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'Moneyball' resurfacing catches Williams at bad time

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Ken Williams
Ken Williams

Maybe Kenny Williams' performance as a general manager is entirely dependent on the state of Moneyball.

Michael Lewis' book took the baseball world by storm when it came out in 2003, and Lewis positioned Williams against Billy Beane as one of the many rubes out there for the swindling. And now that the movie is on the cusp of its theatrical release, Williams finds himself in another major slump.

But in between, Williams has had a leg up on Beane. The White Sox won two divisions to Oakland's one since 2004, and one of Williams' teams took home a World Series trophy. Postseason success always found a way to elude those otherwise rock-solid Oakland teams of the early 2000s.

I think the chief lesson here is that Williams needs to stay as far away from Moneyball as possible, as well as all the players involved. Almost every player in the book that Williams dealt with fizzled out.

 

Roll call!

Royce Ring: Beane's draft room celebrated when the White Sox opted for a left-handed reliever out of San Diego State with the 18th pick in the 2002 draft, because that allowed them to take Joe Blanton. Williams didn't appear to take the selection too seriously, because he dealt Ring to the Mets for Roberto Alomar just one year and 26 days after drafting him.

Jon Adkins: That's all it cost Beane to acquire Ray Durham from the White Sox in an incredibly lopsided trade. Oddly enough, Williams had a better reason for this trade than he did in drafting Ring -- he bet that upcoming changes to the CBA would eliminate draft-pick compensation, whereas Beane thought he would be able to get both an upgrade to his infield, and a couple of picks after the season. Sure enough, Durham played his dependable brand of second base, and no changes were made to the CBA. Williams found himself on the wrong end of what Beane called the "F-ckin' A" trade.

Nick Swisher: The White Sox had their sights on Swisher, but the A's took him with their first selection, two picks before the Sox took Ring. Williams eventually got his man, and we know what happened there.

Mark Teahen: The A's drafted him in the supplemental round with the 39th overall picked, and talked him up as guy with a great plate approach and the possibility to turn into another Jason Giambi. Teahen didn't stand much of a chance of meeting the hype, falling well short of All-Star status and settling into a major-league utility role ... until Williams traded for him, signed him to a three-year deal and named him the third baseman of the future. That move didn't work out, and Williams was forced to waste Edwin Jackson's trade potential by dumping Teahen's contract on Toronto in July.

Williams did save face in a major way later in the book with the Chad Bradford trade, although Lewis didn't seem to give him much of a chance.

Lewis framed the acquisition of Bradford, which took place after the 2002 season, as a coup for Oakland. Bradford's unorthodox delivery produced outstanding numbers in the minors, and even though he bounced between Charlotte and Chicago over a three-year period, Beane thought his organization could make Bradford's mid-80s fastball work in the big leagues. Sure enough, Bradford pitched well for the A's, and went on to appear in 561 games over 12 years.

But Williams got a pretty good return -- catcher Miguel Olivo. Lewis didn't think much of Olivo, who was struggling in Double-A as a 21-year-old when Beane dealt him. But when he repeated the level in Birmingham, his career took off, and he built up his stock enough over the next two seasons that Williams was slammed for trading him to Seattle in 2004, with Jeremy Reed and Mike Morse for Freddy Garcia and Ben Davis.

Still, Olivo is outnumbered by a 4-to-1 margin when it comes to this cast of 2002 characters, and with Williams facing a reduced payroll in the upcoming offseason, he's going to have to play the odds a little better than that.