Trades during the winter meetings are a staple of baseball's offseason. It's the time when franchises realize that they can no longer afford their superstars and feel pressed to ship them off to bigger market clubs in return for up-and-coming prospects.
The Minnesota Twins had to part ways with two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana while the low budget Florida Marlins dealt both Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit. Ironically enough, the biggest splash came not from said blockbusters, but instead from an under-the-radar move on the first day of the meetings.
After missing out on the likes of Aaron Rowand, Kosuke Fukudome and top target Torii Hunter, White Sox GM Kenny Williams executed a very low-key move on Dec. 3, acquiring outfielder Carlos Quentin from the Diamondbacks in exchange for minor-league first baseman Chris Carter. The transaction went practically unnoticed outside of Chicago and Phoenix and rightfully so. Quentin was slated to battle with Brian Anderson for the fourth outfielder spot in spring training. He wasn't expected to crack a starting job, what with Nick Swisher, Jerry Owens and Jermaine Dye all but cemented in the Sox outfield.
Yet, here we are only five months into his Chicago career and the Sox are relying not on Jim Thome or captain Paul Konerko, but rallying behind Quentin---the main reason for their current grasp on first place. In a recent ten game stretch, the Stanford product hit .387 (12-for-31) with five home runs and 10 RBI.
"Oh, he has carried this ballclub," said Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "A kid without that much experience in the big leagues batting third and having [the year] he has had, I never thought that was going to happen. I didn't expect this kid to be carrying the ballclub. We hit the lottery with him."
While this "lottery" might not have the prominence of the Bulls landing the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the emergence of Quentin has definitely sparked the South Siders atop the American League Central, where they are currently battling with the Twinkies. His power numbers---36 homers, 100 RBI---are far greater than those of Rowand, Fukudome, and Hunter, and his $400,000 salary only sweetens the pot. He's also near the top of the pack in most hitting categories in the American League including home runs (first), slugging percentage (second), runs batted in (third) and OPS (third).
"I'm trying to give them a reason to keep me in there every day. I put more on myself to go out there and play well and do the right things to help the team win." - Carlos Quentin
So why on earth did Arizona decide to part ways with Quentin? Well, Sox fans can thank Eric Byrnes, who had an unbelievable 2007 season en route to a lucrative contract extension in the offseason. Quentin was projected to create an outstanding young outfield alongside Chris Young and Justin Upton, but the 25-year-old became expendable after 'Zona locked up the energetic Byrnes for three more seasons. Kudos, Eric. You obviously didn't realize it at the time, but your stellar campaign resulted in our eventual acquisition of one of baseball's great young talents.
Luckily for the Sox, everything went right in their offseason pursuit. They saved a ridiculous amount of cash, stole the hot-hitting Quentin away from the Diamondbacks and have re-established power in the ever tough Central division. If they can continue to persevere through injuries, cold streaks and the wear and tear of a 162-game season, they'll experience post-season baseball for the first time since 2005.
And we'll all remember how the under-the-radar move on that cold December day turned things around and righted the South Side ship.