Thome-to-Sox deal becomes official
'This is not your average player,' Williams says of slugger
CHICAGO -- During Ken Williams' 30-minute conference call with the Chicago media Friday night, the White Sox general manager took some time to talk about the player he had just sent to Philadelphia.
Williams mentioned his past talks with Aaron Rowand around the batting cages in Class A or Double-A ball, when doubt or frustration had temporarily caused Rowand's confidence to wane. He talked about the pride in Rowand's eyes when he got married or had his two children, and then emotionally added that his call to Rowand on Wednesday was the toughest one Williams has made since being put in charge of the White Sox.
"He did a lot better job of getting through it than I did," Williams said of his talk with Rowand. "If anyone thinks this was easy or heartless, they don't have any idea."
Those strong feelings expressed by Williams should give the large mass of White Sox fans, who run the gamut of emotions from optimistic to irate over the trade of one of the franchise's most representative and popular players, a little bit of an idea as to the importance of Jim Thome's addition. The trade for Thome became official late Friday, when both Thome and Rowand passed their physicals and the Commissioner's office approved the deal.
Philadelphia will pick up $22 million of the $46 million still owed to Thome over the next three years, with an option on the slugging first baseman for 2009. The White Sox also sent Minor League hurler Daniel Haigwood to the Phillies, along with a player to be named later, who will likely be Gio Gonzalez. The young left-hander, who recently turned 20, was projected by two sources close to his development with the ability to help the Phillies in some capacity as early as next season.
If healthy -- and there's no reason to believe that he won't be at full strength by Spring Training -- Thome not only will help the White Sox, he will give the South Siders one of the strongest middle of the orders in all of baseball. The 35-year-old left-hander, who has 430 career home runs, as well as 1,193 RBIs and 1,257 walks, became expendable in 2005 after back problems and surgery on his right elbow gave Ryan Howard a chance at first base. Howard went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year award.
It was just three years ago, prior to the 2003 season, when Thome made a pitch to join the Cubs as a free agent. Now, the Peoria, Ill., native could play a key role in helping the White Sox repeat their 2005 World Series heroics.
"This is a dream come true," said Thome, who officially will be presented to Chicago during a 1 p.m. CT press conference Monday at U.S. Cellular Field. Thome waived a no-trade clause to join the White Sox. "Growing up in Peoria, I was a fan of both baseball teams in Chicago.
"Last year was extremely special for the White Sox, and for me to come in and be a part of this organization is exciting. We are going to have some fun."
Anyone who knew Rowand for even the shortest period of time quickly understood he was one of the classiest and most giving players in baseball. Anyone who has spent the same brief time frame around Thome knows that he belongs in that same club as Rowand.
In fact, Williams mentioned there were a couple of other players on the open market who were considered as options to improve his team. But Thome's character and strength in the clubhouse -- not to mention his potential to hit .280 to .300 and 35 to 40 home runs -- made him Williams' object of choice since the end of 2005.
"Jim Thome is a pretty good guy himself," said Williams with great understatement, referring to Thome being chosen as Sporting News' "No. 1 Good Guy" in Major League Baseball in 2005 for his fundraising efforts in Peoria. Thome also was honored with the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award and the 2001 Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. He has helped raise more than $1 million for the Children's Hospital of Illinois during his career.
"I felt strongly that we needed a left-hander to hit behind [Paul] Konerko. We also needed a good positive presence in the clubhouse and a fighter along the lines that Rowand is.
"This is not your average player," added Williams of Thome. "This is one of the top-of-the-line run producers, and we are very fortunate to have him. Sometimes, you have to pay the piper to get guys."
As Williams stated, the acquisition of Thome was directly aimed at adding support and protection for Paul Konerko in the lineup. Williams also mentioned Friday that he not only told Konerko of his plan before the players departed Chicago for the offseason but gave him Thome's name as his specific target.
Williams added that White Sox assistant general manager Rick Hahn talked with Craig Landis, Konerko's agent, a few days ago but that there was nothing more to report. Konerko's camp appears set on going through the free agent process and taking it through the Winter Meetings, which begin on Dec. 5 in Dallas.
If Konerko eventually decides to move on to another team, then Thome serves as a tremendous insurance policy. Konerko's departure also seems to be the only plausible way for Frank Thomas to continue his career during season No. 17 in Chicago, although Williams said Friday that the condition of Thomas' left ankle remains "open-ended."
"There's just not enough information for me to make a sound decision for the team," said Williams of Thomas.
The move proves, once again, that Williams won't wait for the big-ticket trades or signings to come to him. In fact, he said Friday that "closure" would be put on the Konerko situation "around the Winter Meetings."
Williams also showed, for seemingly the 1,000th time in his tenure, that he's not afraid to give up someone valuable, someone very close to him, in order to get back something important. It was not a move he would have made at last year's trade deadline, afraid of disrupting his hard-charging crew's flow.
It's a move he felt needed to be put together during this offseason.
"We simply made an effort to get better," said Williams, who mentioned that the team will not lose much defensively and that it has improved significantly on offense with the addition of Thome and rookies Brian Anderson, Jerry Owens or Chris Young replacing Rowand in center field.
"Yes, I loved how we finished the season, obviously," Williams added. "But I stated early on that not only did we want to get to a point where we built a championship team, but we wanted to sustain that championship team. We needed to make some adjustments."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.