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A Look Back: The Scott Podsednik-Carlos Lee Trade

The night of October 26th, 2005 was an unforgettable night for myself as well as many citizens of Chicago.

That night the White Sox ended an 88-year drought sweeping the Houston Astros in the World Series to win their first championship in quite some time.

How the White Sox went about their business that season was a baseball representation of the South Side of the city:  The Sox were a blue-collar, hard working team that took on the name "grinders."

Perhaps nobody represented the White Sox "grinderball" style of play more than Scott Podsednik.  Podsednik wasn't by any means the White Sox most productive player that season, by sabermetric standards or not, but he quickly became a fan favorite particularly because of his ability to steal bases and score runs early in a ballgame.

Before the 2005 season, the ChiSox offense carried a reputation for being too one dimensional.  Many believed the Sox were too dependent on the longball and needed to integrate elements such as speed and the ability to move runners over via the bunt in their offensive attack.  In other words, "small ball" was the solution.

I don't want to turn this into a "big ball" vs. "small ball" rant, but Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen obviously agreed as they traded slugger Carlos Lee and a PTBNL to the Brewers for Podsednik and relief pitcher Luis Vizcaino.

A good number of White Sox fans (at least the ones I've encountered at the ballpark) view this trade as a success; after all, the Sox went on to win the World Series.  

But being the sabermetric blog that we are, we'll take a look at the trade from a statistical perspective to see just who came out on top.

The Trade

Here's how the trade broke down:

White Sox receive:  OF Scott Podsednik and RP Luis Vizcaino

Brewers receive:  OF Carlos Lee and 1B Travis Hinton (minor leagues)

Baseball Prospectus' Christina Kahrl offered her thoughts on the trade a few months after it was completed:

The Lee deal seems particularly ignoble. As we discussed in this year's edition of BP, Lee was turned into a posterchild for what the Sox had become: a team that slugs a bit, but does little else. That caricature was held in contrast to what manager Ozzie Guillen wants to do with this team offensively, which involves basepath aggression and one-run strategies. So what better tweak than to add a speedy leadoff guy? It isn't every day that an echo of Alex Cole's brief celebrity from 1991 can be heard, but some ideas die hard. The problems--that Podsednik isn't young, and isn't a great on-base threat--seem to have been overlooked. However, the trade did ditch a pending arbitration case with Lee, one that was bound to cost the Sox a goodly chunk of change.

One aspect of the deal that cannot be ignored are the financials.  Just speculation on my part, but this deal may have been a disguised salary dump by the White Sox.  In trading Lee, Chicago saved around $6M with Lee's $8M going to Milwaukee and the Sox taking on Podsednik's $700K and Vizcaino's $1.3M.

Perhaps that extra $6M in Jerry Reinsdorf's pocketbook gave the Sox a bit more flexibility to sign Tadahito Iguchi (2-year/$4.95M), Orlando Hernandez (2-year/$8.0M) or even A.J. Pierzynski (one-year/$2.25M).

Focusing on the deal itself though, it appeared from the get-go that the Brewers we're clear winners.  Lee had just come off a season in which he hit .305/.366/.525 tying a career high in home runs (31) and setting career highs in OPS+ (127), EqA (.300) and WARP3 (8.8.).  Lee's plate discipline was always a bit sketchy however and his defense was never regarded as above average.  He was far from a perfect player or even a great player, but he was bringing power to a Brewer offense that was dead last in the NL in slugging percentage (.387) in 2004.

Podsednik had just come off a 2004 season in which he stole a ridiculous 70 bags at a success rate of 84%, but he hit just .244/.313/.364; poor by even center field standards.  His WARP3 that year was 3.7 wins.  Add in the fact Podsednik would move to a corner outfield spot, where offensive expectations are sky high, and one realizes the Sox we're really taking an offensive hit here.

Vizcaino had been one of baseball's unsung heroes in 2004 and if the Brewers were losing anything valuable in this deal it was his arm.  His WXRL that season of 2.750 was second among Milwaukee relievers and he was incredibly durable pitching 72 innings out of the bullpen.

