Maybe it's because I'm sick and still doing shots of DayQuil, but I've suddenly started viewing this White Sox off-season in a different light.
For a stretch of personnel decisions that is viewed as game-changing and seen to represent a sea-change in terms of aggression, the Sox certainly seem to be doing the same things they always do.
Invest heavily in slow-footed mashers? Check (Dunn) and Check (Konerko). Credit for innovating by having one of them be left-handed
Re-up the old guys? Check (Pierzynski) and Check (Konerko again)
Claim to be tapped-out of cash, then spend anyway? Check. Then do it again? Check
Sign reliever with fly-ball tendency to multi-year deal to pitch in our bandbox? Alright, I definitely slapped that one together and the only previous example is Linebrink, but now that Jesse Crain is in tow for a 3-year deal....Check.
The Linebrink comparisons are patently unfair. The Sox picked up The Brink the year after he posted his worst strikeout rate and handed out home runs like perfume samples. Kenny Williams might as well have signed an agreement to touch a hot stove for four years straight.
But...Crain has been over 40% fly balls on all contact for the last three years in a row, topping out with 44.2% in 2010, accompanied by a 39.2% groundball rate. As troubling as that is as the Sox play in a miniaturized dog dish, perhaps Crain was taking advantage of playing in super-spacious Target Field or the Metrodome (where right field was protected by an enormous Hefty Bag). Crain's fly-ball tendencies definitely qualify as worrisome, but he's been a good groundball pitcher in the past, and not horribly long ago...perhaps he could adjust? Or he could be like Linebrink and inexplicably become more fly-ball oriented as the years wear on in Chicago.
What probably attracted the Sox to Crain is that he dials up the heat (averages around 94 mph on the #1), and he used his dynamic slider (his actual good pitch) to post a career-high 8.21 per 9 inning strikeout rate. The White Sox, in case you haven't noticed and the Brian Bruney signing didn't clue you in, looooove strikeouts......to the point where you start to wonder why they haven't run out Mark Buehrle on a rail at this point. In a park where lazy flyballs shoot off fireworkds, and Carlos Quentin plays right field, this is probably the best fetish to have.
With the BABIP he had last season and the move to a homer-den, the 3.04 ERA Crain posted in 2010 is probably the best he can be hoped to do, which makes him a non-starter for the closer shuffle, but a fine entry to the middle relief, sorta-trusted, "don't blow this 4-run lead in one-inning, mmmk?" crop. But that also makes him overpaid at 3 years, $13 million.
Oh well, I guess that's just the cost of aggressively building a roster to win in 2011 when the Red Sox are clearly awesome and you find all of your trade options to be objectionable. At the very worst, this is a spirited case of dating the girl just to spite her ex, as the Twins have now lost key pen contributors Crain and Matt Guerrier in one day. Few Twins fans are reacting like these guys were irreplaceable, and nothing in their splits suggests either are studs, but at least the Sox will have the satisfaction of making Minny scramble a little bit.