Organizational Rankings: #17

Today, we keep looking at some teams that have legitimate hope, so it gets harder from here on out. And, for those of you who haven’t seen the previous parts (which are linked below), keep in mind that this is a forward looking exercise – we are evaluating clubs on their overall ability to contend for a World Series title in the future. We are not evaluating how they have performed historically. This is about the health of each organization going forward.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins
#28: Houston Astros
#27: Kansas City Royals
#26: Pittsburgh Pirates
#25: San Diego Padres
#24: Cincinnati Reds
#23: Colorado Rockies
#22: Detroit Tigers
#21: St. Louis Cardinals
#20: Toronto Blue Jays
#19: San Francisco Giants
#18: Minnesota Twins

#17: Chicago White Sox

Ownership: B

Jerry Reinsdorf has a reputation for being a lot of things, but most of those are leftover from his more aggressive days in the 1990s. Of late, he’s settled into more of a bankroll position, handing the White Sox enough cash to be an upper echelon team in payroll over the last five years. While they built the worst of the new stadiums, it still generates a solid amount of revenue, and the White Sox shouldn’t have too many problems maintaining a high level of payroll for the foreseeable future.

Front Office: B-

What can you say about Kenny Williams. He gets into public feuds with his manager, former players, media members, scouts… let’s just say he’s a challenge to work with. And, early in his career as a GM, he did some really dumb things. But he’s grown, he’s adapted, and now he’s more like that obsessive fantasy league owner who won’t stop trading until he has a good team again. He stole Carlos Quentin from the D’Backs and John Danks from the Rangers. He built a bullpen out of waiver claims like Bobby Jenks and Matt Thornton. He got bargains with veteran sluggers Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye (the first contract, not the second one). He’s always making moves to try and make the club better, and while he misses some, he’s shown a knack for snagging talent at the right time and putting together consistently good squads. Plus, he’s stayed somewhat sane while dealing with Ozzie Guillen on a daily basis, so he gets a few extra credit points.

Major League Talent: C+

Are they contending with an aging core (Thome, Dye, Konerko, Pierzynski, Contreras, Colon, even Buehrle to an extent) or rebuilding with a youth movement (Ramirez, Fields, Quentin, Danks, and Floyd)? Leave it to Kenny Williams to try both simultaneously. There’s some good young players in place, but the teams fortunes are still heavily tied to the aging stars of yesterday. On the positive side, most of those players are still contributors, and the White Sox should have enough firepower to keep up in the AL Central this year, providing they can fix their two gaping holes – center field and second base. With competent major league players in those spots, they’ll be a quality team this year, and the future salary obligations take a huge dive after the year ends, which should allow Williams to surround the young talent with some more productive high paid players.

Minor League Talent: C

Gordon Beckham‘s move to second base gives him a quick path to the major leagues, and the offense is there for him to be an all-star caliber player at the keystone for years to come. Aaron Poreda is actually one of the more underrated arms in the minors, I think – his secondary stuff needs work, but his combination of velocity, sink, and command can get him through while his slider catches up to his fastball. After those two, it gets a little more tricky – Brandon Allen and Dayan Viciedo both offer intriguing power bats, but neither of them are much defensively, so where they fit into a future line-up is in question. Tyler Flowers was a nice pickup in the Javier Vazquez trade, and Jordan Danks and John Shelby provide some position player depth. It’s not a great system, but it’s not nearly as bad as most people think.

Overall: C+

Hard to believe that Jerry Reinsdorf is the strength of the organization, but there you go. The team has enough resources to consistently compete for high salaried players, and Kenny Williams has shown an aptitude for picking up enough good, cheap role players to surround his core and make consistent runs at playoff spots. The roster is in transition, but they should be able to avoid a total rebuild and win while reloading. They make some strange moves, but overall, the package mostly works. It could improved upon, but it’s not a bad time to be a White Sox fan.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


47 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: #17”

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  1. Logger says:

    Let the Mariner bashing and accusations of Mariner bias commence…

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    • Wally says:

      I haven’t been meaning to Mariner bash, it just seems rather suspicious how much weight Dave is giving to the projection of how Zduriencik will do as a GM.

      Anyway, I still had the White Sox below the M’s in my personal ranking another poster put up his remaining list in the last part so let continue it:

      16 mariners
      15 rangers
      14 orioles
      13 brewers
      12 dbacks
      11 angels
      10 dodgers
      9 phillies
      8 athletics
      7 mets
      6 cubs
      5 rays
      4 yankees
      3 braves
      2 Indians
      1 red sox

      It was pretty hard for me to arrange the order from the Brewers to the Cubs. Balancing a team as a heavy favorite to win the division this year, with poor other aspects was difficult. Ultimately I gave more weight to teams more likely to win this year, sense that is easier to predict than 2-4 years down the road. Hence the Cubs are ahead of the A’s, for example.

