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Saturday, April 14, 2012
Sox back in small-market mode

By Bruce Levine

Kenny Williams
Kenny Williams may be less aggressive on the free-agent market for the foreseeable future.

CHICAGO – After a few years of spending aggressively, the White Sox are back into a small-market philosophy that concentrates on scouting and player development in building toward the future.

For a large-market team, that type of message to the fan base may be a little unnerving -- particularly if a fan has invested in season tickets for any number of years. The departure in team structure from signing veteran players was not a reaction to just one underachieving season, but an educated overview of the new collective bargaining agreement itself.

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf said last year that if the baseball plan didn’t work with a $127 million payroll, the team would have to go another way. Winning only 78 games last year set that “other way" in motion.

The team started the season with a $105 million major league salary base. Depending on the early-season results, that number could be in the lower 90s by the trading deadline on July 31. The main reason the White Sox decided to go young is the new collective bargaining agreement that limits the money each team can spend on both the draft and in signing foreign prospects through a heavy-handed taxation system.

The White Sox have spent less than $10 million (combined) on the draft the past three seasons -- no major league team has spent less in that span. That way of doing business, both GM Kenny Williams and Reinsdorf have acknowledged, is about to change dramatically this June. The club is also scouting and signing Latin American players for the first time in four years.

There will be growing pains with the Sox’s new way of competing as the contacts for older players like Paul Konerko (after 2013 ), A.J. Pierzynski (after 2012 ) and Jake Peavy (the team can buy him out for $4 million after 2012) begin expire.

Williams will continue to attempt to make trades for players who are not yet approaching salary arbitration or free agency. In this type of environment, don’t expect any big-time free-agent signings.

“The offseason was boring,” Williams said on Opening Day. “It was a good exercise in patience and a much needed exercise in patience.”

“If we are in the mode of going young, we have to be right and be targeted to take care of the major league club and blend in some youth at the same time we are running the development .”

Accomplishing that feat will, of course, be a major challenge for the White Sox moving forward.