What's so different about Juan Pierre and Pablo Ozuna?
Besides the whole part where Ozuna lied about his age and never had an actual prime, I mean to ask, "What is the crucial difference in their White Sox legacies?" They were both impatient slap-hitters, and while they both brought plenty of speed, their defense was defined more by willingness than skill. Pierre's line with the Sox was .277/.335/.322, Ozuna's was .290/.327/.363. They didn't take walks, they didn't hit many balls out of the infield on the fly.
Ozuna was, of course, a member of the 2005 World Series team, and was a part-time player whose 217 plate appearances in '05 was a career-high. He was never put in situation where his offensive contributions were looked at as anything but a fun, little novelty; as opposed to something people counted on. The fact that he absolutely couldn't hit at all his last two years with the Sox was covered up nicely by the fact that he was only allowed to take up the bat 154 times.
Pierre was never set up to have such a graceful end. He was a speed player brought on at age 32, and despite the fact that he was coming off one of his best offensive years in 2009, the Dodgers sent substantial money along just to get him our of their hands. The White Sox theoretically should have realized a substantial decline could occur over the remaining life of his deal.
Only they didn't. Oh God, they really didn't. Or they did, and neglected to do anything about it out of spite. I hate that this is a legit possibility.
Juan Pierre is a slap-hitter whose listing of 5' 11", 175 lbs is laughably friendly, so I hope it's appropriately jarring when I say his power depreciated noticeably in 2010. He piled up weak contact and the speed he once used to turn it into hits depreciated rapidly....yet he finished 2nd to Ichiro in the AL in plate appearances over his time in Chicago. Which is strange, because Juan Pierre doesn't seem like the White Sox player an educated baseball mind would pick to hit more than anyone else by a very large amount.
The entire time as the offense slogged through a completely average 2010, before cratering completely in 2011, Pierre was staked at the top of the lineup as the keystone of the White Sox attack. Worse yet, in the face of his obvious deficiencies, the traits that should have been endearing Pierre to the fanbase--work ethic, preparation, durability--were just a few of the many flimsy excuses offered for why he was run out to his doom every day. A hellish case of the yips in left field was just unnecessary whipped topping on it all.
It obscures the otherwise absurd truth that the White Sox probably won the trade that brought Pierre over. They won it in typically cynical Kenny Williams' fashion; all the prospects shipped out busted into nothing.
Soft-tossing John Ely's torrid first 7 starts in LA quickly faded away in a wave of dingers, and he hasn't been a member of the Dodgers rotation since July of 2010. Along with mediocre Triple-A reliever Jon Link, it's not immediately clear how any of the Dodgers' return package will contribute any major league value, let alone what Pierre provided as a half-decent left-fielder for a year...especially since the Dodgers paid for most of it.
The White Sox declined to offer Pierre arbitration Wednesday while extending an offer to Mark Buehrle that will absolutely be declined. But perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves by waving goodbye to Pierre. Even if the Sox wanted him back, offering him arbitration would result in a hysterically insane overpay, and the Sox declined arbitration to Pierzynski only to bring him back when life without him became unimaginable last year.
That's just paranoia, though. Paranoia that the undying franchise devotion to Juan Pierre can't be eliminated just by the presence of an obvious replacement, marked decline, and a mandate to trim the budget. It won't be over until he's signed with another team, or retired, or 5 years removed from his last major league plate appearance and comfortably settled, running a chain of auto supply stores in Birmingham. Even then he's too close; just one phone call and BAM! He's the best player on the Double-A roster. Oh no, oh no.
Pierre's career probably isn't over, especially since a bunch of guys who will probably never be effective again have gotten multi-year deals already. Aaron Gleeman of Harball Talk even mentioned Pierre as possibly playing centerfield again, which reminds us that Gleeman has a very large workload, and calling Pierre a centerfielder is a very minor oversight when you consider his larger oeuvre. Maybe he's right though, maybe the Sox are foolish to shun his compensation (which apparently wasn't eliminated yesterday?), maybe his skill-set wouldn't be bad thing to have from a spare outfielder, maybe he wouldn't seem so worn down if he were part-time and not being run into the ground like a pack mule.
No, no. There are few pleasures to be had during this off-season, and seeing one of the enduring images of the White Sox archaic offensive approach and ineptitude be purged, and purged hard, is one that I've been looking forward to. That it comes at the expense of a player so forcefully likable as Juan Pierre just goes to show how screwed up things have been.