Kenny gets his Dunn: White Sox sign slugger

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Kenny gets his Dunn: White Sox sign slugger

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
Updated 8:16 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

When the season ended, Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams threw his boss, team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a bit of a curveball: Instead of the usual four budgetpersonnel recommendations for the next season, Williams offered just two.

As Williams extrapolated during a teleconference on Thursday, one was a young team, and the other was adding to the mix with top talent. We didnt want to be in the middle.

If youre going to be all-in, you go all-in.

As such, Thursdays signing of free agent first baseman Adam Dunn to a four-year, 56 million deal represents just the tip of the offseason, according to Williams.

News broke of the Dunn signing, setting Twitter aflame, directly in advance of Williams conference, initially scheduled to discuss the re-signing of shortstop Alexei Ramirez and non-tendering of closer Bobby Jenks.

And as much as Williams deferred comment on Dunn winding up an initial question with, Ah, since its out there, why dont we talk about that tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the ballpark the GM was in an uncommonly impish mood.

He praised writers for making it easy on him with their questions, and at one point acknowledging with a hearty laugh that not only would a Dunn type (Im not going to speak on something that hasnt happened yet.) help invigorate his fan base and drive sales, but it might be important to the general managers health and his long-term employment prospects.

Amazing what signing a fella who averages 40 homers every 162 games and answers to the name Big Donkey does to lighten an outlook. In fact Dunn has hit at least 38 homers in each of the last seven seasons during time spent with the Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds. That includes 38 home runs and 103 RBI last season with the Nationals.

Indeed, the underpinning of the day wasnt the non-tendering of Jenks but the newfound aggressiveness of a White Sox team most felt would be too busy pulling hair out trying to balance the books all offseason to ink front-line free agents.

If you take the initiative and make a statement by signing top talent, Williams said, hopefully your fan interest follows.

Williams will not stop with inking Dunn, he asserted. Next up though not in the 1-2 fashion thats been speculated is the re-signing of Paul Konerko.

Ive made no secrets that we have strong interest in bringing him back, Williams said. Theres payroll room, and it would be the ideal fit, from my perspective.

Williams added that at the end of the season he assured Konerko of his desire to bring him back, but that he wouldnt hurt his team by endlessly waiting: Its a fine line I have to walk right now where I am respectful of his process, but were also putting the best baseball team on the field.

Nonetheless, the unofficial agreement between the two men was to give Konerko a chance to shop himself at the Winter Meetings next week, so its unlikely the White Sox make another major free agent move before then.

The Dunn signing bears a close resemblance to the last time Konerko was a free agent, in the afterglow of the 2005 World Series win. Williams aggressively swapped Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome, who promptly all but begged Konerko to come to Chicago so the two sluggers could play together. Surely, Dunn will be slipped Paulies digits over the next few days.

Reportedly in too late or reacting too slow to the Detroits wooing of Victor Martinez, Williams pounced to acquire Dunn, amounting to a counterpunch and TKO of the aggressive Tigers.

The 31-year-old has a career isolated power (batting average subtracted from slugging average) of a riotous .271. Bill James projects 39 homers and an .844 OPS for Dunn in 2011, but you can bet your fanny such projections will skyrocket with the prospect of Dunn treating U.S. Cellular Field as his own personal bandbox.

And while Dunn bears distinct similarities to Thome, the Big Donkey arrives in Chicago four years younger and with a much healthier history.

Prioritizing Dunn and Konerko could well cost the White Sox A.J. Pierzynski, who is rumored to have lost patience as a lower priority and is on the verge of inking with the Toronto Blue Jays.

As much as Pierzynski is beloved on the South Side (Williams today saying, I value A.J., as another important piece to a championship and winning a division in 08. Hes an important part of our clubhouse and an important part of Chicago. I would love to have him back.), he is an expendable piece on the whole, and the savings on his 6.75 million deal can be plugged right into Dunn-Konerko.

Williams was also very soft on Jenks, speaking of his pride in the burly fireballer and complimenting his work as, of all things, a father.

