ESPN News is reporting that the Phillies have traded first baseman Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox for center fielder Aaron Rowand and a pair of pitching prospects.
The Phillies are reportedly sending $24 million to the White Sox, about half the money remaining on Thome's contract, the richest in club history.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that Thome has agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join the defending champs, but the deal is contingent on Thome passing a physical scheduled for Friday. Thome underwent season-ending elbow surgery in July and is currently rehabbing in Clearwater.
Beerleaguer take: What does it all mean?
If this deal comes to fruition, Pat Gillick will have upgraded outfield defense significantly while ridding the Phillies of their biggest offseason headache: the first base situation. The prospects, which weren't reported on in an earlier report on ESPN.com, only sweetens the pot. According to an anonymous baseball source quoted by the AP, those prospects are left-handed pitchers Giovany Gonzalez, Chicago's first-round pick in the 2004 amateur draft, and Daniel Haigwood.
The immediate impact from 2006 is leather. Lots of leather. According to Hardball Times Win Shares, Rowand - who has been compared with Jim Edmonds for his fearless play - was far and away the best defensive outfielder in baseball last season, better than such names as Brady Clark, Vernon Wells, Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon. Overall, adding his batting and fielding Win Shares together, he was ranked 32nd in baseball among outfielders.
The 28-year-old played 157 games last season with the world champs, all but a few in center field, hitting .270 with 13 homers and a .736 OPS. He earned $2 million last season and is expected to receive $3.25 million in 2006. Chicago has a club option for 2007 at $5 million and Rowand holds a player option for 2007 at $3.25 million.
Rowand took most of his cuts as a No. 5 hitter; the rest of the time, he saw action in the No. 3 or No. 6 hole.
Should the deal go through, it could spell the end for Jason Michaels, who would only be an expensive bench player. It will almost certainly block International League MVP Shane Victorino's path to a starting job in center field. The move could also be a prelude to GM Pat Gillick trading Bobby Abreu, in which case, Michaels could stay.
Why it's very, very good: Defense, defense, defense. Rowand is a tough, fearless defender who will give the Phils a G.I. Jim Edmonds presence in center field. With left field set to move back, Pat Burrell will need help in the outfield. And even with his "Gold Glove" on the mantle, Bobby needs help out there, too.
Why it's good: A $24 million payout takes care of half of Thome's contract. The headache is over: Ryan Howard plays his natural position, and the White Sox can worry about Thome, his back and his elbow through 2008, including an option for 2009. Rowand's 156 hits is nothing to sneeze at, and he gives the Phils more pop from the right side. At 28, he should be hitting his prime on a team that's suddenly getting a bit younger. He has some speed. Sudden jogjam of defensive center fielders creates opportunities to flip one of them out of town. The Phils are also getting two prospects with this deal, reportedly a set of pitchers.
Why it's bad: Rowand experienced a significant drop in offensive production between 2004 and 2005. In 2004 he hit .310/.361/.544 for an OPS of .905, compared to just .736 in '05. Rowand also adds more strikeouts to a lineup already loaded with them (116 last season). The Phillies did not address their biggest needs, major-league ready bullpen and starting pitching. Another good question: Where does he fit in with the lineup?
Why it could be very, very bad: If healthy, the Phils could be giving up 40 homers in Thome for a singles hitter with marginal power. Meanwhile, the Phils are putting all their chips behind Howard, who must prove he can hit left-handers and adapt to pitchers who are sure to adapt to him.
Thome trade nightcap
Thanks to everyone for their thoughtful comments in the thread below. I've been away from my computer this evening and have been wondering who these prospects were. The early report had Thome and cash for Rowand straight up. Later, the AP cited a source that said some pitching prospects were involved, and for me, that swung this trade clearly in favor of the Phils.
On some level, pitching should come from your own system, not bought for millions, and the fact that Hamels and Floyd represented all they had has been bothering me tremendously. It was a serious void they were desperate to fill, Gillick recognized it, and jumped at the opportunity. In addition, he improved defense in center field, something I thought he might pursue based on past decisions.
The Phillies are better today than they were yesterday; they are younger, they have deeper pockets and they took care of the Thome situation sooner rather than later. The latter is very important. They aren't nearly as "locked in" as many thought they would be this winter. The pieces from the Ed Wade are being disassembled one brick at a time. When was the last time a deal was made to fortify the farm system or improve defense? Granted, this situation was very different because of Howard, but it's amazing how many reports we're reading on Gillick probing the AL - teams like the White Sox, Toronto, Texas, Minnesota and Cleveland.
If the Mets want to take the easy way out and spend millions, than the Phillies need to be the ones who outsmart them with savvy baseball moves. It's time to get creative with bullpen and starting pitching. They can still win with David Bell at third and Mike Lieberthal at catcher, both playing to extend their careers beyond 2006. These are secondary holes. Focus on bullpen and starting pitching, and be especially creative in bullpen.
Considering the quality of the pitching prospects involved, in addition to the significant defensive upgrade in Rowand, this is a very good deal for the Phils, who are beginning to lay a younger, more dynamic foundation for 2006.