Chisox Land Swisher In First Deal Of ’08

The Deal
The White Sox have tried to land a heavy-hitting outfielder throughout the offseason. They weren’t able to corral Torii Hunter or Aaron Rowand, and it looked like the best they could do was strike a still-pending deal with Cuban Alexei Ramirez. But Chicago had more in store, pulling off the first trade of 2008 by acquiring Nick Swisher from the Athletics on Thursday in exchange for three minor leaguers: lefthander Gio Gonzalez, righthander Fautino de los Santos and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.
The Big Leaguers
Swisher, 27, was the first pick and became the best player from Oakland’s ballyhooed “Moneyball” draft in 2002. He’s a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, good patience and the athleticism to play all three outfield positions and a Gold Glove-quality first base. Though he’s better suited for an outfield corner, he may play center for the White Sox. Swisher batted .262/.381/.455 with 22 homers and 78 RBIs in 150 games last season, and he hit 35 longballs in 2006. He should fit nicely into the middle of Chicago’s lineup, and he can’t become a free agent until after the 2011 season. Oakland had signed Swisher to a five-year, $26.75 million extension last may. The deal also includes a $10.25 million club option or $1 million buyout for 2012. He’s a career .251/.361/.464 hitter with 80 homers and 255 RBIs in 458 games.
The Prospects
Gonzalez, 22, now has been traded twice by the White Sox. Chicago drafted him in the supplemental first round out of a Miami high school in 2004, sent him to the Phillies in the Jim Thome trade in November 2005 and reacquired him in a swap for Freddy Garcia in December 2006. Gonzalez is one of the game’s better lefthanded pitching prospects, and he led the minors with 185 strikeouts in 150 innings at Double-A Birmingham in 2007. He went 9-7, 3.18 in 27 starts for the Barons, limiting opponents to a .216 average and 10 homers. Gonzalez’ best pitch is his curveball, and he also has a low-90s fastball that can reach 96 mph. He has shown improvement with his changeup and isn’t far from reaching the major leagues. He has a ceiling as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

De los Santos, 21, came out of nowhere last season in his U.S. debut. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, he rode his mid-90s fastball and plus slider to an appearance in the Futures Game last summer. He went 10-5, 2.65 in 26 games (20 starts) between low Class A Kannapolis and high Class A Winston-Salem. He had a 153-43 K-BB ratio in 122 innings, while opponents batted just .163 with eight homers against him. He has better pure stuff but not as much polish or savvy as Gonzalez, as well as a similar ceiling. De los Santos will need more time to develop.

Sweeney, 22, had fallen out of favor with the White Sox. A second-round pick out of an Iowa high school in 2003, he performed well in big league camp the following spring and subsequently was rushed by Chicago. Sweeney’s power never has developed and he spent most of 2007 at Triple-A Charlotte, where he hit just .270/.348/.398 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs in 105 games. He wasn’t called up in September, an indication of how the Sox felt about him, though he has played briefly in the majors in each of the last two years, hitting .213/.250/.288 with one homer and 10 RBIs in 33 games. With average speed and a plus arm, he can play any of the three outfield positions. He’ll get a chance to win a starting job with the A’s during spring training.

Quick Take
Oakland definitely is in rebuilding mode, having shipped former ace Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks for six players in December. Perhaps the White Sox should be doing the same. They won just 72 games last year and have an aging team. Swisher is talented and inexpensive, but this deal further weakens an already deteriorating farm system. Gonzalez (No. 1), de los Santos (No. 2) and Sweeney (No. 6) all factored prominently on our White Sox Top 30 Prospects list in the 2008 Prospect Handbook.

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