There wasn’t much doing at baseball’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, this week, especially where the Cubs and White Sox were concerned. Only one major free agent signed: Andruw Jones, who’s going to the Los Angeles Dodgers for $36.2 million for two years. (Where did LA general manager Ned Colletti learn to spend that kind of money? Not doing media relations for the Cubs in the early years of the Tribune era, that’s for sure.) Only one blockbuster trade came off, but it was a doozy, with the Detroit Tigers obtaining Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins for six highly regarded prospects. A fan might think this would put a little urgency in the step of Sox GM Kenny Williams, but in a record-breaking case of denial he replied, “All this has done is put the Tigers in a better position to compete with us.” True, the Sox are only two years removed from their world championship, while the Tigers are one year past their American League pennant, and neither made the playoffs last season, but the Tigers were a lot closer at 88 wins than the Sox at 72 last season.
The Sox made one deal early on, obtaining Carlos Quentin from the Arizona Diamondbacks for single-A player Chris Carter, and I like the trade even though it hurts personally. I can vouch for Quention, as he was on my National League-only rotisserie team, which means I now lose the rights to him. Losing him to the Sox eases the pain, however. Quentin hits for power, and more than that he has a discerning batting eye. Factor in his penchant for being hit by pitches and he’s an on-base machine, something the Sox badly needed. He was hurt last year and fell out of favor in Arizona, and Baseball Prospectus weighed in preferring Carter’s potential, but Quentin looks to me to be just the sort of player who benefits from a change of scenery. Pencil him in for 20 homers, 80 runs batted in, and a .350 on-base percentage in left field — and watch him build on those numbers in the years ahead, barring injury.
Otherwise, however, the Sox stood pat, and Williams got cranky about being unable to pull off deals for Cabrera and Torii Hunter. I like that the Sox seem ready to give Brian Anderson another shot at center, but they still need a leadoff man (neither Jerry Owens nor Danny Richar seemed ready to fill that critical position last season), and the bullpen remains in shambles even with the acquisition of Scott Linebrink.
The Cubs were quiet for the most part too, but the Sox could have benefitted from the sort of minor tweaking the Cubs pulled off in obtaining hard-throwing bullpen help in prospects Jose Ascanio from Atlanta in a trade and then Tim Lahey in a deal growing out of the Rule Five draft of unprotected minor leaguers. Both have impressive stats and 90-mile-an-hour fastballs, and they bolster an already overstocked bullpen with the return of Kerry Wood.
The Cubs are reportedly lying in the weeds for Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukodome should he decide to come to America, but otherwise they seem prepared to give Felix Pie another shot in center. He could still be great if he improves his plate discipline and learns to cover that hole in his swing on the inside corner with improved bunting. So they still look like an NL playoff team, and they stake their improvement on adding Geovany Soto at catcher, which seems well placed. But if they sign Fukodome, look for Kenny Williams to insist that only puts the Cubs in better position to compete with the Sox for Chicago’s baseball fans.