Some shady contractors in the paving business see a patchy driveway as an opportunity for an unscrupulous buck. They'll stop at the house, ring a doorbell and offer some "excess materials" for a seemingly harmless but unverified cost. The homeowner, thinking it's for DIY work, agrees without set terms, only to look out the front window hours later and notice the contractor took that as consent to redo the entire driveway in a shoddy fashion, then demand far more money than was discussed.
After a productive/destructive New Year's weekend by Kenny Williams, it's easy to feel like we've been had. I can imagine a lot of White Sox fans waking up from Rockin' Eves and stepping outside only to find a pile of project pitchers strewn about in front of the house, then discovering a note on the front step that reads:
TOOK TWO DECENT MAJOR LEAGUERS AS COMPENSATION THANKS
But nobody can call the cops on Williams after seeing him trade Carlos Quentin to the San Diego Padres on Saturday and return Jason Frasor to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, getting four undependable pitchers in return. And nobody really should, at least at this point in the game, anyway. After some stutter-steps, he has given us a more understandable picture of his 2012 gameplan. Even if he were fired, his replacement probably would have to take the same steps.
Given the way the White Sox screwed the pooch in 2011, the GM had to shed payroll and get younger. I'm guessing Williams first tried for a bold trade or two with his starters, but after the Oakland A's and friends decided to flood the market with cost-controlled starters, he lost suitors for John Danks and Gavin Floyd. The latter could still be moved, but the former isn't going anywhere right away.
Without a big deal to reshape the roster, he had to go the other route -- continuing to trim the excess. Granted, in this case, what we're calling "excess" other teams are calling "depth," but without substantial bait to reel in a major prospect haul, Williams had cut everywhere else. These are hard times on the Oregon Trail. The ration setting is "bare bones."
So Quentin goes to San Diego, and the Sox hope Dayan Viciedo can pick up his slack. Just like replacing Sergio Santos with Addison Reed, and Mark Buehrle with Chris Sale. The Sox should still have a mildly watchable roster, but everything is going to need to break their way to have a prayer at contending, because they are devoid of backup plans. Then again, considering the White Sox had no interest in seeking alternate routes when they were readily available in 2011, maybe they don't deserve them.
Williams might not be done, but it doesn't look like he has to do more. The White Sox have $97 million committed to their 2012 payroll, and with Danks' deal in the books, they have no outstanding arbitration cases. They are in a position to open the season with a payroll reduced by at least $20 million, which should be enough to compensate for 2011's poor play and attendance.
Unfortunately, neither Quentin nor Frasor had any measurable trade value, so Williams continued to double down on his organization's ability to mold erratic arms. Spring training may as well be called Fringe Prospect Central Casting when you look at the amount of new guys Williams has added to the mix:
- Jhan Marinez
- Donnie Veal
- Jose Quintana
- Nestor Molina
- Simon Castro
- Pedro Hernandez
- Myles Jaye
- Daniel Webb
Going to the scrap heap is a charming idea when it produces a Matt Thornton or a Philip Humber. It's less so when you get the 2007 bullpen, and that's a wholly realistic outcome. But like Thornton and Humber, some of these guys had serious pedigree before injuries or inconsistent mechanics got in the way, and so Williams is turning to Don Cooper and Kirk Champion in hopes of finding strains of talent in players written off by other organizations.
That's really Williams' best shot at getting any kind of impact for two players who didn't have hot trade stocks. Quentin and Frasor lacked the surplus value that leads to compelling trades, and in particular, Quentin offered more to the White Sox than any other team. When that's the case, any nondescript return is going to hurt.
At least there's a plan. It's going to be unsatisfactory in the short term, involving plenty of finger-crossing and packing the potential for serious short-term pain. But the GM has taken a top-heavy roster, lopped $20 million off the payroll while carrying 14 decent starters, and is playing to the system's strengths in the hopes of getting cheap talent to offset the dead weight at the top sooner than people expected. The worst-case scenario is three years of nothingness until Alex Rios and Adam Dunn get out of our lives.
This is likely the same playbook a non-Kenny Williams GM would use. As it so happens, Kenny Williams is still the one making the decisions. Sox fans have every right to be skeptical given Williams' track record and the steep climb the team faces, but he painted everybody into a corner, and any way out is going to be messy no matter who takes the lead.