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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Creative Payroll?

by Guy Bacci
 

Like a painter without a paintbrush, Kenny Williams is a general manager without a wallet. And despite Kenny’s penchant for getting creative, the fact remains that an artist without a paintbrush can’t paint a pretty picture. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other options. After all, a creative mind knows how to improvise. He can go abstract, splatter colors on the canvas or use his body parts to create an ambiguous work of art. But it won’t look logical, and it won’t look appealing.

 

Much like your 2004 Chicago White Sox.

 

Splash on a little Aaron Rowand, maybe some Willie Harris. If you’re feeling really artsy, dip your fingers into the minor league bucket and toss on a few dabs of Jon Rauch, Joe Borchard and Jeremy Reed. Now take a step back and examine your masterpiece. It’s missing... something. An ace pitcher maybe? A decent second baseman? An everyday center fielder? Save it for the Mona Lisa. We’re going abstract here, remember? No room for beauty.

 

There’s a problem though -- a huge red splotch to the left of center that you wish you could get rid of. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it’s just taking up too much space. That’s Jose Valentin and his $5 million extension you were so eager to sign him to. He can’t hit right-handed, yet he’s a switch hitter. And he doesn’t hit much better left-handed, but he sure does have a lot of pop for a shortstop. Good thing, because you could always use more pop. Never mind the fact that nobody will be on base when he hits his 25 homers.

 

And that’s because nobody in your lineup does anything but hit homers. As far as splotches go, your abstract painting is full of them: Frank Thomas, $6 million, he can draw a walk, but his average is not what it used to be. Magglio Ordonez, $14 million, probably your best player, yet you may be forced to paint right over him. Carlos Lee, he had a break out season in 2003, but is still nothing more than a homer-happy righty. Paul Konerko, he had a break down season in 2003, and even if he rebounds, he’s never been an OBP guy.

 

And there are gaping holes in your creation too. Roberto Alomar, best buddy of Ozzie Guillen, was supposed to be a lock to return. Now Williams says it’s not going to happen because Robbie wants multiple years. Bartolo Colon already turned down $13 million per season, but how could the Sox afford that salary with nearly $50 million already committed to seven players?

 

Nothing makes sense in the bizarre-o world that is the White Sox off-season. Worst of all, there doesn’t seem to be any hope in sight. Ordonez is rumored to be on the blocks, Tom Gordon will most definitely not return, and Billy Koch has gone from White Sox closer to Don Cooper’s doghouse to the New York Mets, and back to White Sox closer. “He’s feeling good, and his mind-set has improved,” Williams recently said. Didn’t we hear that after Koch’s minor-league stint last season?

 

Some of the blame for this mess simply has to fall onto Williams’ shoulders. I hate to rehash the past, but in order to understand where we are, we have to understand where we’ve been. I also hate to compare him to Billy Bean, but considering Williams has done his share of deals with Beane, it seems like a logical comparison. Beane has kept his team in the play-offs (despite a tiny budget) by finding the value in players nobody else wants. Williams seems too intoxicated by a player’s reputation and attitude instead of his actual on-field history. Remember Todd Ritchie? (I know, you’d rather not.) He was supposed to be a gamer, a “grinder” if you will. That deal has set the Sox back several years. How great would an emerging star like Kip Wells look in the Sox rotation right now? If Williams had his way, the Sox wouldn’t have Jon Garland in the rotation either. The same year Williams lost Wells, Garland was nearly traded for the expensive Darrin Erstad (and his barley-above .300 OBP the past three seasons). As much as Miguel Olivio appears to be the real deal, wouldn’t Chad Bradford have been a great replacement for the miserable Rick White last season? And then there’s the Koch/Foulke disaster. Not only could Foulke have helped the Sox win last year, but they wouldn’t be burdened with Koch’s contract in 2004.

 

If the barometer for creativity is how well you can give up young talent for overvalued veterans, then Kenny Williams is a creative genius. To his credit, he pulled off a tour de force with the Bartolo Colon trade last winter. Yet he has failed to make his occasional success work for him. Three blockbuster trades in each of the past three seasons, yet zero play-off appearances.

 

But despite all that, it’s hard to fault a guy who doesn’t have the tools (namely cash) to do his job. He’s trying to win a pennant with a rebuilding budget, and the results have not been pretty. There’s only one hope for 2004, and that’s if the Sox $60 million budget is a farce, a ploy to throw off teams that Williams wants to peddle his overpriced players to. Maybe the Sox real budget is $70 or $80 million, and once they dump Koch or Konerko, they’ll go after Sidney Ponson and Luis Castillo.

 

Absurd, I know. More likely, $60 million is the real budget, which might be good enough to win the weak Central, or it might not. The way this off-season has started, nobody knows what to think about the 2004 White Sox. It seems a sad fate that the coherent work of art that Williams managed to put together during the second-half of 2003 will be replaced by a disjointed splattering of random parts.

 

Picasso would be so proud.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back.  He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player.  His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay).  Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

More features from Guy Bacci here!

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