The GM explained that the decision to non-tender had almost nothing to do with Jenks himself but that the White Sox couldnt afford another arbitration award of 7 million-plus (Jenks briefly set a record with his 7.5 million award last season.)

Bobby helped bring a World Series to Chicago and I will never forget that, Williams said. And I havent closed the door on bringing him back.

Still, Williams said he was perfectly comfortable with Matt Thornton as his closer for 2011 and would be willing to kick the tires on Sergio Santos or even Chris Sale in the role.

Sales position this season appears entirely dependent on Jake Peavys readiness without Peavy, Sale is the teams fifth starter, and with a healthy Peavy, Sale is the No. 2 lefty in the bullpen.

And finally, while its been assumed that Carlos Quentins role on the White Sox will shrink with the acquisition of a new primary DH and CQs defensive ability being best suited for that position, Williams was having none of it. Quentin is decidedly not on the trading block.

Carlos Quentin is playing right field for us, and Ozzie Guillen will decide where he hits in the lineup, said the GM as he turned deadpan.

Fridays presumed press conference will give the giddy side of Ken Williams another chance to surface. If the player next to him being introduced as the newest member of the White Sox is indeed Dunn, you can bet that the hardliner will turn to grins and giggles once more.

Former White Sox OF Tim Raines elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

Former White Sox OF Tim Raines elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

On his tenth and final year on the ballot, Tim Raines finally earned enough votes to earn the title of being a baseball immortal. 

"Rock" Raines will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer after 86 percent of voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America cast ballots for the former White Sox outfielder. Raines played for the White Sox from 1991-1995, but was best known for being a star outfielder for the Montreal Expos from 1979-1990.

Raines received the second-highest vote percentage among the three players who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell (86.2 percent) and former Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins and Detroit Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez (76 percent) will join Raines in the class of 2017. 

Over his 23-year career, Raines put together a Hall of Fame-worthy resume in spite of being overshadowed by fellow leadoff hitter and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. Over 10,359 plate appearances (63rd all-time), Raines stole 808 bases (5th), drew 1,330 walks (38th), scored 1,571 runs (54th), hit 113 triples (118th) and had an on-base percentage of .385 (135th). His 69.1 WAR ranks 73rd in major league history and is squarely in the realm of plenty of current Hall of Famers, including Barry Larkin (70.2), Carlton Fisk (68.2), and Ryne Sandberg (67.5), among others.

Raines made seven consecutive All-Star teams from 1981-1987 and won the 1987 All-Star Game MVP. He led the National League in runs scored twice, led the National League with 38 doubles in 1984, hit a league-best .334 in 1986 and stole 70 or more bases in six consecutive seasons (including 90 in 1983).

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In 1993, Raines was an integral part to the White Sox American League West crown, with the then-33-year-old hitting .306 with an .880 OPS, both of which were his best marks of his post-Expos career. 

"We got a guy at the top who could steal bases," former White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura, who played with Raines from 1991-1995, recalled last summer. "He got on base and did a lot of things. A switch-hitter that could get on base and steal some bases. He was a definite impact, similar to what Rickey did with the A's and some other teams. He just immediately gave credibility at the top of the lineup.

"… When you break down his numbers with some other people, I think he ranks right up there with anybody."

Still, Raines' Hall of Fame election has hardly been a sure thing since he debuted on the 2008 ballot. His year-by-year vote percentages reveal gradual progress, then a surge in 2016:

2008: 24.3 percent
2009: 22.6 percent
2010: 30.4 percent
2011: 37.5 percent
2012: 48.7 percent
2013: 52.2 percent
2014: 46.1 percent
2015: 55.0 percent
2016: 69.8 percent

"This is probably the first year out of the nine years that I've been on the ballot that I really, really feel like I have a chance," Raines said last May. 

What began as a sort of fringy, sabermetric-oriented campaign to get Raines elected eventually received a groundswell of support from a broad voting audience. And because of it, on July 30 this summer, Raines will head to Cooperstown to take his place among the greatest players to ever play the game. 

