“Audacious” is the word that comes to mind when I think of Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams.
I admire his risk-taking. In the span of two weeks, Williiams has taken on salary commitments totaling $115 million. First, he traded for Jake Peavy, despite the fact that Peavy was on the disabled list. Peavy is owed $56 million through 2012. Then, this week, he put a waiver claim on Toronto outfielder Alex Rios, knowing full well that the outcome was likely to be exactly what it was — that the Blue Jays would say, “All right, big fella, he’s all yours.” That’s because the financially struggling Jays were no doubt ecstatic to get out from under the remaining $59.7 million owed Rios through 2014.
But in Williams’ eyes, these deals not only strengthened them in this year’s tight AL Central race (they’re three back of the Tigers, and two ahead of the Twins), but it takes away two problem areas moving forward. They now have a center fielder, a position that they’ve had trouble filling, and a top-of-the-rotation starter, provided Peavy comes back healthy from his ankle injury, as the Sox are confident he will
Yes, both deals come with risks, but a healthy Peavy is one of the top five pitchers in the game, and Rios at peak form is worth the money owed him. Williams has shown time and time again he’s not afraid to take a chance, and though he receives his share of criticism, I’d rank him as one of the upper-tier GMs.
First of all, Williams built a World Series team (with able assistance from a great staff, including assistant GM Rick Hahn), which gets him considerable bonus points. He pretty much stole closer Bobby Jenks from the Angels, and he became an All-Star closer. The Freddy Garcia trade with the Mariners was skewed heavily in the Sox favor — and when it came time to trade Garcia, Williams got back Gavin Floyd, who won 17 games last year. He picked up John Danks, one of their main starters, from the Rangers for Brandon McCarthy, who hasn’t developed as the Rangers hoped. He got Jose Contreras, a huge part of their 2005 championship, from the Yankees for Esteban Loaiza, who flopped in New York. Lot of analysts raised their eyebrows when Williams traded top outfield prospect Chris Young to the Diamondbacks in a package for Javier Vazquez. Young appeared headed for stardom when he hit 55 homers and stole 41 bases in 2007-08, but this year he’s floundering with a .194 average. Vazquez, meanwhile, helped the White Sox win the AL Central title last year. And Williams hit it big in another deal with the Diamondbacks for outfielder Carlos Quentin, who was headed for MVP contention (36 homers, 100 RBI) before missing the final month with an injury. Quentin cost the Sox minor-league first baseman/third baseman Chris Carter, who was flipped by Arizona to Oakland in the Dan Haren trade and now looks like a bona fide power prospect. Carter hit 39 homers last year at Class A and this year has 20 homers, a .334 batting average and 1.000 OPS at Double-A.
In other words, Carter could still come back to haunt. But Williams is one of those guys that is willing to risk a little egg on the face. He’s had to scrape some off on occasion, but overall, he has served the White Sox well.