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Melky Cabrera latest to cash in on White Sox's spending spree

Melky Cabrera gets another chance to write over "juicer" reputation.

The "juicer" label is probably never going to completely disappear, but new White Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera has a chance to rewrite the narrative of his career.

Cabrera won't be the first former suspended PED user to wear a Sox uniform — catcher Tyler Flowers had a positive test while playing in the Braves' system — but he'll probably hear about it more than all the others combined.

The Sox signed Cabrera to a three-year, $42 million deal late Saturday, according to multiple reports, and will make him their new left fielder. He thus becomes the latest addition to a revamped roster that's suddenly loaded with Sox appeal.

General manager Rick Hahn did not respond to inquiries Sunday, so we don't know if there was any hesitation based on Cabrera's past. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak proclaimed they weren't the "morality police" last year when giving former suspended PED user Jhonny Peralta a four-year, $53 million deal, and the White Sox obviously feel the same way.

Either way, in a matter of four days, Hahn's offseason makeover went from nip and tuck to a full-scale, Renee Zellweger-type reconstruction job. The Sox aren't just in position to contend for a division crown but a World Series — if everything falls into place.

At the very least, the stench of the 99-loss season in 2013 has dissipated, and almost overnight the perception of the Sox as conservative spenders has been blown to smithereens.

"We were setting ourselves up to do something at the winter meetings," manager Robin Ventura said Thursday. "The last couple years, there really were not a lot of opportunities. We had a couple trades, but nothing of this magnitude. So that's the part where you're changing the mood and the view of how people see (the Sox)."

The Sox's bounty is reminiscent of the winter before the 2005 championship season, when then-GM Ken Williams signed Jermaine Dye and Orlando Hernandez, acquired Scott Podsednik for Carlos Lee, and capped it with the addition in January of catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who received a paltry one-year, $2.25 million deal.

With his 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone during his 2012 season with the Giants, Cabrera joins Dick Allen and Pierzynski as Sox newcomers arriving with a soiled reputation. Pierzynski had been called a "cancer" by an anonymous Giants teammate in 2004 and said afterward, "If you get labeled what someone called me in the paper, it follows you around your whole career."

But Pierzynski turned into one of the catalysts of the '05 championship season and left as one of the most beloved players in Sox history. If Cabrera can do likewise, he'll become a South Side legend in his own right.

Since Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf approved the "Go-Go" offseason spending spree, Hahn has committed more than $128 million on four free agents — Cabrera, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke — while acquiring Jeff Samardzija from the A's. Basically he has wiped the pieces off the chess board and declared a do-over.

A balanced lineup with power and a little speed could look like this come opening day: Adam Eaton, Cabrera, Jose Abreu, LaRoche, Avisail Garcia, Alexei Ramirez, Conor Gillaspie, Flowers and Micah Johnson.

The switch-hitting Cabrera, who began his major league career with the Yankees in 2005, is a career .286 hitter with .339 on-base percentage. His best season was in 2012 when he was the All-Star Game MVP and was leading the NL with a .346 average in mid-August while posting a .390 OBP with the Giants.

But the positive for testosterone led to the suspension, including the final 45 games of the regular season. At Cabrera's request, MLB and the players' union agreed to disqualify him for the batting title, and the Giants decided to leave him off their postseason roster.

Cabrera then signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Blue Jays, a team to which no one outside Canada pays any attention. He hit .301 with a .351 on-base percentage in 2014, with 16 home runs, 35 doubles and 73 RBIs. With an outfield surplus, Dayan Viciedo and his lead glove should be dealt soon.

This may have been a game-changing winter meetings for the Sox, not unlike the '71 meetings, when on one day general manager Roland Hemond acquired Allen from the Dodgers for starter Tommy John and utilityman Steve Huntz, and starter Stan Bahnsen from the Yankees for infielder Rich McKinney.

Allen was regarded as moody and uncoachable, but manager Chuck Tanner told baseball writer Jerome Holtzman he "ought to help us win 20 games with his bat." Allen enjoyed a memorable MVP season in 1972 as the Sox went 87-67 and led the AL West over the mighty A's on Aug. 11 before fading down the stretch.

Bahnsen went 21-16 with a 3.60 ERA, combining with Wilbur Wood (24-17) and Tom Bradley (15-14) for 130 starts in a four-man rotation. Neither Allen nor Bahnsen lasted long in the organization, but that '72 season may have saved the franchise from irrelevancy. They ranked third in the league in attendance at 1.17 million after finishing ninth in '71 at 834,000.

The four horsemen of the Soxpocalypse — Samardzija, LaRoche, Robertson and Cabrera — are expected to do likewise.

If Sox fans don't respond to this offseason haul by venturing out for some games, Reinsdorf might as well look to build a new ballpark in the suburbs and blow up the Cell.

psullivan@tribpub.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

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