Kenny Williams relentlessly pursues big league talent to improve the composition of his team. Whether traditional deals or free agent signings, the goal of competing this year consistently tops his to do list, as borne out by the "in the moment" moves that highlight his managerial style. Few GMs are as daring in the month following the trading deadline when the risk is measured solely in filthy lucre and the rewards are permanent testaments to hard-earned glory.
Most clubs will claim players with the reasonable expectation that the player will be wtyhithdrawn. Few will take the chance that they will get stuck with a bad contract. For Williams, such restraint is absent. His boldness is necessary because of the many trades he has consummated that have effectively gutted the White Sox farm system.
Since the 2007 offseason, he has pulled off trades to land Jake Peavy, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre and Edwin Jackson. Those four players came at the cost of Dexter Carter, Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard, Adam Russell (for Peavy), Chris Carter (for Quentin), John Ely, Jon Link (for Pierre), David Holmberg and Daniel Hudson (for Jackson). In addition, prior the 2008 season, Williams acquired Nick Swisher from the A's for Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney and Fautino De Los Santos, before Swisher's dreadful solo season on the South Side.
Last year, Williams picked up Alex Rios on speculation after the Blue Jays put him and his large contract on waivers amidst a horrible season. Rios responded by bouncing back to nearly match his previously established level of production in 2010 the first of the five full seasons that were left on his deal when Williams claimed him from Toronto.
This year the stakes are higher and the payoff for the daring claim must come sooner. Manny Ramirez will join the White Sox today in Cleveland after the Dodgers accepted the waiver claim fee in exchange for their left fielder. Ramirez has the balance of the year left on his deal, and will be a free agent at the conclusion of the White Sox season. Williams is counting on a torrid September from Ramirez to help propel the White Sox into the playoffs.
The price for Ramirez, just cash, is obviously right. And the rumors of Manny's decline are not only greatly exaggerated, they are utter falsehoods. He may not be the fearsome hitter that posted an otherworldly .327/.428/.633 line over six full seasons and 3,652 plate appearances between 1999-2004. His merely great .311/.405/.510 batting line in 232 plate appearances this season may pale in comparison, but still exceeds the .300/.400/.500 standard set for power bats. At age 38, that's no small accomplishment.
Williams tacks contrary to both the player development and the prominent free agent acquisition schools of thought in player personnel management. With one World Series title already won and the club gunning for its second divisional title in three seasons, the results speak for themselves. Even if his methodology rankles the sensibilities of prospect watchers and confounds writers who wonder why on earth he would risk picking up the five plus years and $60 plus million left on Rios' contract. Or whether getting Manny is overpaying for a king sized portion of too little too late.
Regardless, Williams stands apart. Perhaps he has found a market inefficiency. September's chase will tell.
Joe Tetreault is Managing Editor of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He can be contacted here through The Biz of Baseball
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