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Kenny Williams Can't Find Value


You sign a free agent and he doesn't work out, you can't trade him.  He's not the player the market thought he was, it's not gonna want him at the price you bought.  So you have to send him off with a couple million to get rid of him.  Or another actually talented player.  If it's money or a player, the cost is the same.  You take wins off the team to deal with the mistake.

And no, y'all know I'm not talking about Dunn.  This isn't even about him.  Adam Dunn was the model of consistency and he imploded.  I have what amount to thin guesses what happened there and if anyone else knows for sure, they are keeping their mouths shut.  Whatever you want to say, the Sox weren't bidding against themselves to get his asking price up that high.  

This is about Mark Teahen.  Teahen was a guy no one thought much of.  Kenny took a gamble and signed him to a multi-year deal.  I get the thinking.  You take a risk, he turns out to be average, all of a sudden you've got a productive guy signed for cheap.  If you want to change the direction of the team, no problem you can deal the guy and get something back.  If you like the way things are going, keep him and keep winning.  That's finding value.  Except Teahen wasn't any good.  Which is what you might expect considering it only took Josh Fields and Chris Getz to get him.  They're all basically replacement level.  But Getz is paid like it.  This one's a scouting failure.  If you see gold and everyone else sees clay, better make triple-sure you're really seein something everyone else ain't.

This is about Edwin Jackson neé Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg.  And again, this isn't a matter of how good Hudson and Holmberg have been.  If Hudson was average and Holmberg were filler, they still ended up giving up present and future wins for a guy whose contract runs out at the end of this year.  EJax's agent precluded any possibility of an extension.  So okay, great, we have $8M back in the pocket.  Would you rather have the $8M and an average pitcher under control well below market for 6 years or would you just want the $8M?  Jeff Marquez Zach Stewart better be hot shit.  He better be Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg.

Okay, actually, you know what?  This is about Adam Dunn.  If Mike Rizzo doesn't "screw" Kenny Williams, we don't have Adam Dunn and Edwin Jackson minus Holmberg and Hudson.  We just have Dunn.  Rizzo is the guy responsible for us being sortamaybe in the playoff hunt.

Hell, this is even about Ryan Sweeney.  Yeah.  That guy.  Of all people.  See, he ain't much.  The A's have never even given him 600 PA in a season.  They platoon him.  But he can play defense and he's an average bat against right handed pitchers.  So he gives them a guy who's a tick above average whenever he's out there for all of.  Wait for it.  $400K.  Between Sweeney and Gio Gonzalez, the A's have basically made back anything they lost in Nick Swisher.  Let's say it's somewhat less, like a win a year or something.  The difference in salary means Billy Beane can go buy those wins on the market.  And if he can't afford to then the Sox sure could have.

And of course, this is about Jake Peavy and Alex Rios.  No, you won't find the vehemence in my tone for these deals that I have for the Jackson or Swisher moves.  There is much less suggestion that Kenny didn't know what was on the line.  Both were gambles.  Both had pretty solid reasons in each's respective favor.  So it's not that I don't think he understood the risks.  

What I don't think he realized is the kind of support they'd need from the staff.  The common line running between the two is they've since become varying degrees of uncoachable.  Even Frank Thomas said that Rios needs to maybe think about doing something about that stance.  And holy hell what is the deal with their handling of Peavy post-injury when everything else health related is so immaculately conducted?  There is a player-management issue there, whatever it may be.  And then Swisher of course is the formal perfection of this sort of problem.  But I think in all cases and maybe even with Dunn,  the Sox were caught with their asses hanging in the wind due to clashes of personality.  It's fine when it's Jon Rauch.  Less so when there's $15M on the line.

If it's not obvious, this is me twisting the knife.  Jim made his point well yesterday, but I wanted more wrath-of-the-fan type substance.  Partly because so many of the issues with particular moves were seen as problematic by Sox bloggers right after a given move was made.  But partly because we've seen Kenny Williams do it so right before.  Because he's so damn likable and awesome.  That World Series team?  Bought for about $70M.  The Danks trade.  The Gavin trade.  The trade that brought Gio back.  The Borchard deal.  Signing Alexei.  Signing Dayan.  There are a ton of moves that I loved right off the bat.  There are a ton of moves that I was completely skeptical of.  But by and large they worked.  And they worked on a few simple precepts that the deals in the preceding paragraphs miss to varying degrees:


1) Play To Your Strengths - The Sox have Don Cooper and Herm Schneider and no one else does.  These are huge competitive advantages.  Back of my napkin says Coop and Herm are the equivalent of paying an All Star basically nothing every year.  But so it means that they can save money (re)juvenating pitchers and keeping older guys healthier for longer than they might otherwise go for.  Not to bring up Jim Thome, but he costs a lot less than Adam Dunn.  The Sox are more likely than anyone else to turn Thome into Dunn.

2) Stay Away From Long Term Deals - This hallmark used to be more of a pitcher specific thing for KW, but if you're gonna make your bones on keeping old guys and pitchers healthy, you don't need to spend the money and risk it takes to get premium guys at market.  When they perform, you just end up with market value.  When they bomb, it's a millstone.  Every win you need to get at market rate is a big risk for a team that's outside the top few.  Instead, build your value doing what you do best and...

3) Trade For What You Can't Make - Okay, so the Sox core is going to be pitching and old guys.  Trading the older gents is probably a tough sell, but everybody seems to want young pitching even though There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.  Seriously.  Pitchers who are ranked highly by the prospect gurus have vastly underperformed compared to similarly rated bat wielding youngins. So whatever your gaps  This one is maybe more my advice to Kenny?  The Swisher deal is the closest thing to it.


Look at this team.  They're paying $120M for what I thought at the beginning of the year was about 88 wins.  The Tigers paid $106M.  Rangers paid $92M.  The Braves paid $91M.  They're all somewhat different in talent and composition than the Sox, but the point is you can get more for less.  A decent number of teams are doing it by following similar tenets to the ones suggested above.  

That said, I think a lot of the current problems are borne out of success.  I'm not so sure that if the Swisher deal was made in 2005 that there would have been a problem with him.  But at this point, the clubhouse seems to have taken on a very specific possibly exclusionary air.  I don't think that unproven guys would feel so entitled.  I don't begrudge them that and in fact it appeals to me.  I mean let's face it, blogging is an elitist medium.  But it also seems like it's officially costing the team wins.

On top of that, you think folks maybe got a little wary of dealing with KW over the years?  The problem with fleecing counterparts in trades is all of a sudden everyone is double- and triple-checking to make sure they're getting as much as they can from you.  They start to charge a premium and your advantage evaporates.  By contrast, no one thinks twice about trading with a moron.

Unless you're better at everything than everyone else, eventually your success is going to breed your failure.  Especially in a competitive environment.  Success leads easily to overconfidence, meanwhile your opponents are figuring out your secrets.  The old formulas collapse and new ones are needed, but your owner trusts you more than ever and figues you deserve a longer leash.  All of a sudden things fall apart.  

As long as Kenny's paying attention to what's not working and why, there's every reason to expect him to turn it around.  Isn't that the story of 2001-2005?  The other thing is, he's back behind the 8-ball with no margin for error.  He always likes to play risks and get creative, but with so little money to work with he'll be playing a lot of risks at relatively low costs.  That sounds like a recipe for the kind of innovative management that has made Kenny so fun to follow and his teams a pleasure to watch.