Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A decade too late?

The Chicago White Sox acquired a pair of players this week who, five years after they retire, will have some baseball types talking seriously about whether they belong in the Hall of Fame.

If by chance these deals had been done, say, a decade ago, we'd have people talking about how the White Sox were going all-out to ensure they will be contenders in 2010, and how they'd likely be the favorites to win the American League championship next season.

BUT INSTEAD OF making these deals in 1999, we're seeing them come along in 2009. Let's be honest, Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones aren't what they used to be on the playing field.

Which means that the amount of money they're able to command on the free agent market isn't the big bucks of the top stars. Assuming that both men have top-notch seasons and play well and receive every incentive bonus possible, they will each be paid less than $1.5 million (less than the major league average salary these days). Which is why they were available to the White Sox, who signed them both up.

There are those people who will argue that Vizquel is one of the best shortstops to ever play Major League Baseball, particularly when it comes to shortstops from Venezuela. Considering that the White Sox have had some of those shortstops during their history, that is something of a statement.

And as for Jones, he is definitely the best ballplayer to ever come out of Curacao -- and one of the top ballplayers of this era.

YET BOTH ARE past their prime, which is why Vizquel will get to finish his career on the South Side (becoming yet another aging Cleveland Indian who gets one last stretch of a major league season in Chicago). Should we start thinking of Cleveland as yet another extension of the White Sox' minor league system, producing ballplayers for our city's team at a point when they might have a season or so left?

As for Jones, he's no longer the perennial all-star of the Atlanta Braves. He's another part-time player, although the writeups announcing the deal on Wednesday make it sound like he's got the potential to be one of the White Sox' big bats for '10.

So now, the White Sox have an aging infielder to act as an all-around backup and an aging outfielder/designated hitter.

On one level, it might be nice to have veteran ballplayers whose experience rubs off on the younger talent whom the White Sox are counting on to guide them through the next few seasons of the 2010s.

BUT IF THAT doesn't work out, then 2010 has the potential to be the year that aging athletes from the socially insensitive teams of Cleveland and Atlanta got to spend some time wearing black and white.

Perhaps that is what made them want to come to Chicago. Playing for a team named for uncolored sweat sox isn't quite as embarrassing as having to go through a season wearing a cap with that ridiculous Chief Wahoo, or hearing fans in the stands doing an "Indian" chant in a southern drawl.


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