Sox ink Podsednik to one-year deal
Speedy outfielder avoids arbitration by signing for $2.9 million
CHICAGO -- As Ken Williams began answering questions from the Chicago media Friday afternoon, following the announcement of Scott Podsednik's agreeing to a new one-year, $2.9 million contract, the White Sox general manager paused briefly to assess this particular conference call.
"It's kind of curious that we are even having a conference call to announce an arbitration-eligible player's signing," Williams said. "I'm a little perplexed as to why it's such a big deal. Being that as it is, we signed our left fielder."
Friday's call gave Williams a chance to talk about Podsednik's return, as well as speaking to a few issues concerning his organization and this week's Winter Meetings in Orlando. The White Sox were thought to be in the market for a new leadoff hitter at the outset of the offseason whether that replacement would take over for Podsednik in left or play center, and left Brian Anderson and Ryan Sweeney competing for any remaining outfield slot.
But the team's search for a leadoff man appears to have been solved by a familiar face. During an extensive talk with a group of White Sox beat writers in the season's final weekend at Minneapolis, Williams presented qualified support for Podsednik and mentioned how he would solicit input from his coaching staff before making a decision on the veteran's status.
The staff apparently spoke up on behalf of Podsednik during the organization meetings in November, leading to Podsednik's new deal. The signing leaves third baseman Joe Crede, utility infielder Alex Cintron, super-sub Pablo Ozuna and reliever Mike MacDougal as the team's remaining arbitration-eligible players.
In regard to the quest for a leadoff hitter other than Podsednik, Williams termed that process as standard operating procedure for pretty much any player on the White Sox roster.
"We examine the free-agent market, the trade market and the international market to see if we can upgrade at any position," Williams said. "We've done that. We came back to the conclusion that nothing would provide us with the concrete, significant answers in the way that this guy does.
"In Scott Podsednik, we know what we have and are comfortable in it. We know he can lead off and lead off on a championship club."
Podsednik, who turns 31 in March, watched his average drop from an impressive .290 in 2005 to a respectable but disappointing .261 in 2006. His on-base percentage also dipped, from .351 to .330, hindering Podsednik's primary goal: reach base in any way possible.
Lost in Podsednik's struggles, which included eight errors in left field, was his increase in RBIs from 25 to 45 and runs scored from 80 to 86 -- although Podsednik did play in 10 more games in 2006. Podsednik also ranked fifth in the American League with 40 stolen bases and became the fourth player in White Sox history to record back-to-back seasons with 40 steals.
"He's got some big hits, but he has not been on base as consistently lately and hasn't created havoc on the bases like he did last year," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker in a late August interview. "He's not confident in his bunting, and he's putting too much pressure on himself.
"Sometimes in this game you dig yourself a hole. But he knows what we need of him, and he's trying to make it happen."
Plagued by hamstring issues at the beginning of Spring Training, Podsednik had trouble maximizing his speed, an essential component to his game. His leg problems could have been the reason, in part, for his drop from 2005 to 2006 in bunt hits (16 to 5) and infield hits (39 to 19). But Williams left it up to Podsednik to answer the health questions, not wanting to make it seem as if he was making excuses for a player who had a down year.
The fleet-footed left-handed hitter served as the symbol of "Ozzie Ball" in 2005, when he consistently ignited the White Sox unrelenting offense from the leadoff spot. His walk-off home run in Game 2 of the World Series against Houston is one of the defining moments in franchise history.
By the end of the 2006 season, manager Ozzie Guillen was using Podsednik and Ozuna in a lefty-righty platoon in left field.
Podsednik has an intense competitive desire, though it seemingly compounded his struggles last season, as he pushed himself even harder during periodic slumps at the plate. Williams quickly pointed out in a recent interview that Podsednik's fire doesn't need to stop burning.
His primary focus simply should be getting on base and scoring runs.
"I'm the team's general manager, not the team's psychologist, and each player has to deal with success and failures in his own way," Williams said. "Is Scotty hard on himself? Well, he was no harder on himself then when he stole how many bases [59 in 2005] and hit [.290 in 2005] and hit a home run to help win a World Series.
"Sometimes the same things that make us succeed make us fail. You better be very careful of trying to change your overall makeup, because you might find yourself in a worse position."
Factoring in his salary, overall value as a player and his status of not becoming a free agent until after the 2008 season, Podsednik still does hold some trade potential. But bringing him back for the 2007 campaign seems to be the most prudent decision for the White Sox, both fiscally and on the field.
"This signing says I support him as our leadoff hitter and primary left fielder," added Williams on the signing of Podsednik. "We really didn't see much of a need to spend three times as much in some cases on the same type of player, on the same type of guy.
"We surveyed the landscape and came to the determination he is the best fit for our team right now," Williams said.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.