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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Budget Busts Sox!
by Hal Vickery

Another week has passed and the Sox still haven’t made any personnel moves.  The free agent market continues to dry up at least as far as the pick of the crop is concerned, trades are made, and the Sox stand pat.  Kenny Williams is going to have to make a move sometime, but the concern is that rather than doing something to improve the club, the major move he makes this winter will be a salary dump, most likely Magglio Ordoñez. 

The reason for all of this is The Chairman’s self-imposed salary cap of $58 million.  Well, that and the back loading of several contracts that have now come back to haunt the Sox, some high hefty salaries that were perhaps given out prematurely, and some signings that were necessary but when coupled with earlier salary commitments helped to break the piggy bank that is the Sox budget.  And for this Williams can only blame himself. 

Williams did himself a favor after the 2002 season, although enraging some fans, when he invoked the diminished skills clause that was part of Frank Thomas’s old contract.  Had Williams rumored desire of wishing to enrage Frank so much that he would sign with another club come true, he would have freed up some cash for last season.  However, The Chairman intervened, Thomas renegotiated the deal, and now Williams is on the hook for $6 million for the 2003 season. 

But Thomas’s salary isn’t the budget buster.  It is a combination of salaries that are killing Williams at this point, led by Ordoñez $14 million.  Looking at the rest of the top salaries on the club, and you can’t help but wonder how Williams managed to paint himself into his present corner.  Look at the list of the Sox’ top salaries and how they came to be: 

Magglio Ordoñez - $14 million, last year of a backloaded deal designed to bring him past his first free-agency year; 

Paul Konerko - $8 million, middle year of a backloaded deal designed to bring him past his first free-agency year; 

Billy Koch – $6.75 million, second year of a 2-year contract signed after Koch was traded to the Sox last year; 

Carlos Lee - $6.5 million, first year of a 2-year deal that will bring him past his free agency year; 

Frank Thomas - $6 million, second year of contract negotiated after the “diminished skills clause was invoked on his previous contract; 

Jose Valentin - $5 million, club option invoked on final year of his four-year deal; 

Esteban Loaiza - $4 million; 

Mark Buehrle - $3.5 million, first year of a backloaded contract signed in December; 

John Garland - $2.3 million, one year contract to avoid arbitration. 

Meanwhile, the Sox have offered arbitration to Scott Schoeneweis, the club’s projected fourth or fifth starter who spent all of 2003 in the Angels’ and Sox’ bullpens.  Some have projected his salary to be in the $2 million range. 

Using that figure for Scheoneweis and adding up the unhappy totals, the Sox will be committed to spending about $58.05 million to just those nine players.  So unless Williams dumps some major salary (read Konerko or Ordoñez, his hands are tied.  Unless The Chairman loosens the purse strings, don’t look for the annual big signing at SoxFest. 

Granted, the Sox have been used the strategy of the Cleveland Indians of the early-to-mid 1990s to hold on to their best players by signing them past their free-agency years wherever possible.  Ron Schueler started the practice, and Williams has continued to follow it.  However, it seems that either no one has told The Chairman, or he doesn’t really care. 

So now Williams is stuck in the corner he painted himself into.  It’s hard during a time when most clubs are cutting back on salaries to deal a $14-million player, even one as good as Ordoñez for just a year.  It’s also hard to deal a player like Paul Konerko who is scheduled to receive not just the aforementioned $8 million for 2004 but another $8.5 million in 2005, especially after going through that yearlong slump that started in the second half of 2003 and continued through the first half of 2004. 

The sad thing is that it is Williams who committed the Sox to almost all of these high salaries.  Perhaps he thought that once he built a 2003 club and they advanced deep into the playoffs, The Chairman would open up his wallet.  However, that was sabotaged when someone, either Williams or The Chairman, decided not to fire Gen. Disarray (former Sox manager Jerry Manuel). 

The general blew Williams’ plans out of the water by tinkering with lineups until the All-Star Break and then bumbling his way through September with fiascos like pitching Neil Cotts instead of Mark Buehrle against the Yankees and pitching Esteban Loaiza against the Twins after Loaiza’s undigested dinner ended up on the clubhouse floor. 

A trip through the “Fallen Arches” archives shows that we have been consistent in placing the blame on The Chairman for the failure to fire Manuel.  It has always been our suspicion that he was too tight with a buck to pay two managers for over a year. 

Now the results of that cheapness have fallen on Kenny Williams and destroyed any possibility of putting a winning team on the field for 2003, unless you think a team with Willie Harris and Aaron Rowand as starters, probably hitting 1-2) and Scott Schoeneweis and Danny Wright as fourth and fifth starters is going to win anything. 


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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