Saturday, January 15, 2005

Rowand Signs Long-Term Pact With Sox

Aaron Rowand, who finished last season as the starting centerfielder for the White Sox, agreed to a 3-year, $8.5 million deal. It’s an interesting contract, but I’ll talk about that later. Right now I want to focus on Rowand.

The 27-year-old outfielder was a first-round pick by the Sox all the way back in 1998 (35th overall). He made his debut in 2001, seeing limited action as a fourth outfielder. Rowand had a so-so year with more playing time in 2002, and missed the beginning of 2003 after an offseason dirt bike accident.

After returning from a broken shoulder, the Sox traded for Carl Everett to patrol center in the second half of 2003, so Rowand didn’t get to play full time until 2004. He responded by knocking 24 home runs and 38 doubles while getting on base at a .361 clip.

Rowand doesn’t have great plate discipline, so he’ll probably regress a little bit at the plate. Of course, he’s never been bad at getting on base, and just now turning 27 could be ready to establish a higher peak.

Defensively, Rowand is terribly underrated. He’s posted very good range factor and zone rating numbers every year, and his Rambo-like play is well suited towards center in that he gets to a lot of balls, and he’s less likely to hurt himself.

It’s easy to see how he fits into the Sox’ short-term and long-term plans. A plus defender that can handle the bat: that’s the kind of production you’d like from every position. Even if he gets displaced by one of the outfielders coming up through the system, he could always slide over to a corner spot. If he doesn’t continue to hit enough to play there, he could become a superior fourth outfielder. Or another team’s centerfielder.

The money isn’t a lot, which is a little surprising given that Rowand had a pretty big season, batting .310 and slugging .544. But Rowand does have a history of getting hurt, so it’s a good way for him to hedge his bets by getting some guaranteed money.

Over the last 14 seasons, only four different players have led the Sox in OPS. They’ve been Frank Thomas (10 times), Magglio Ordonez (twice), Albert Belle (once) and Aaron Rowand last year. That’s pretty good company.

Rowand isn’t in the same class as Thomas and company, but he’s still a damn good player. And he’s a fun player to watch. Congratulations to him for getting a nice payday, and congratulations to the Sox for locking up a good player on the cheap.

No comments: