5 years ago, Kenny Williams pulled the trigger on a shocking trade that would see Nick Swisher leave the Oakland A’s in exchange for White Sox prospects Gio Gonzalez, Fautino De Los Santos, and Ryan Sweeney. After a tumultuous 2007 season which saw the Sox finish fourth in the division, only ahead of the lowly Royals, Kenny Williams needed to make a splash for the team and for the fans; and Williams thought energetic, fan favorite, slugging outfielder Nick Swisher was the man for the job.
Nick Swisher was just coming off of a decent 2006 showing for the Oakland A’s, he hit twenty-two home runs, drove in 69 runners, and maintained a very, very good .381 on-base percentage. Swisher was what the Sox needed after a disastrous 2007 season, a guy who could get on base, and a guy who could drive in the runners who were on base before him. With the Sox in dire need of offense Williams dealt Gio Gonzalez (for the second time), one of the White Sox top pitching prospects, Ryan Sweeney, a promising outfielder, and RHP Fautino De Los Santos. Sox fans were elated to see their GM improve the big club on paper and make the team competitive again considering the team had won the World Series in 2005, and ninety games in 2006.
Swisher would join the Sox, and would embrace Chicago, even beginning a Nick Swisher brand for Chicago called “Dirty 30.” However, despite Swisher putting up improved numbers with the White Sox, he struggled with high expectations from the White Sox faithful and was put in the doghouse by then manager Ozzie Guillen. As he began to lose at-bats due to a sub-par average and expectations began to wear down on the usually happy-go-lucky Swisher, his performance suffered more. After making the playoffs in dramatic fashion in 2008, and being eliminated by the Cinderella Rays in four games, Williams decided that Nick Swisher was not a fit in Chicago, and promptly traded him to the New York Yankees in exchange for utility man Wilson Betemit, and minor-league relievers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez.
Meanwhile in the Bay area Gio Gonzalez struggled as a starter until 2010 when he blossomed into a decent middle of the rotation starter for the A’s, and continued to improve into 2011. He would be valuable to the A’s rotation and to their future as in the 2011 offseason Gonzalez was dealt to the Washington Nationals for a slew of high-end prospects that were considered major league ready. Tommy Milone and Derek Norris currently contribute to the A’s major league team, with Norris slotted to be the everyday catcher and Milone starting to pitch like a top-end starter. The other two pitching prospects Cole and Peacock are expected to be major league ready very soon and will surely contribute the A’s quest to win the World Series based on a small budget and smart, thrifty personnel moves.
Ryan Sweeney also proved to be useful to the A’s. He proved to be a very capable fourth outfielder who could get on base. This allowed him to stick around the A’s big club for four years before also being dealt with closer Andrew Bailey for slugging Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick and two Single-A prospects. In Reddick’s first season with the A’s he has proved his worth, hitting thirty-two bombs, bringing in eighty-five runners, and compiling a respectable .305 on-base percentage. In a couple of seasons Reddick could be the new face of the A’s, and it was partly because of Ryan Sweeney that made the deal that brought Reddick to Oakland possible.
Back to the White Sox, the Swisher deal that brought back Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez did virtually nothing. In Betemit’s one season with the Sox, he saw the plate 45 times, enough said. Marquez, made it to the big leagues long enough to sign a baseball for me, but when he got in, in that one game…barf, two runs in one inning and he was gone again. He made it back to the Yankees in 2011 for three games and hasn’t tasted the bigs since. Nunez came up to the Sox in 2009 for five and two-thirds innings and gave up six runs, he was sent down as well and hasn’t seen major league action since. Case and point, neither Nunez nor Marquez are with the Sox anymore and when they were they were atrocious.
Ultimately this trade will go down as one of Kenny Williams biggest mistakes, and as one of Billy Beane’s biggest victories. Not only did he fleece Kenny Williams, but he later used the pieces he received in the Williams fleecing to also dupe Nats GM Mike Rizzo and rookie Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. This trade also goes to show you how bad the Chicago faithful is to their players, Nick Swisher, though having a subpar season for his standards, still did relatively well, after he was dealt to the Yankees he never had a season with an on-base percentage lower than .350 and had been a key piece to their 2009 World Series championship.
As fans we all have trades that we look back on and say: “damn, we robbed them,” or we have trades that we look back on and wonder, “what in the world were we thinking?” I have decided, in lieu of lack of White Sox discussion topics, to start a series where I analyze past White Sox trades and free agent signings. I will look at the reactions to the trade then, actual performance by all players involved, and then I will grade the trade on the A-F scale with an explanation for my grade. The A-F grade is more based on well the players did only with the teams that were involved, if they moved on after a year it doesn’t count, this will be the trade’s legacy with a team’s fan base. We’ll start with this little gem. On this date in 2005, only two months removed from a World Series championship, aggressive general manager, Kenny Williams, made a trade in an attempt to improve our starting rotation and gear up the White Sox for a defense of their title. Williams would see RHP Javier Vazquez come to the South Side in exchange for ALDS hero Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, RHP Luis Vizcaino, and prospect outfielder Chris Young.
