Should the White Sox have torn it down after 2007?


Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Gonzales has left the confines of the U.S. Cellular press box  for the Tribune’s Cubs beat, but before he departed, he left us with this food for thought right after the Peavy deal was made last week.

The comment struck me for three reasons:

  1. I had heard of Gonzales leaving the beat, but this bit of candid commentary might have raised suspicions on its own.
  2. I remember thinking that the Sox were due for an overhaul after their offense bottomed out  in 2007, but hadn’t really explored the idea much since…
  3. …They won the 2008 AL Central crown and threw everyone off their tail for a while.

The offense completely bottomed out in 2007 and since the biggest fallbacks came from lumbering sluggers over 30 (Paul Konerko, age 31, Jermaine Dye, age 33), along with scary back problems that rendered Joe Crede a non-factor, the beginning of lives as baseball vagabonds for Tadahito Iguchi and Scott Podsednik, a down season from 30 year-old catcher A.J. Pierzynski, more offensive ineptitude from Juan Uribe and a brutal campaign from 35 year-old Jose Contreras that seemed like it would create a much bigger hole at the time. Things tended to be trending down, not up, and it’s typically not wise to invest in diminishing returns.

But just as the White Sox could hardly bring themselves to a deal they found suitable at this year’s deadline for all their damaged, they also blanched at the prospect of selling low on nearly half of their roster’s core. Tadahito Iguchi had been moved as a rental in the middle of his disappointing 2007 campaign and only returned an organizational arm and similarly disappointing returns could be expected for others.

A list of valuable pieces from the 2007 roster would be centered around Javier Vazquez, Jim Thome, Bobby Jenks, someone being curious about Josh Fields‘ power and most importantly, Mark Buehrle. Once Buehrle was handed a contract extension in the middle of the year to end trade speculation circling him and cementing his place as a cornerstone for the team going forward, notions of selling off around him melted away, or perhaps were never fully formed.

"“All I can tell you is we are going into the offseason with the same mind-set we always have,” White Sox general manager Ken Williams said. “That’s to try to put together a team we can see winning a championship.”"

Given the nature of Kenny Williams-run teams in that late aughts, perhaps it would be better to say  that once he made to decision to invest in Buehrle’s prime, it would be even more impossible than usual to convince him to spend the front half of that contract  re-shaping the roster. Buying relatively low on Jermaine Dye worked out well enough despite his defense, Pierzynski recovered, Crede’s last meaningful gasp earned him a questionable All-Star appearance and small moves for Alexei Ramirez and trading for Carlos Quentin worked out so well that it canceled out a Nick Swisher that should have worked out a lot better.

Perhaps more importantly, Gavin Floyd and John Danks reinforced the practice of the White Sox reliably filling holes in their rotation from within. Granted, they had two former first-round picks in Floyd and Danks, but had enough confidence in them to deal away Jon Garland to fill a hole in their lineup with Orlando  Cabrera, and won both trades easily by being able to transform prospects into reliable mid-level starters. Unlimited faith in their ability to deal from pitching depth is a highly relevant factor in the White Sox upcoming offseason, after all, and likely why they won’t rebuild with much earnestness this winter.

With the way 2008 secured the short-term goals it targeted, it’s hard to condemn chasing flags that were clearly attainable, but it only makes the half-measures of 2009 and 2010 look worse. The abomination of the second Swisher trade and Mark Kotsay over Jim Thome have been as blogged about as much any White Sox topics over the last five years, but are doubly inexplicable for a team that was faced with a clear chance to retreat from its over-30 core and given an excuse to sell off, and decided to forage ahead in the pursuit of championships.

2007 still sounds like a nice bookmark for when the White Sox started to drain the foundation of their organization until there was nothing left, and it is, but it has little to do with A.J. Pierzynski and Matt Thornton. Veteran sell-offs augment farm systems, they don’t build them.

Heading into the 2007 season, the Sox had spent their last two first-round draft picks on busts Kyle McCulloch and Lance Broadway. In February, right before the start of Spring Training, they promoted David Wilder to Senior Director of Player Personnel. Their fate had already been sealed.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan