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Swisher trade doesn't solve Sox' leadoff issue
By Scot Gregor | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/4/2008 12:25 AM

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By acquiring Nick Swisher from the Oakland A's in a trade Thursday, the White Sox added an impact bat to their lineup.

But with the start of spring training just over a month away, the Sox are still without a proven leadoff hitter.

Swisher ranked sixth in the American League with 100 walks last season, and he also ranked among league leaders with a .381 on-base percentage.

Those are ideal numbers for the leadoff spot, but the switch-hitting Swisher stole only 4 bases in three full seasons with Oakland and is a career .251 hitter.

Sox general manager Kenny Williams said Jerry Owens could keep his job as the starting center fielder/leadoff hitter if he has a good training camp. Owens stole 32 bases as a rookie last season while batting .267.

If Owens steps up, Swisher would move to left field. But if Owens falters, the Sox would likely elevate shortstop Orlando Cabrera -- their projected No. 2 hitter -- to the leadoff spot.

"A lot will depend on what Jerry Owens shows us,'' Williams said. "(Manager) Ozzie (Guillen) and I decided just to remain flexible. We'll let them fight it out and we'll let them show us. We've got plenty of guys that will give us quality at-bats.''

New digs: Known as a great teammate during his stay with the Athletics, Nick Swisher enjoyed picking Frank Thomas' brain when Thomas was with Oakland in 2006.

Now, Swisher is looking forward to meeting his new White Sox teammates.

"I'm excited to take on maybe a new thought of hitting,'' said Swisher, a career .500 hitter (7-for-14) at U.S. Cellular Field. "Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko -- I can learn so much from those guys.''

Pitching poor? In addition to sending top pitching prospects Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los Santos to the A's for Nick Swisher, the White Sox also traded veteran starter Jon Garland to the Angels for shortstop Orlando Cabrera in November.

Kenny Williams said he prepared himself for such a talent shift last off-season, when he stockpiled pitchers like Gonzalez, Gavin Floyd, Jon Danks and Nick Masset.

"Part of our plan going into the '06 off-season was pitching depth -- pitching depth to deal as well as pitching depth to use,'' said Williams, who added minor-league starters Lance Broadway and Jack Egbert are "knocking on the door.''

Back in the Midwest: Nick Swisher was drafted by the A's on the first round (No. 16 overall) in 2002 and had spent his entire career with Oakland.

Swisher, a Columbus, Ohio, native and Ohio State product, loved playing in the Bay Area, but he's looking forward to a change in scenery.

"It's nice to come back home,'' he said. "I think Chicago is the best city in the country for whatever sport there is.''

Kenny Williams said Swisher has the perfect makeup for playing in the nation's third-largest market.

"You have to be a fighter, you have to be a tough son of a gun to play here at a high level,'' Williams said. "Everything I've heard about Nick, from a variety of sources on and off the field, this guy fits in.''