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Welcome Back to the A.L. Central...

Pending physicals, Jim Thome of Philadelphia returns to the American League Central Division in a swap with the Chicago White Sox for Aaron Rowand.

This move surprises me, because of the implications as much as the obvious.  On paper, and in an ideal world, the acquisition of Thome drops a heavy hitter into the middle of Chicago's batting order.  In return, Chicago sends a center fielder who was a legitimate Gold Glove contender to Philadelphia.

The Obvious

There are two ways of looking at this.  One, let's assume Thome is healthy.  If this is the case, not only are the Sox getting a potential 40-homer guy, they're getting him for minimal financial burden when considering his salary.  $46 million remains on the 35-year old's contract, of which Chicago will be responsible for only $24 million over the next three years.  If Podesdnik moves to center field and one of Chicago's youngsters moves into left, there's a drop in defensive eptitude but probably nothing too significant in terms of allowing runs.  Who comes out ahead if this scenario plays out?  

Another way of looking at it is that Thome's abilities continue to wane, Chicago loses a top-tier defender in center field, and gets stuck paying $8 million each of the next three years for a guy the Phillies were more than happy to dump.  Were they aware of something in Thome's future or were they simply making room for Ryan Howard at first base?  Most likely, the answer is a combination of both.

The Implications

What this move implies is that The Big Hurt's days in black are numbered.  For years Frank Thomas has been the face of the team, but following consecutive down seasons it appears the franchise has passed him by.

It's also been made clear that the potential acquisition of Thome in no way means that Chicago's pursuit of Paul Konerko is coming to an end.  Konerko is still a primary target for the World Series champions, but along with his return the chances of Frank Thomas coming back to Chicago become even more minute.  At the end of this deal Chicago is still expanding it's payroll, which could hint at ownership's decision to spend money this offseason in pursuit of not only their own hard-hitting first baseman Konerko, but other specific free agents as well.

The Conclusions

How things look on paper rarely translates into how things look when the dust settles on the regular season.  The question here isn't whether Chicago is taking on risk by taking on Thome, but rather whether or not the risk could pay off.  Before 2005 the Cleveland Indians signed Juan Gonzalez in an attempt to bolster their lineup.  What's different here is that Chicago is not only paying millions more for the chance, they've traded an excellent defender up the middle in the process.

So who comes out ahead?  Does it matter whether or not Thome is able to produce, or did they pay too much even if Thome skyjacks 35?  Aaron Rowand brought a lot the the table for the White Sox: defense, speed and power at a reasonable price.  Off the field he was part of a chemistry that helped Chicago win their first World Series since the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth.  For the risk involved, my take is that they payed too much.