Regardless, this trade looked like a major steal for Milwaukee at least by statistical standards.  Even though they were losing a pretty valuable arm out of the bullpen, they were acquiring one of the league's better offensive corner outfielders who was under contract for the next two seasons.

The Results

Here is how the White Sox and Brewers have fared from this deal in terms of WARP.  A couple of notes:  Travis Hinton's WARP is not included due to the fact he hasn't appeared in a major league ballgame.  Carlos Lee's 2006 WARP includes his time with the Milwaukee Brewers only.

To my great surprise, it appears this trade actually turned out pretty even.  Lee's WARP during his time with Milwaukee was a combined 8.2 wins above the replacement level player while Podsednik and Vizcaino combined to produce 8.6 wins.  If anything, the Sox may have fared a little better.

What hurt Lee's value so greatly was defense in left field that was almost unbearable to watch.  In 264 games with the Brewers, Lee's FRAA was -17 runs.

Offensively, his first season in Milwaukee was somewhat disappointing.  Lee no longer had the luxury of playing half of his games at the launching pad that is U.S. Cellular Field, and he hit only .265/.324/.487 in his first season with the Crew.  He WARP dropped a little over three wins from his previous season and his VORP dropped nearly 14 runs as well.

His 2006 season with Milwaukee was much better with the bat as he hit .286/.347/.549 in 435 at-bats.  Later that season Lee was traded to the Rangers along with prospect Nelson Cruz for Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, Francisco Cordero, and Julian Cordero (minors).  At the time it looked like Milwaukee may have been a little shortchanged in the deal; Lee was having a very good offensive season and his name was drawing interest from multiple teams.  But given the re-emergence of Francisco Cordero last season, it looks like the Brewers received a pretty good package in return for their former corner outfielder.

Podsednik's first season with the White Sox was very up and down.  During the season's first half, he hit .294/.369/.344 stealing 44 bases at an 83% success rate.  During the second half, he hit .284/.326/.356 stealing 15 bases at a 52% success rate.  His second half slump may have been affected by a quad injury, but he clearly regressed down the stretch.  Despite struggles near the end of the season he remained a fan favorite and after his walk-off home run in game two of the World Series, he guaranteed the fact he'll never have to buy himself a beer at a bar again in Chicago.

Podsednik's following season once again featured injury problems and a very poor second half.  Pods was healthy during the season's first half hitting .276/.353/.391 in 312 AB's, but battled injuries in the second half hitting an awful .241/.296/.297 in 212 AB's.  It was during this time many began to believe Scotty Pods' future in Chicago was in doubt.  Kenny Williams searched frantically for a replacement corner outfielder the following winter, but came up empty and brought back Podsednik on the strength of a one-year/$2.9M contract.

As if it's become a re-occurring thing, Podsednik once again battled injuries throughout the 2007 season, this time making two trips to the DL and hitting .243/.299/.369.  The White Sox now have better options in the outfield and Podsednik's days at least as a starter in Chicago are now over.

Luis Vizcaino's tenure in Chicago didn't last very long at all as he wasn't one of Ozzie Guillen's favorite arms out of the bullpen.  Despite a very good season in Milwaukee during the 2004 season, Vizcaino wasn't trusted by Guillen or his staff and was rarely inserted in high leverage situations.  His WXRL dropped from 2.750 in 2004 to 0.292 in 2005.

He was traded the following along with then prospect Chris Young and Orlando Hernandez for Javier Vazquez.

Final Thoughts

It appears Lee's time in Milwaukee is done as well as Podsednik's and Vizcaino's time in Chicago.  Before I wrote this, I was almost certain the Brewers were huge winners in this deal, but after taking a look at the numbers; this trade was actually quite equal.

However, it must be said that those WARP numbers are based on both offense AND defense.  BP's Davenport Translations are questionable at times and the DT's think Lee's defense was quite awful.  While Lee is widely regarded as a defensively challenged corner outfielder, just how subpar his defense actually was is open to different interpretations.