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      • Todd says:

        I wonder if this is where you have some philosophical discord with these rankings. I don’t think you could/should take a “let’s wait and see” approach to evaluating a GM. I think that you can make a pretty good evaluation of a GM and his (or her, somebody hire Kim Ng already) transactions even before that team takes the field. The Ms have had a *very* good off season, and this reflects well on Jack Z and his philosophy. I don’t think Dave is evaluating him just on a “projection” (although we can tell what sort of moves he will make in the future based on what moves he makes now).

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      • ESW says:

        I would expect the Angels to actually be one of the next couple teams. They’re still the favorites in 2009, but not by much at all, and I think all 3 other teams in the division are in significantly better shape past that.

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      • Wally says:

        You got my “wait and see” approach wrong. I’m not waiting for his team to win, I’m waiting for more than 3 months of a body of work as a GM to make a strong conclusion about his abilities. That first trade of Putz was great, but that was kind of a no-brainer right? A team like the Mariners has no business keeping an overvalued closer. That he recognizes that is great, but there’s a lot more to being a GM. Other than that trade I don’t see much information to go off of. The Griffey signing was questionable, but its not for much money. So basically, his history is pretty good, but its not long enough to make a strong conclusion.

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      • Wally says:

        ESW, yes I debated putting the Angels lower, but their chance to win the division this year takes them past the O’s and Rangers, who are pretty far off.

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      • ThundaPC says:

        Eh, don’t take this the wrong way Wally, but your criteria reads more like a glorified PECOTA/CHONE projection than something that provides insight on where organizations around the league stack up. This is the kind of analysis that allows people to miss the boat on the possibility that the Devil Rays will eventually be good. Keep in mind, the Rays revamped Ownership/Front Office has been around since late 2005.

        I think people are getting too worked up over teams being not being ranked where they expect them to be ranked. This feature should be used for people to educate themselves further about what’s going on with other organizations around baseball and how likely they are to build and/or maintain a World Series caliber team.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        You can’t take Dave’s rankings as gospel. Often educated fans of a certain team, have a better idea of how their team is set up for the future, than Dave, who is going broad spectrum (I’m not meaning to imply that he isn’t thorough, but he just doesn’t pay attention to teams equally)

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      • Double06 says:

        VEP — agreed. Dave has said before on USSM that it’s physically impossible for a national writer, no matter how good he is, to cover one ballclub as well as a blogger who is devoted to writing for one team. This series is some of Dave’s most fascinating work and it’s too bad that people put unrealistic expectations that he’s not covering their team as well as the team’s bloggers can.

        I can’t believe how many times this needs to be repeated: This isn’t objective writing. People need to stop treating it like it’s definitive analysis and take it for what it’s worth.

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      • Wally says:

        Thunda, I’m not sure how I would take that the wrong way, it is what it is. So to answer your criticism: Yes I did look at the projections for this year, but I also looked at the farm rankings, and used what I knew about ownership/FO tendencies. For example, the Rangers are out of it this year, but they have one of the best farm systems in the game right now. However, I see a GM that has a dubious trade history, and appears to have major problems signing good pitching. Add it up, and despite their farm system, I’m not terribly optimistic about their chances going forward.

        Then you comment on the Rays. Well, they have a very good team, but it probably isn’t going to reach the playoffs this year. Second, they have a great farm, so they look good past 2009. However, what happens when all this young talent starts getting expensive? I can’t answer that question, so I have to take them down a peg or two.

        Also, ask yourself this question: If this we strictly a PECOTA projection, why are the dodgers so low? Why would I put the favorites in there division behind a team expected to finished 3rd?

        Lastly, this wasn’t meant to be terribly insightful all by itself, just the ranking without much explanation can’t tell you much. But it was fun for me to put together, and I figured it would spark some conversation.

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  2. Bberdl20 says:

    I basically agree with the general commentary but I am a little surprised by the corresponding grades and ranking. This team won a competitive AL Central last year and, although the major league roster might be weaker, improved as an organization this past off season. I think Kenny has proven he knows how to win on the fly. I do not believe that 16 other big league organizations are in a better position than the White Sox moving forward and look forward to you pleading your case in future installments.

