CHICAGO -- When general manager Ken Williams and the White Sox brain trust make their way to Nashville, Tenn., for baseball's Winter Meetings next week, one particularly interested party will be paying close attention to the team's moves from across the country in California. Jerry Owens ended the 2007 season as the White Sox center fielder and leadoff man, roles he filled more than admirably if not spectacularly, during his first extended big league look. But Owens' fit for 2008 and beyond could be affected by Williams' maneuvering for an outfield upgrade, one of the targets yet to be hit by the team's aggressive leader during this current offseason. Owens will be watching, reading and listening, but certainly not obsessing in regard to the trades and free-agent signings taking place in the Music City.
"I have been paying attention, because it's one of those things where whatever would have happened or does happen probably would affect me," Owens said. "But I really can't control what goes on. "All I can do is continue to get better this offseason and worry about my job and what I need to do to help the White Sox win. If we happen to get someone, that's the way it is, and we go from there. Until that happens, I'm the center fielder, and that's how I'm approaching this offseason and going into next season." The White Sox starting-center-fielder slot almost was transferred from Owens to Torii Hunter, the top free agent not named Alex Rodriguez on the open market, who had the South Siders in his sights as a potential home for the next five years. The Los Angeles Angels swooped in at the last second, agreeing to terms with Hunter on a five-year, $90 million deal on Thanksgiving and leaving Williams in search of another veteran presence. Speed, in-game aggressiveness and fundamentally sound baseball have been stressed by the White Sox while looking to improve an offense from 2007's overall dismal showing that was too reliant on station-to-station production. Williams partially addressed this issue by acquiring shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the Angels to hit second and anchor the infield defense. Fans seemed slightly taken aback by durable starting pitcher Jon Garland getting jettisoned to Anaheim in order to bring back Cabrera. But at the time of the deal, Williams pointed out how Cabrera was just one piece of the entire offseason revamping.
It was an all-out plan to make sure last year's 72-90 showing never came close to transpiring again."We are looking for guys who can add that edge," Williams said. "That's one of the things I felt was missing last year. Each one of my targets has that edge to them, that go-getter attitude. We need it. We will embrace it. "As far as the way fans feel right now, it's one of the things most difficult for me, because people want to examine each and every deal as they come along. They don't see the big picture being painted. All I can hope for is that come next month, or even the next week or so, those same people will look and say, 'OK, now we get it.'" Hunter appeared on the verge of joining the White Sox when Williams spoke these words, but Hunter's ultimate choice hasn't altered Williams' big picture. Both favorite son Aaron Rowand and Andruw Jones remain viable center-field options via free agency, with Rowand standing out as the more likely candidate, not to mention outfield possibilities through trades. Improving the White Sox beleaguered bullpen took one major step forward with this week's signing of free agent Scott Linebrink to serve as the right-handed setup man, but Williams still could be looking for an additional veteran arm to balance out the relief crew. In the process of fulfilling these offseason goals, Williams also has to resolve the abundance-of-talent problem he has at third base with Joe Crede and Josh Fields both capable of taking on the starting job. "Either way, we win with Crede and Fields," Williams said. Williams rarely waits for the Winter Meetings to begin his heavy lifting, and in reality, the White Sox general manager already has made some much-needed changes. This program actually was put into place last year, when Williams brought back his own potential free agents in staff ace Mark Buehrle and right fielder Jermaine Dye. Don't count on this process being quiet yet complete. Williams, assistant general manager Rick Hahn and the rest of the White Sox staff will try to add another impact player or two in Nashville, looking for talent as well as a good team fit, through a little creative maneuvering. And Owens will be watching every move from out West. "I'm a fan of baseball, so I would be paying attention even if I wasn't a player," Owens said. "I like to hear who is being traded or who will be the free-agent signings. "I've already been traded once in this business, and it was the last thing I ever thought would happen. So, right now, it's tough say, 'What are they thinking?' or 'What are the White Sox exact plans?'"
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.