Swisher heading to Chicago
The Athletics' fire sale continued on Thursday, as they traded Nick Swisher to the White Sox for three prospects: Left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez, outfielder Ryan Sweeney and right-handed starter Fautino De Los Santos. One has to wonder, how much longer before Joe Blanton is on his way out the door as well?
Swisher's owners -- or prospective ones -- certainly won't complain. Getting out of Oakland, and McAfee Stadium, ranked 29th in runs scored (0.833) and 25th in home runs (0.786), can only help his cause. And in doing it, he moves into one of the game's more homer-friendly ballparks; Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field ranked ninth (1.084) and fourth (1.220) in those respective categories. A case can be made that Swisher, who has averaged one homer per 20.2 at-bats for his career in Oakland, might see a bump of 10-plus homers from his 2007 total, or at least he could challenge his 2006 peak of 35.
Now 27, Swisher was a .250 hitter with a .799 OPS at McAfee in 2007, compared to .291/.921 on the road. For his career he's a .242/.808 hitter in Oakland, .260/.840 everywhere else, so it's clear the trade will mean nothing but good things for him. What'll be particularly interesting to see in the spring is where the White Sox slot him into their lineup. If he's a No. 2 hitter, as he was 50 times for the Athletics this past season, or even No. 3 (78 times), it's not unthinkable he could top out at 40 homers, 110 runs scored and 85-90 RBIs. Swisher's .361 lifetime on-base percentage -- .381 in 2007 -- backs up the notion he belongs in the top third of the order, mediocre speed on the basepaths or not. He'll be a noticeable upside play if all falls right for him in the spring, one who could rank as high as a top-20 mixed-league outfielder or top-eight first baseman, so watch closely.
In addition, should Swisher earn a No. 2 spot in the lineup in March, that will only help heart-of-the-order hitters like Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye. Bump each up by as many as 10 RBIs, as Swisher's on-base percentage is significantly higher than the .311 White Sox No. 2 hitters combined for in 2007.
Most hurt by Swisher's arrival, though, is speedy center fielder Jerry Owens. Swisher likely will take over the center field duties, even if that weakens the team's defense, as he's not about to displace Dye in right field and Carlos Quentin really deserves a long look for the left-field role. Owens might wind up battling Quentin for left-field duties, another sign Josh Fields' 2008 position is most likely going to be third base, ahead of Joe Crede. Forced to pick today, I'm going with Fields at third and Quentin in left, each starting at least two-third of the games at those spots, but the Swisher deal does make it paramount you monitor the White Sox's dealings in the coming weeks and their spring-training battles.
The Athletics, meanwhile, pick up a few interesting prospects, with Gonzalez's the biggest name in the deal. This is the third time in a little more than two years he has been traded, all before making his big-league debut, and it's not a case of a lack of teams wanting him. Considered the top prospect in the White Sox system at the time of the deal, Gonzalez, a 22-year-old, had a 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 11.10 strikeout-per-nine inning ratio in 27 starts for Double-A Birmingham this past season. He's regarded as a future No. 2/3 starter, and will get a long look for a rotation spot this spring. I'd bank on Gonzalez being in Oakland's rotation, and while wins will likely be a problem for the team, the left-hander at worst should warrant matchups consideration in AL-only formats. In 5x5 leagues, there's considerable upside in him, so keep watch on him, too, in the spring.
De Los Santos is the sneaky prospect in the deal. Many White Sox followers rate him as nearly as strong a prospect as Gonzalez, after the 21-year-old registered a combined 2.65 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .063 BAA in 26 games (20 starts) between Class A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. He's another strikeout artist, one who tops out in the mid-90s with his fastball, though while it's easy to say today he might be a No. 2/3 big-league starter with time, these things take awhile. Think 2009-10 for a debut, if he pans out.
Sweeney might end up an interesting AL-only sleeper thanks to the deal. He did little but disappoint in 2007, batting .270 with a .746 OPS in 105 games for Triple-A Charlotte, but it's easy to forget the kid is still 22 years old, and a second-rounder from the 2003 draft. Sweeney's stock has fallen to the point where he might not be much less than a Mark Kotsay type, but given a chance, he might outperform Kotsay in 2008. AL-only owners should track his progress once spring camps open.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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