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    • Walter Jones says:

      Agreed. Just like in the AL Central standings last year, it appears as though the Twins and ChiSox are tied. Interestingly, they also each take marginal prospects and wipeouts and turn them into valuable pieces — I wouldn’t blink, for example, if Jeff Marquez suddenly was among the top 15 pitchers in the league next year. At the same time, with *very* few exceptions (Ortiz, maybe Carlos Lee), we’ve rarely seen players from either system have the same level of success at their next stop. Somehow, they’ve held off the Indians and Tigers from creating should-be dynasties in the ALC.

      Also: Beckham playing 2B this spring has less to do with him than it does with Chris Getz. All signs point to him as the SS for 2010 or 2011, with Ramirez in CF or back at 2B (if he’s not traded).

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    • Todd says:

      I think you should put the word competitive in quotes–> just because they (barely) won a very weak division doesn’t really mean they should be any higher than where Dave has put them. If Williams has proven he can win on the fly (whatever that means), where was he two years ago? He’s a “clutch” GM?
      They are where they should be in these rankings– decidedly middle of the pack.

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      • Walter Jones says:

        I think Kenny was in the same place two years ago where Dombrowski and Shapiro are crawling out of today.

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      • Todd says:

        Here’s a question…. if Cleveland had decided to keep Sabathia instead of trying to trade him, would they have won the division?

        88 wins gets you into a 3 way tie for the division
        Cleveland finishes the year with 81 wins.

        Sabathia record with Milwaukee after the trade– 11-2, 5.3 WARP, 5.6 WXRL. (don’t know his Brewers FIP, but for the year it was 2.91)

        This is very crude and imperfect, but it *may* have been close. While you could argue that pitching in the NL helped his numbers, pitching against a week AL central offense (I’m looking at you, Minnesota and KC) might offset that somewhat.

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      • Todd says:

        err. “weak”

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      • Double06 says:

        Hmm… tRA has his time in Milwaukee at 5.5 WAR, so it would still be very unlikely. Keep in mind that it can’t be assumed that Sabathia would have given Cleveland the kind of performance he gave Milwaukee, or that the rest of the Cleveland roster would have performed the same way with Sabathia still there. We can guess with some amount of probability, but the “if (blank) would have happened, (blank) would have happened too” arguments don’t hold any water.

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      • Todd says:

        On July 7, Cleveland is 37-51 (.420 pct), in last place in the AL central, 14 games back of Chicago. They had lost 8 in a row, including being swept on the road at Chicago and Minnesota. With 72 games to go, they played 44-28 (.611) without Sabathia, a feat in itself. (The Angels with the best record in baseball had a .617 pct to end the year.) To get to 88 wins, they would have needed to go 51-21 (a .708 pct), which seems crazy.

        But perhaps they would not have needed to get to 88 wins. They still had 6 games against the White Sox (which they went 4-2) and 9 against Minnesota (which they went 5-4). Three of those losses were in starts by Jeremy Sowers (0.2 WARP), one by Bryan Bullington (0.2 WARP), one by Matt Ginter 0.7 WARP), and one by Carmona (2.3 WARP).

        Those first three starters pretty much define replacement value. Replace one of them with the Milwaukee Sabathia, and it’s quite possible some of those extra 6 wins would have come at the expense of Chicago and Minnesota. Even if you take just one win away from each, giving them 87 wins, that definitely puts them within striking distance with a Cleveland with a second half Sabathia.

        Of course, it’s not guaranteed that Cleveland wold get the same C.C., but one could even argue that had not Yost pushed him so hard at the end of the season– starting him on very short rest on a number of occasions because he was essentially the only starter the Brewers had– his FIP would have been even lower and his WARP would have been higher. Do I think they likely would have caught up? No, and there were other factors staring Shapiro in the face; namely, the fact that Sabathia was going to test the free agent market and the Brewers blew him away with an offer he couldn’t refuse. But I do think the race would have been much closer than people realize.

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      • Todd says:

        Actually, Yost was fired on September 16. Dale Sveum took over, and soon the Sabathia-on-little-rest followed.

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  3. Benne says:

    This is about where I expected the White Sox to end up—no major strengths that make you pencil them into the playoffs for the next decade, but no major weaknesses either

    The Rangers, O’s and Dodgers have to be coming up next, I can feel it….