The Reaction: The World Champion White Sox had already begun retooling for another World Series run before this deal went down, resigning Captain Paul Konerko and acquring slugger Jim Thome and utility man Rob Mackowiak in seperate deals, However, Vazquez had just demanded a trade and seemed like he could be a very good middle of the rotation pitcher who ate a lot of innings for the Diamondbacks. Vazquez was a fit for the White Sox because of the depth we already had at starting pitcher allowed us to use him in whatever slot we chose considering we had All-stars Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle at the one and two spots, World Series hero Jose Contreras in the middle, and big game Freddy Garcia holding down a back end job. For the Diamondbacks, they were acquiring a pitcher who would be making about $5 million dollars less even if he hit all of his performance based incentives, and who just came off a very good season for his age. The Diamondbacks also acquired Luis VIzcaino a man with a repectable reputation in the bullpen, and coming off a year seeing him have a solid 3.73 ERA and a less mentionable 1.47 WHIP. He would provide then manager, Bob Melvin, with another arm to run out to the mound in an always competitive NL West. Last, but not least the Diamondbacks acquired outfield prospect Chris Young, who was ranked number six in the White Sox list of top prospects in 2005.
Performance: Vazquez would spend the next three seasons with the Palehose, with his best performance coming in 2007 when the team was at its worst, he went 15-8 with 3.74 ERA and an outstanding 1.14 WHIP. However, 2007 would be the only year Vazquez would post a sub-four ERA, and also the only year he would have a winning record for the South Siders. Fortunately, he did eat a lot of innings, more than 200 each year and provided relief for the White Sox bullpen. Transitioning to the fruits of the D-Backs acquisitions, Orlando Hernandez was only on the team for half a season, and an atrocious half it was. Hernandez did not return to 2005 form with a bloated 6.11 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, and allowing 31 earned runs in only 45.1 innings of work. Hernandez would be dealt to the New York Mets later that season. Vizcaino would remain with the Diamondbacks for the duration of the 2006 season, and did well. Vizcaino had a 3.58 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP in 65.1 innings of work, going 4-6 in his decisions. After the season, Vizcaino was traded to the Yankees with three prospects for future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. Chris Young would make his debut in 2006 for the Diamondbacks in center field, but his first full year in the majors was in 2007, which saw him have a monster year, hitting 32 home runs, driving in 68 runs, and scoring 85 runs. As the Diamondbacks starting center fielder for the next five years, Young would continue to “do work.” After a long and successful run in Arizona, Young was traded on October 21st of this year to the Oakland A’s. Having all players involved off of the teams involved in the deals we can now look back and analyze the Winners and the Losers of the trade.
Legacy: For the Chicago White Sox this trade was all about gathering depth for the starting rotation, and preparing to defend their division title in what would be a very difficult AL Central. For the Diamondbacks this trade was about unloading some salary and beginning to retool and rebuild. The Diamondbacks would have another losing season in 2006, and then return to competing in 2007. Some of you fellow White Sox fans may remember that year because that is the first year the Cubs made their series of one and done playoff appearances. This still makes me laugh.
The Diamondbacks would then proceed to have a roller coaster decade, seeing them finish 2nd in 2008, last in 2009 and 2010, winning the NL West in 2011, and now in 2012 finishing third. By this season, Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino have been long gone, but one consistency has remained. Chris Young has been patrolling center field for the snakes through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Young is more than what the Diamondbacks could have hoped for when they dealt Vazquez and the move definitely paid off for them. For the Sox however, we have a different story. The Sox paid steep price for a guy who never seemed to regain the all-star form he achieved while with the Yankees. Though he had an impressive 2007 season, his performance was lost in the disaster that would unfold that season seeing the White Sox finish in fourth with only the Royals buffering our fall to the cellar. Though I would normally say Vazquez did what we acquired him to do, but Vazquez’s price tag of $11.5 million in 2006 and 2008, and increased price tag of $12.5 million in 2007. Being paid that kind of money, I would have expected a better performance. That being said, it is now grading time. And the grade Kenny Williams receives on this trade is a: D+ Although he got rid of Orlando Hernandez before his tumultuous 2006 season, he also lost what seemed to be our center fielder of the future. If I recall correctly, we expected stud Brian Anderson to be able to fill that role, but could not, and then we spent subsequent years experimenting with prospects Jerry Owens and Luis Terrero in center field before eventually platooning Alex Rios and DeWayne Wise together in 2009. This center field dilemna could have easily been solved by the bat that Young developed, and the work Vazquez did as a member of the White Sox could have been done by a cheaper free agent signing.