Sox land outfielder Pierre from Dodgers
Chicago also receiving cash in exchange for two prospects
CHICAGO -- Near the end of Tuesday's conference call to confirm Juan Pierre's addition to the White Sox, manager Ozzie Guillen jumped into the conversation to welcome his new leadoff man and left fielder.
"I'm on the South Side now," said Pierre, who spent the 2006 season on the North Side of Chicago with the Cubs, in response to Guillen's excited introduction.
"I've been in witness protection the last two years," said Pierre with a laugh. "This was three years in the making."
Pierre's "witness protection" quip referred to reduced playing time with the Dodgers during the 2008 and '09 seasons while in the midst of a five-year, $44 million deal he agreed upon with Los Angeles prior to the '07 campaign. The 32-year-old left-handed-hitting-and-throwing outfielder explained Tuesday how he was ready for any role the Dodgers had planned for him if a trade was not achieved.
But there was no denying Pierre's excitement in joining the South Siders at the top of their order. Pierre was obtained with cash considerations in exchange for two White Sox players to be named. According to FoxSports.com, those two Minor Leaguers are starter John Ely, who won 14 games in 2009 at Double-A Birmingham, and Jon Link, who was once thought of as a potential late-inning reliever.
Through Tuesday's move, Chicago basically severed ties with Scott Podsednik, who served as the team's No. 1 hitter during the 2005 World Series championship season and during his resurgent '09 campaign. Podsednik had been in search of a two-year deal, while the White Sox would not go the multiyear route.
General manager Ken Williams said Tuesday the two sides never really were close enough to consider Podsednik in play for 2010.
"We never had anything to consider we were close," said Williams. "But I'm not going to criticize a guy that helped us win a championship and did everything he could last year to keep us going."
Even with the South Siders reportedly on the hook for just $3 million of Pierre's salary in 2010 and $5 million in 2011, leaving the Dodgers to pick up the remaining $10.5 million, Williams appears to be done with the major offseason additions. That White Sox overhaul includes Mark Teahen, Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones, J.J. Putz and now Pierre.
In the process, the White Sox have improved their overall defense and baserunning while strengthening an already top-notch pitching staff from top to bottom. Pierre gives the club a better chance to manufacture runs, and Guillen indicated Gordon Beckham or Alexei Ramirez will follow his fleet-footed No. 1 guy in the batting order.
"They already have a good team in place, and they have been accustomed to winning over the last four or five years," Pierre said. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity of getting back on the field on a regular basis. I'm excited to get the opportunity to play again."
"[Pierre's] a special man for me," said Guillen. "He's a special kid. He brings a lot to the table, both on and off the field."
Durability stands out as one key intangible among Pierre's repertoire, as from 2003-07, Pierre played 162 games every season. Tuesday's deal marks Pierre's first full-time foray into the American League after suiting up for Colorado and Florida before stops with the Cubs and Dodgers, but Guillen isn't worried about Pierre adjusting.
Pierre, a native of Mobile, Ala., is an accomplished bunter, ranking first among active players with 165 bunt hits (Vizquel sits second at 150), and he leads all active players in stolen bases with 459 (Vizquel is second with 389). The career .301 hitter has collected 200-plus hits four times and has stolen 30 or more bases in nine consecutive seasons.
Over 145 games played in 2009, Pierre hit .308, with 30 stolen bases, 57 runs scored and a .365 on-base percentage. He ranked fifth in the National League in the stolen base category, despite starting just 76 games. Pierre started in left field in each of the Dodgers' 50 games from May 7 to July 1 while Manny Ramirez was on the suspended list, batting .318 with 21 stolen bases and a .381 on-base percentage during that time.
The three-year stretch in Los Angeles was not without criticism for Pierre, who doesn't feature much power or RBI potential and won't show off the strongest throwing arm in left field. He does make consistent contact, with just 337 strikeouts and 340 walks during his career.
"Not too much can be said that hasn't been already," said Pierre, referring to criticisms. "When I first signed [in L.A.], there were people wondering, 'What in the world were they thinking?' But those three years made me stronger as an individual."
There won't be much of a "getting-to-know-you" period with Pierre necessary for Guillen. In 2003, Pierre formed a perfect one-two punch with Luis Castillo at the top of the Marlins' order on a team that emerged as the World Series champion. Guillen, the third-base coach on that particular Florida team, joked Tuesday that he saw a recent replay on the MLB Network of a Marlins game where Pierre's baserunning "made me look good."
Now Pierre once again has the chance to make Guillen look good on a daily basis.
"I love [Pierre's] work ethic, his intensity," Williams said. "He adds a lot to the club, other than what he does on the field. And what he does on the field is pretty special."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.