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

Bobby Howry wasn't aware of the fact he was part of one of the more infamous transactions in White Sox history until a few years after it happened. 

In 1997, with the White Sox only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, general manager Ron Schueler pulled the trigger on a massive trade that left many around Chicago — including some in the White Sox clubhouse — scratching their heads. Heading to the San Francisco Giants was the team's best starting pitcher (left-hander Wilson Alvarez), a reliable rotation piece (Doug Drabek) and a closer coming off a 1996 All-Star appearance (Roberto Hernandez). In return, the White Sox acquired six minor leaguers: right-handers Howry, Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, left-hander Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. Only Foulke had major league experience, and it wasn't exactly good (an 8.26 ERA in 44 2/3 innings). 

Howry was largely oblivious to the shocking nature of the trade that brought him from the Giants to White Sox until, before the 1999 season, he was featured in a commercial that referenced the "White Flag trade."

"I don't even know if I knew it was called that before then," Howry recalled last weekend at the Sheraton Grand Chicago at Cubs Convention. 

The trade was a stark signal that youth would be emphasized on 35th and Shields. Both Alvarez and Hernandez were set to become free agents after the 1997 season, and the 40-year-old Darwin wasn't a long-term piece, either. With youngsters like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee rising through the farm system, the move was made with an eye on the future and maximizing the return on players who weren't going to be long-term pieces. 

Sound familiar? 

It's hardly a perfect comparison, but when the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in December for four minor leaguers — headlined by top-100 prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — it was the first rebuilding blockbuster trade the organization had made since the 1997 White Flag deal. Shortly after trading their staff ace at the 2016 Winter Meetings, the White Sox shipped Adam Eaton — their best position player — to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects featuring two more highly-regarded youngsters in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. 

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And there still could be more moves on the horizon, too, for Rick Hahn's White Sox (Jose Quintana has been the subject of persistent rumors since the Winter Meetings). But for those looking for an optimistic outlook of the White Sox rebuilding plans, it's worth noting that the club's last youth movement, to an extent, was successful.

Only Howry (3.74 ERA over 294 games) and Foulke (2.87 ERA, 100 saves over 346 games) became significant long-term pieces for the White Sox from those six players brought over in 1997. And it wasn't like Schueler dealt away any of the franchise's cornerstones — like Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Robin Ventura — but with future starters in Lee, Ordonez and Chris Singleton on their way the White Sox were able to go young. A swap of promising youthful players (Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko) proved to be successful a year and a half later. 

And with a couple of shrewd moves — namely, dealing Jamie Navarro and John Snyder to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin — the "Kids Can Play" White Sox stormed to an American League Central title in 2000. 

"It was great," Howry said of developing with so many young players in the late 1999's and 2000. "You come in and you feel a lot more comfortable when you got a lot of young guys and you're all coming up together and building together. It's not like you're walking into a primarily veteran clubhouse where you're kind of having to duck and hide all the time. We had a great group of guys and we built together over a couple of years, and putting that together was a lot of fun."

What sparked things in 2000, Howry said, was that ferocious brawl with the Detroit Tigers on April 22 in which 11 players were ejected (the fight left Foulke needing five stitches and former Tigers catcher/first baseman Robert Fick doused in beer). 

"About the time we had that fight with Detroit, that big brawl, all of a sudden after then we just seemed to kind of come together and everything started to click and it took off," Howry said. 

The White Sox went 80-81 in 1998 and slipped to 75-86 in 1999, but their 95-67 record in 2000 was the best in the league — though it only amounted to a three-game sweep at the hands of the wild-card winning Seattle Mariners. 

Still, the White Flag trade had a happy ending two and a half years later. While with the White Sox, Howry didn't feel pressure to perform under the circumstances with which he arrived, which probably helped those young players grow together into eventual division champions. 

"I was 23 years old," Howry said. "At 23 years old, I didn't really — I was just like, okay, I'm still playing, I got a place to play. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into three veteran guys for six minor leaguers."