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    • math_geek says:

      I think the Rangers and Orioles are riding out on their farm systems which are excellent and really good respectively. Plus, Mariners fans have to give Andy MacPhail some props for fleecing them on the Erik Bedard deal, and the Orioles have started to jump on the undervalued talent bandwagon (Outfield defense – Pie/Scott/Jones/Markakis), (failed prospects – Felix Pie, Rich Hill, even Jeremy Guthrie). Texas may have zero pitching and things like Chan Ho Park weighing them down, but they’ve also got the best minor league system in baseball.

      The Dodgers don’t have any of that, but they do probably have the best major league team in the NL West. That’s got to be worth something.

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  4. Aaron/YYZ says:

    Dave, I chuckled at the bit about giving Williams for staying sane while dealing with his psychopathic manager. I wonder whether it knocks them down a bit in the Talent Acquisition and Integration aspects of the organization since Ozzie is for sure going to rub a bunch of players the wrong way (even if he does get a TON out of other guys). Kind of reminds me of Mike Keenan.

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    • Keith says:

      I know it’s rather easy to take the ‘bash Guillen’ side of an argument, but who are all these players that have ‘hated’ playing under Guillen? I follow (among several others who frequent fangraphs on a fairly regular basis) the Sox pretty closely and it’s tough for me to recall any players who had bad words for Guillen after they left the organization. The most I can remember is Orlando Cabrera mentioning that he liked playing for Mike Scioscia more, but there wasn’t much beyond that. I also seem to remember a minor spat with Magglio Ordonez, but even that seemed to have been extinguished rather quickly. Basically, I think your exaggerating because when Ozzie says something it tends to get a lot of publicity, so the moments are rather memorable.

      I’d also be interested in seeing where Kenny Williams’ grade of B- ranks among all GMs. It’s always been kind of interesting to see folks put Mark Shapiro on a pedestal (despite all of one playoff appearance under his watch) while bashing Williams*.

      *I should note that the author’s analysis of KW seemed pretty even-handed. I was just making a general observation.

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      • Wally says:

        Frank Thomas says hi.

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      • Keith says:

        I’m not really sure what you’re referring to, Wally. I can’t vouch for the days when Guillen and Thomas played as teammates but when in 2004 and 2005 I can’t recall Guillen and Thomas having any issues. In fact, I think I recall a quote from Thomas reflecting pretty kindly on Guillen as a manager.

        Perhaps you’re thinking of Kenny Williams? He was the one who got into it a bit with Thomas but even that died down rather quickly — heck, Williams almost always brings up Thomas in a positive light when discussing the steroids issue, noting that Thomas is one of the guys who stood out as ‘doing things the right way’.

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      • Wally says:

        I’m pretty sure this isn’t the only one of its kind: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2040251

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      • Wally says:

        I’d like to point out, in the end they both say it was nothing, but that’s what they have to say when questioned about it later. Guillen says stupid shit about his players from time to time, how much he really means by that, I don’t know. Maybe he’s just a hot head with a big mouth, but it happens.

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      • Keith says:

        Meh — like I said, both sides seemed to have buried the hatchet. I also think that Guillen thinks that his saying “stupid shit” (not necessarily the article above, but some of the other things) is a way to keep the pressure/attention off the players and on him. I guess it’s just kind of however you want to look at it…

        And — even if I grant you Thomas — I’m still not seeing all of these players who have hated playing under Guillen to the point where it’s a detriment for the Sox to have him as manager (which is really what’s relevant).

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  5. U-God says:

    Perfect spot for us

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  6. Ted says:

    I’m sorry I must be reading the list incorrectly because I have yet to see the mariners, rangers, and orioles. Which you can not possibly make a case for having a better shot in the next few years of winning a World Series then the Cardinals, Twins, or White Sox!

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    • JH says:

      Yes you can. The Orioles have been very, very well-run since MacPhail took over and have a terriffic young core, and Texas has the best farm system in baseball.

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      • Terminator X says:

        No disagreement on Texas or Seattle, but the Orioles are a tough call. I think in a context neutral vacuum the Orioles grade out pretty well (I love their position player talent, but in my admittedly weak knowledge of the team the pitching seems a little questionable, both currently and looking forward), but if we’re to look at their chances of beating out all but 1 of their division mates it looks bleaker for them (and likewise, the Jays). It’s a very tough situation to look at and there’s no clear right answer.

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      • JH says:

        The Orioles have the core pieces to build a championship team. It will be hard as hell in the AL East, but Markakis is already a 6 win player with room to grow, Wieters and Adam Jones could easily be 5-win players as soon as this year, and Roberts, while not young and cheap, is a 4 WAR player for the foreseeable future and he’ll be an Oriole for the next 4 years, and Felix Pie still has 3-win upside. To top it off, they have one of the best trios of pitching prospects in baseball in Tillman, Matusz, and Arrieta. A good GM can build a championship team around that core, even in the AL East. It will be hard as shit, but it can be done. With those tools, MacPhail’s the kind of GM who can compete in that division.

