Kenny Williams, most unappreciated GM
September, 18, 2012
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
In their most important game of the season, the Chicago White Sox ran out a lineup that featured the following players:
- Center fielder Dewayne Wise, released earlier in the season by the Yankees. He has hit .286/.314/.489 with Chicago.
- Third baseman Kevin Youkilis, acquired on the cheap from the Red Sox in a salary dump deal.
- Right fielder Alex Rios, claimed on waivers from the Blue Jays in 2009, in another salary dump. He's seventh among AL outfielders in OPS.
- Left fielder Dayan Viciedo, originally signed as a third baseman out of Cuban and deemed by most as too big and slow to play the outfield. He has provided some power in the lineup and has surprisingly held his own on defense (+3 defensive runs saved).
- Shortstop Alexei Ramirez, another Cuban, who played primarily second base as a rookie in 2008 before converting to shortstop.
- Starting pitcher Jose Quintana, a guy released by the Mets and let go by the Yankees, signed last offseason as a minor league free agent. He's 6-4 with a 3.69 ERA.
- Reliever Nate Jones, a one-time fifth-round pick out of noted baseball power Northern Kentucky, who entered the season as Chicago's No. 23 prospect on Baseball America's list. He's now 8-0 in relief.
- Reliever Donnie Veal, a Tommy John survivor, signed on the same day as Quintana after the Pirates let him go. Veal had a big strikeout of Prince Fielder on Monday and hitters are now 2-for-36 against him since his recall from the minors.
- Reliever Brett Myers, acquired earlier this season in a salary dump trade with the Astros.
- Reliever Matt Thornton, acquired back in 2006 from the Mariners for former Stanford quarterback Joe Borchard.
That lineup helped defeat the Tigers 5-4 on Monday afternoon, pushing the White Sox's lead in the AL Central to 3 games with 16 remaining. It's their division to lose.
Kenny Williams never seems to get the credit he deserves as White Sox general manager, but that's an impressive string of deals. Viciedo and Ramirez were sought-after Cubans, but the others show Williams' ingenuity in building a baseball team. He's the king of dumpster diving.
The players he acquired off the scrap heap doesn't stop with the above list. Alejandro De Aza, the team's starting center fielder most of the season before an injury (he recently returned), was claimed off waivers from the Marlins back in 2009. Jake Peavy was acquired in another salary dump in which Williams didn't have to give up any top prospects (not that the White Sox ever have any). Francisco Liriano came over from the Twins this year for next to nothing and has given the White Sox some good starts. Philip Humber hasn't been too effective since his perfect game back in April, but he was another waiver claim.
The White Sox are team of castoffs and the unwanted. Even the team's two longtime veterans, Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski, could be classified in that category. Konerko had been a top prospect coming up through the Dodgers' system, but the Dodgers traded him to the Reds and the Reds traded him to the White Sox. Pierzynski had acquired a label as a malcontent and the Giants released him after the 2004 season. Williams took a chance.
That's what he does. The White Sox don't sign big-name free agents -- Adam Dunn is the lone high-profile free agent on the roster. The White Sox don't draft well -- in part because owner Jerry Reinsdorf doesn't allow over-slot selections, in part because the White Sox rarely draft high (only one top-10 overall pick since 1991), in part because they just don't draft well -- and Chris Sale and Gordon Beckham are the only players the White Sox selected in the first round on the current roster.
Williams' pet move through the years is to take a risk on a veteran player with an undesirable contract. The Padres couldn't afford Peavy after signing him to a big deal and see him land on the disabled list. The trade didn't really pay dividends in 2010 and 2011 as Peavy battled more injuries, but he's been one of the AL's top starters. The Blue Jays signed Rios to a guaranteed $70 million deal in April of 2008, but a year later put him on waivers after a slight decline from his 2006-07 numbers, hoping another team would claim him. The White Sox. They got a solid 2010, a terrible 2011, and now an excellent 2012. Youkilis has provided a major upgrade at third base over what the White Sox had received there in recent seasons.
It's a market inefficiency of sorts that Williams has gambled on and that few GMs and owners are willing to take. But it's also a way of acquiring potentially premium talent without giving up top prospects. Maybe those guys aren't quite worth their salaries, but in 2012 they are solid contributors. Williams is willing to take the chance on those big salaries -- but not so big they cripple the team's payroll (the White Sox were 11th in the majors in Opening Day payroll).
Billy Beane is certainly the favorite for Executive of the Year, for his offseason wheeling and dealing that turned the A's into surprise contenders. (Yes, there is such an award, given out by The Sporting News, although oddly the last general manager who won the award and the World Series was Andy MacPhail of the Twins in 1991.) But Beane's deals weren't really constructed to build the A's into instant winners; it's been more a perfect storm of luck and unexpected performance. Give Beane the credit, of course, but acknowledge the residue of the unknown. Certainly Mike Rizzo of the Nationals and Dan Duquette of the Orioles will receive support.
But Williams is my choice. No, all those players weren't acquired in 2011-2012, so it's kind of a cumulative award. But teams aren't built in one offseason; the award should be based on a general manager's series of moves to build a winner. That's what Williams has done. It's what he usually does -- keeps the White Sox in contention, season after season.
Of course, let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. As Tigers fans would like to point out, the season is not yet over.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesWith a White Sox win like Monday's, A.J. Pierzynski might think they can aim for the heavens.