BASEBALL'S WHIRLWIND winter meetings featured a $155 million contract, trades involving the reigning Home Run Derby champ, the reigning MLB steals leader and a $100 million centerfielder, and many, many announcements by the Dodgers. Yet despite L.A.'s best efforts, the off-season's center of gravity at the meeting was held by Broad Shoulders, City of.
As much work as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer did, the Cubs may not even take the title of most improved team in their own city. The White Sox made the best trade of the off-season in swiping Jeff Samardzija from the A's for a fraction of the talent Oakland traded to the Cubs to get him five months ago. The South Siders also signed free-agent closer David Robertson to a four-year deal, then, after the meetings ended, locked up outfielder Melky Cabrera on a three-year contract. These players join earlier imports Adam LaRoche (first base) and Zach Duke (the second-best lefthanded reliever on the market) to make the White Sox the fastest-rising team in baseball so far this winter.
Credit GM Rick Hahn for surgical strikes. Committing $16 million a year to two relief pitchers is usually a good way to get the stathead lobby to point and laugh, but he had to try something: Chicago's bullpen was 14th in the AL in ERA last season, leading all AL relief staffs in walks and walk rate. Everyone but bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen got a shot at the closer's job, and even Thigpen was sitting by his phone in September. Robertson, Duke and lefty Dan Jennings, added from Miami in a minor trade, shore up the team's biggest weakness.
LaRoche and Cabrera address the other one: OBP. The White Sox were eighth in the AL in runs scored last year because they hit for power, but their .310 OBP was still a drag on the offense. LaRoche and his career .340 mark replace Adam Dunn (also .340 last year) and Paul Konerko (.254, eek). Defensively, LaRoche will also be an upgrade over those two and Jose Abreu, with Abreu picking up more DH at bats. Cabrera may not be a high-walk player, but he hits .300 and gets on base at a .340 clip. He replaces Dayan Viciedo, one of the most persistent out makers in all of baseball, in leftfield. For relatively small money by today's standards ($42 million for Cabrera and $25 million over two years for LaRoche), Hahn addressed his team's holes.
There's just one move left to make. The third pick in the 2014 draft, Carlos Rodon, is a polished 22-year-old lefty who, like Chris Sale before him, doesn't need to waste time in the minor leagues. The White Sox, not young even before last week, have now added more veterans; to complete the plan, Rodon needs to be in the majors for most, if not all, of next season. He's a far better option than the rest of the Sox' fifth-starter candidates. You've spent the money, you've burned the draft picks, now it's about getting the best team on the field. For the '15 White Sox, that means Rodon in the rotation. With him, they could be the favorites to win the division.
BRAD MANGIN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
SHARK ATTACK In acquiring Samardzija, the White Sox made the best trade of the off-season to date.