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      • Terminator X says:

        Fairly familiar with Tillman (Mariners fan here) but my knowledge of the other two end at name recognition and various prospect rankings. Seems there’s a much higher volatility and unpredictability involved in pitching prospects and all other things equal I’d rather have the young ML pitching talent with the stud position players a few years away, and while I think 5 WAR apiece for Wieters and Jones is… well, optimistic. I’m extremely high on the Orioles, but there’s alot that can go wrong, they’ve got stiff divisional competition, and as such there’s likely a good argument to be made for ranking them lower. I’m fine with them in the top-15 though.

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      • JH says:

        To be a 5 WAR player (assuming his defensive skills don’t decline from ’08 to ’09, Adam Jones needs to be about 15 batting runs above average (a .364 wOBA over 600 PAs, less if he can rack up 650-700). For a player with his tools and track record, a that really isn’t far out of the realm of expectations. Bill James, CHONE, and ZIPS have him between .334 and .339, which would make him a 3.3-3.5 WAR player. Keep in mind, those are median projections. At age 23, .364 is somewhere between a 75th percentile and 90th percentile projection for Jones, but he definitely has that kind of upside and the ability to reach it quickly. This is a kid who put up a wOBA of .408 in triple-A at the age of 21.

        If we’re comfortable calling Wieters a +5 defender given the scouting reports of above average catching skills, 12.5 batting runs above average makes him a +5 player at catcher. Again, that’s definitely on the high-end of his range of possible outcomes, but we’re not talking about 1 in a million possibilities here.

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  7. Kevin S. says:

    I’m stunned we had a discussion of of the White Sox front office without talking about the one-tool player they took in the fifth round who happened to be the GM’s son. Nepotism over talent acquisition should cost you major points. Also, no mention of buying high and selling low on Swisher? I mean, anybody with a cursory understanding of BABiP knows Swisher is an easy comeback candidate, and Wilson Betemit’s probably less valuable than Swish was even last season.

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    • Stephven says:

      Nepotism over talent acquisition? How much major league talent do you think is historically acquired with the 180th pick? Here’s the complete list, in case you were wondering.

      Reggie Sanders
      Bobby Thigpen
      LaTroy Hawkins
      Bret Barberie
      Tom Foley
      Ryan Jackson
      Matt Maysey
      Mike Overy

      Not much to write home about, is it?

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    • Erick says:

      He mentions that he misses some. He doesn’t need to address them individually in a one-paragraph summary. If you look at the sum total of Williams’ moves as GM, B- is pretty accurate.

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  8. Bill says:

    Not to derail what is supposed to be discussion of the White Sox, but to Terminator’s comment, the Orioles have three highly regarded pitchers a year a way in Matsutz, Arrieta, and, thanks to Bavasi, Tillman. So, there is a good chance Baltimore is competitive in 2010.

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  9. U-God says:

    Just a quick fix, but Thornton wasn’t a waiver-wire guy. We traded Joe Borchard for him.

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    • Erick says:

      He probably meant waiver wire in the context of his fantasy baseball comparison as opposed to actual method of acquisition.

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  10. Erick says:

    Also “worst of the new stadiums” is arguable, but certainly it has been vastly improved since it opened, particularly with the modifications to the upper deck. People seem to get hung up on the Not Camden Yards-ness of it, but it really is a good place to see a game that has improved since it opened. I don’t expect the writer to address that in detail in a summary of this length, but it seemed worth noting.

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  11. ?????…, ? ? ??? ?? ???? ????, ???-?? ?????? ?? ????? ?????, ???? ???????? ?? ??? ?? ??????? :) ?? ???? ?????????? :)

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  12. Patrick says:

    Matt Thorton wasn’t a waiver claim.

    He was acquired from the Mariners of all teams.

    It was a swap of 1st round busts.

    The Sox were fed up with Joe Borchard (he of the largest signing bonus in club history due to the fact that he had leverage as a Stanford QB)

    The Mariners were willing to give up on Matt Thorton in exchange for Borchard’s promise (he does, after all, have the record for longest HR hit in new Comiskey [The Big Hurt is a close 2nd]).

    Anyway, the MVP of this trade is Don Cooper. It took only a couple of bullpen sessions with Coop for Thorton to iron out his mechanics- he’s been “Easy Heat” ever since.

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