No last-second moves for GM Williams
Club improves without making any blockbuster deals
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Most of the people attending Major League Baseball's annual Winter Meetings view the Rule 5 Draft as the symbolic closing event of this four-day get-together. But over the past few years, in various locales, the unofficial finish usually has come from a last-day, often blockbuster, move pulled off by general manager Ken Williams.
In 2004, Williams traded Carlos Lee to Milwaukee in exchange for outfielder Scott Podsednik and reliever Luis Vizcaino. Brewers' general manager Doug Melvin was left to speak to a mere handful of remaining reporters in Anaheim concerning the 11th-hour deal.
Utility outfielder Rob Mackowiak was acquired from Pittsburgh for Damaso Marte during the Dallas Meetings' concluding hours in 2005, and rumors ran rampant about a possible Jon Garland-to-Houston blockbuster last year in Orlando. With that flair for the dramatic in mind, the White Sox general manager wouldn't rule out another deal going down before his team's exit when questioned on Tuesday.
"I've thought a lot about this," said Williams with a wry smile. "If I'm not mistaken, I said this to you guys three or four years in a row, how I don't think anything is going to get done, and on the last day, you are scrambling, trying to find me in airports.
"For now, let's say we have a lot of things pending," Williams added.
Those "things pending" apparently didn't materialize, or at least, the moves weren't finalized before Williams and the rest of the White Sox staff exited Nashville. Through a White Sox media relations representative, Williams declined to comment on Thursday morning, choosing instead to address reporters when the White Sox next transaction comes about.
And that smile and almost playful attitude shown on Tuesday had all but vanished, turning into a terse and disappointed Williams, at least where dealing with the media was concerned. Criticism was heaped upon Williams and the White Sox following the trade of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers on Wednesday. Although the White Sox made a strong push to acquire Cabrera, they ultimately didn't have the package of talent that Florida desired and received from the South Siders' American League Central rival.
A similar sort of criticism hit Williams, to a slightly lesser extent, when free agent Torii Hunter selected Anaheim over the White Sox on Thanksgiving. Overlooked in the process was how the White Sox did everything possible to bring in Hunter, who opted for more money per season and a strong desire to play in California.
Factoring in these aforementioned disappointments, Williams still strongly believes he has improved the 2008 ballclub. He has accomplished this goal through the addition of Orlando Cabrera up the middle, through the addition of Scott Linebrink to a porous 2007 bullpen and through the addition of outfielder Carlos Quentin here at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.
As an example of his current offseason plan, Williams targeted a reduced number of strikeouts from his previous free-swinging but power-packed lineup. He also looked for hitters who could work deep in the count in order to get rid of the opposing starter early and move into the soft underbelly of that particular team's pitching staff.
Williams' revamping process will continue on right up until the start of the regular season, if necessary. Aaron Rowand remains on the White Sox radar, with another option falling off the affable center fielder's possible destinations, when Andruw Jones agreed to a two-year deal with the Dodgers on Wednesday night.
The White Sox plan on pursuing an outfield upgrade, even if Rowand does not end up being the ultimate answer, and even after their previous high-profile pursuits didn't end as they hoped. Williams has vast confidence in the talent he has assembled, including a young starting staff, with John Danks and Gavin Floyd rounding out the back end of the rotation following Jon Garland's departure.
"Well, they're in the back-end of the rotation now, but in 29 other rooms around the building right here, these are two guys that everyone would want, and most people in the industry view as top-of-the-rotation guys," said Williams, during his brief chat with the Chicago media on Wednesday. "Our pitching is not going to be a problem this year. We'll be fine in that area."
"I think we have the starting pitchers," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen added. "I don't know if we have a good enough lineup."
That specific question will be answered by Williams over the next few weeks, done in relative media-free contact, judging by the final two days of the Winter Meetings. But Williams stands determined, without a big Winter Meetings' splash, but with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. It's the same sort of chip the White Sox as a team carried past doubters to a 2005 World Series title.
"Based on what happened last year, I will never feel confident again," Williams said. "This is baseball and when you think you have all the answers and you have a certain level of confidence and things will work exactly the way you planned, the game will jump up and bite you."
Deals done: The White Sox acquired Quentin from Arizona in exchange for Minor League first baseman Chris Carter.
Rule 5 activity: The club lost right-hander Fernando Hernandez, Jr. to Oakland in the Major League phase; Selected right-hander Santo Luis from Houston in the Triple-A phase; and lost left-handers Ray Liotta and Ryan Rodriguez, right-hander Garry Bakker and outfielder Daron Roberts in the Triple-A phase.
Goals accomplished: With the trade for Cabrera and the free agent addition of Linebrink, much of Williams' heavy lifting was accomplished before the Winter Meetings. By acquiring Quentin, though, the White Sox added another solid bat to the outfield mix, with strong on-base potential when healthy.
Unfinished business: Another impact bat in the outfield and possibly the addition of more speed at the top of the order appear to be two of Williams' prime targets as the end of 2007 approaches.
GM's bottom line: "We've had a number of years where we've been in striking distance, and I'm disappointed we only won one division in the last seven years. So, I'm really more interested in the message being sent come June, July and August."
-- Williams, when asked during the Winter Meetings about the message being sent to the White Sox faithful through the team's current offseason additions and pursuits
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.