will aggressively pursue a championship. We're trying to win the 2008 championship. We were embarrassed last year."
When some of us doubted the Garland deal, Williams fired back. "People want to examine each deal as it comes along and don’t see the big picture being painted," he said. "Hopefully in the next month -- and in my desire, the next week -- people will say `Oh, I get it.' "
Well, I didn't get it when he re-signed Uribe, I didn't get it when he dealt Garland and I obviously don't get it now. Unless Williams pulls off the pipedream of Miguel Cabrera, giving him a half-Cabrera infield, his "Full go" offseason is stuck in the muck. No wonder he suddenly was shy when reached Thursday by the Sun-Times.
"What's to say?" he said of Hunter.
How about this?